Monday, November 26, 2007

Bush's Iraq 'Coalition of the Willing' in Ruins After 'Ballot-Box Revolution'

Australian Voters, Fed Up With Their Country's Military Involvement in Iraq, Toss Out Right-Wing PM Howard and His Party After 11 Years in Power; Poland's New PM Tusk Vows Complete Troop Withdrawal From Iraq 'Within a Year'

Kevin Rudd

Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd of Australia (top) celebrates his Labor Party's landslide victory over conservative Prime Minister John Howard's ironically-named Liberal Party in Saturday's parliamentary elections. The day before, Poland's new prime minister, Donald Tusk (bottom) addresses his country's newly sworn-in parliament. Both men won election on platforms to end their nations' military involvement in Iraq, effectively leaving President Bush's self-proclaimed "coalition of the willing" in ruins. (Photos: Top: Rob Griffith/AP; Bottom: Janmek Skarzynski/Agence France-Presse)

By Skeeter Sanders

In November 2002, President Bush, while on a visit to Europe for a NATO summit, declared that "should [then-Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein choose not to disarm, the United States will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him."

For months thereafter, the Bush White House used the term "coalition of the willing" to refer to the countries who supported, militarily or verbally, the U.S. -led 2003 invasion of Iraq and its subsequent military presence in Iraq since then -- which, as it turned out, failed to find any weapons of mass destruction that Bush was certain Saddam possessed.

The original list of coalition nations prepared by the White House in March 2003 included 49 countries, of which only four besides the U.S. -- Britain, Poland, Australia and Denmark -- contributed troops to the invasion force. Thirty-three other nations provided small numbers of troops to support the occupation after the invasion was complete.

Now, it appears, Bush's coalition is on the brink of completely disappearing, with the impending withdrawal of troops from two other "original four" coalition nations, Australia and Poland, as a result of regime change -- via the ballot box -- in those two countries.

Indeed, what happened in Australia and Poland is a continuation of what can now be called a "ballot-box revolution" against the war -- a revolution that is spreading around the globe.

Australia: Voters Toss Out PM Howard After 11 Years

Apparently fed up with their country's continued presence in Iraq, voters in Australia threw conservative Prime Minister John Howard and his ironically-named Liberal Party out of office in nationwide parliamentary elections Saturday and swept into power an opposition leader who had vowed to pull Australia's 5,000-plus troops out of Iraq.

Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat who served in China, had also promised to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming -- leaving the U.S. as the only remaining industrialized country not to have joined it, a status that is unlikely to change as long as Bush remains in office.

Howard, who not only reshaped his country's image abroad with unwavering support for the war in Iraq, but also transformed his Liberal Party ideologically by forming a coalition with the right-wing National Party in parliament, dominated Australian politics for more than a decade.

But in the process, Howard alienated many traditional social liberals to the point that they defected in droves to Labor. Before Howard took over in 1993, the Liberal Party of Australia was ideologically closer to its namesake party in Canada. Now, it more closely resembles the Conservative Party in Britain and the Republican Party in the U.S.

Ultimately, Howard failed to read signs that after 11 years in power, the Australian electorate had grown tired of his rule and was clamoring for a change -- and cast their votes with Rudd's Labor Party.

Indeed, when Howard called the November 24 election in September, opinion polls showed his party trailing Labor by such a wide margin that many members of his own Liberal Party pleaded with him to step down. He refused.

Adding to the sting of his party's landslide defeat, the 68-year-old Howard suffered a personal humiliation by losing his own parliamentary seat, which he had held for more than 30 years, to Labor's Maxine McKew. Only once before in the 106-year history of Australia's federal government system has an incumbent prime minister lost in his home district.

The 50-year-old Rudd -- who is so fluent in Mandarin Chinese that when he was a student majoring in Chinese history and Asian studies, he adopted a Chinese name, Lu Kewen -- promised to pull Australia's 5,500 combat troops from Iraq in a phased withdrawal and to quickly sign the Kyoto Accord.

"Today the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward," Rudd said in a victory speech before hundreds of cheering supporters in his home state of Queensland. "To plan for the future, to prepare for the future, to embrace the future and together as Australians to unite and write a new page in our nation's history."

Poland: New PM Tusk Vows Complete Withdrawal From Iraq 'Within a Year'

With the ouster of the Howard government, Australia becomes the latest country to see elections turn out governments that contributed to the U.S. war in Iraq. It follows by just over a month elections in Poland that saw voters fire the nationalist government of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who, along with his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, supported the war.

In his first speech Friday before the newly sworn-in parliament, Tusk, leader of the pro-market Civic Platform party, pledged to uphold the party's campaign promise to end Poland's military role in Iraq. "In a year's time, I will tell you here in this chamber that our military mission in Iraq is over," Tusk told lawmakers.

"We have taken the decision, as far as the government powers go, to make 2008 the year when the pullout of Poland's military mission is started and completed," Tusk said. "We will carry out that operation with the conviction that we have done more than what our allies, especially the U.S., had expected from us."

Tusk did say, however, that Poland's 1,200-troop contingent in Afghanistan would remain there. And he declined to say whether his country would allow the U.S. to place 10 interceptor missiles, which Washington says are aimed against Iran, on Polish soil -- which is vehemently opposed by Russia.

In a break from the Kacyznski government, Tusk made it clear that his government will consult Russia and other nations before making any decision on the missile defense system.

Moscow considers the missiles to be as great a threat to Russia's national security as the Soviet Union's placement of missiles in Cuba was to the U.S. in 1962, which precipitated the crisis that brought the world to the brink of an all-out nuclear conflict.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has warned that the U.S. missile program would start a new arms race in the region -- rekindling the Cold War between Moscow and Washington that ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Polish President Can Veto Withdrawal -- But At What Price?

As Poland's president, Lech Kacyznski, elected in 2005, doesn't have to face the voters again until 2010. Under the Polish Constitution, he still wields considerable power, most notably as the supreme commander of the armed forces. And he can veto legislation passed by the parliament.

But Kacyznski risks defying the will of the Polish electorate if he vetoes legislation to end Poland's involvement in Iraq. And unlike Bush -- whose tenure is approaching its constitutionally-mandated end 14 months from now -- Kacyznski can ill-afford to alienate the voters in his country.

And to a great degree, he already has -- by pursuing a policy that has antagonized Poland's fellow nations in the European Union and by making public statements that at times were openly hostile to Russia.

His brother, the former prime minister -- now reduced to sniping as leader of the opposition in parliament -- already accused Tusk's new coalition government of taking Poland "back to the '90s" on a course of rapid privatization, lower taxes and what he called "inappropriate government skulduggery."

One By One, the 'Coalition of the Willing' Collapses

Since the 2003 invasion, one of the "original four" countries to send in troops -- Denmark -- cut back its contingent from 545 in April 2003 to 55 now. And the coalition has shrunk considerably as country after country -- most notably Spain, Japan, Ukraine, Italy and even Great Britain -- either withdrew their forces completely or significantly reduced their presence there.

Denmark had approximately 450 soldiers in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. Seven Danish soldiers were killed there. A violent explosion of rage by Muslims around the world in protest of a conservative Danish newspaper's publication of an unflattering cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed in 2006 saw the Danish Embassy in Beirut burned to the ground.

That led the conservative Danish government of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to initiate a sharp reduction in that country's force in Iraq. By July of this year, Denmark had shrunk its presence in Iraq to a fleet of support helicopters.

Spain withdrew its forces after the Madrid terror bombings of March 11, 2004 -- just three days before crucial national elections -- led to the defeat of Spain's conservative government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Anzar by the Socialist Party, led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who vowed to pull Spanish forces from Iraq if elected.

Japan, amid much domestic political controversy, sent 600 troops to Iraq, primarily to help with reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure. It was the first time that Japanese troops had been deployed overseas since World War II -- which many critics said violated Japan's pacifist 1947 constitution, which restricts the use of the military to defense of the Japanese homeland.

In the spring of last year, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced that Japanese forces would be withdrawn as early as July after a unity government in Iraq was established. He had announced that Japanese forces in Iraq's Samara province would be pulled out, citing the mission to be a success.

Ukraine's withdrawal of its troops from Iraq in December 2005 was mandated by legislation passed by the Ukrainian parliament and it fulfilled a 2004 campaign pledge by President Viktor Yushchenko, who was inaugurated in January 2005. Eighteen Ukrainian troops were killed in Iraq during their deployment.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government lost its bid for re-election in Italy's 2005 parliamentary election primarily because of his refusal to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. His successor, Romano Prodi, pledged to withdraw the troops in his first speech to the Italian parliament and called the war "a grave mistake that has complicated, rather than solved, the problem of security."

Even Britain Cuts Back on Troops -- to Stave Off Election Defeat

But even the United States' staunchest ally in Iraq -- Britain -- is cutting back its presence in Iraq. Less than six months after taking over as prime minister from the retiring Tony Blair, Gordon Brown announced in October that the British contingent would be reduced to 4,500 by the end of the year, and cut further to 2,500 by the spring of 2008. He added that 500 troops would be sent to bases in the Persian Gulf region to fulfill a supporting role.

It's noteworthy that Brown announced the cuts after he called off plans to call an early parliamentary election amid opinion polls showing that his governing Labor Party -- in power for 10 years under Blair -- would lose to the opposition Conservatives, primarily because of mounting public opposition to Britain's involvement in Iraq.

His Labor Party already badly battered in recent local elections, Brown apparently decided that to call an early national election now -- Labor isn't legally required to face the voters again until 2011 -- would be politically suicidal.

The U.S. Is Stuck in Iraq Until (At Least) After the 2008 Election

With Bush's Iraq "coalition of the willing" now lying in ruins, the question inevitably must be asked: How much longer can the U.S. continue to hold out in Iraq?

Unfortunately, the Democrats -- who were handed control of Congress in 2006 principally because of mounting public discontent with the war -- lack the required two-thirds majority votes in either house of Congress to override Bush vetoes. In the Senate, they even lack the required three-fifths majority -- 60 votes -- to cut off Republican filibusters of legislation to force a even a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

That leaves the Democrats with only one option: To cut off funding for the war -- an option that most Democrats are afraid to use outright.

But this war began under Bush's watch. And, by God, it must end on Bush's watch. Under no circumstances must Bush be allowed to pass the war onto his successor -- whomever his successor may be.

The time is overdue for the Democrats on Capitol Hill -- especially in the House -- to fully exercise Congress' constitutional prerogative to control the federal purse and bring this war to an end before Bush leaves office.

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Volume II, Number 59
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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