Blink and you'll miss it; the war in Iraq is over. The nefarious Iraqi regime has folded like a house of cards. Saddam Hussein has been captured and his cronies have disappeared into outer Iraq, or Syria, or some other place that the U.S. can't reach, like France. Maybe they and Osama are playing hide-and-go-seek in the mountains of Afghanistan. Even the Iraqi Information Minister has abandoned his "one-man campaign against the observable facts" and gone underground.
The original Desert Storm operation took 9 days on the ground, with the backing of the United Nations. Desert Storm II: Electric Boogaloo took 27 days, and this time we crashed the party with 35 of our best friends: the Coalition of the Willing.
There's a popular belief that the victory in Iraq is the result of America's ultimate military supremacy, that it maintains an unbeatable fighting force, ready to be deployed to any corner of the earth. This is an easy conclusion to reach, given that the U.S. provided 85% of the troops for the war. But don't be fooled. This victory couldn't have been achieved without the crucial support of America's closest allies.
The Coalition allies might not be the biggest kids in the schoolyard. Not every country can maintain a fighting force on the size and scope of America's. So it's easy to laugh at countries like Albania, which donated 70 non-combat troops to the Coalition Effort. It's easy to laugh, because it's funny. America sent 1400 chefs to the Coalition. Albania looks kind of tiny in comparison.
So, who's in the Coalition? The Australian media has done a splendid job of emphasising the role of Australian troops. This is only natural; these are Australian citizens fighting in our name. Furthermore, your taxes pay for these troops, so it's important to watch the news and find out if you're getting your money's worth. (Well, if you're an accounting student you probably don't pay taxes, and also you're nominally a citizen of Barbados for tax purposes; don't come complaining to me when the Federal Government withholds your anti-terrorism fridge magnet.)
Australia's commitment to the Coalition, in case you're wondering, is 2,000 troops and 150 special forces troops. I asked around, and apparently we're doing a good job. The Americans even let us ride in the front seat of the Humvees for awhile.
To take a broad, international perspective, Australia is the third-largest contributor of combat troops to the war. The other Two Stooges, if you didn't know, are the U.S. and Britain. This partnership is an intriguing idea: the Original Crusaders and the New Kids on the Block, combining their powers for a final showdown in the East. A helpful analogy is the recent duet by Elton John and Eminem. Britain, like Elton John, provided old school credibility and shiny pants. America, like Eminem, provided angry white guys with guns.
But the Coalition is an Equal Opportunity Employer; you don't have to be a great military superpower (like Australia) to be a member. You don't have to be an ailing, outmoded superpower (like Britain) - nobody's checking your Returned Empires League membership at the door. In fact, like Coalition associates Iceland, Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands, you don't even have to have an army. It seems incredible that nations exist in the 21st Century without a military force, but some countries do not face a threat from other nations. Hence, you really only need an army if you think your country's worth invading. Cheer up, little Iceland. I'm sure someone would invade you if there was a worldwide shortage of whatever it is that Iceland exports: penguins and angry Icelandic musicians, for example.
Small contributions of troops, logistics, equipment, air space and air bases, financial support and weapons have been made by Albania, Denmark, Georgia, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea and Spain (which recently announced plans to withdraw its troops). Some of the contributions are noteworthy - Denmark's supply of medical teams, for instance, or Japan's post-conflict financial support - but the others are fairly low-key. It's kind of like a canned-food drive for the war effort; these provisions may not be tasty or delicious, but at least it's something.
Some countries were obliged to join the coalition, regardless of whether they had anything worthwhile to contribute. Colombia, El Salvador and Nicaragua owed the United States a debt of gratitude for its assistance in the drug wars. I guess if the Iraqi kids get tired of petrol sniffing, Colombia can provide them with Class A "humanitarian relief." Afghanistan and Uzbekistan joined the Coalition to thank America for invading and overthrowing the Taliban. Following this to its logical conclusion, Iraq will be obliged to join the Coalition when it invades Syria, who will be obliged to fight alongside the U.S. against North Korea, and so on. Eventually the U.S. will have every country allied on its side, inadvertently reinventing the United Nations.
Other countries joined the Coalition in order to secure U.S. support on other matters. (Skeptics among you might put Australia in this category. This implies Australia has anything valuable to offer the U.S. in return.) Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the Coalition in an attempt to shore up support for local matters. Ethiopia joined the Coalition in an attempt to garner U.S. support for a border dispute with neighbouring Eritrea. The Eritreans joined the Coalition in the hope of securing U.S. support in a border dispute with ... Ethiopia. Well, at least they tried.
Many nations have offered political support to the Coalition. These nations are on the sidelines on the war, cheering for the troops and handing out oranges at half time; the soccer mums of the Coalition, if you will. Providing the Coalition with political support, we have: Azerbaijan (I am not making these names up), Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Hungary, Macedonia, Mongolia, Micronesia, Palau, Panama, Rwanda, Slovakia and Uganda. Perhaps Mongolia could give us some tips on invading the Middle East; they've had a lot of practice.
Astonishingly enough, some members of the Coalition do not support the war. The Czech Republic and Romania are contributing troops for chemical and biological decontamination, post-conflict and non-combatant troops for humanitarian missions. Which is a super effort, and something that should inspire many other nations around the world. The Czech Republic and Romania have probably made the most meaningful statement of 2003: that if you're serious about humanitarian issues, there's plenty you can do about it.
Behind the face of the Coalition, there are 15 undeclared members of the Coalition. These members provide anonymous political, logistical and tactical support - the wind beneath the Coalition's wings.
There are several good reasons for a nation to hush up its support of the Coalition. Keeping the neighbours happy is one of them. Shortly after the Original Recipe Gulf War ended, many Arab nations joined the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Member nations "agreed to help provide for the defence of Kuwait in the event of a new war with Iraq." It's a good bet that a few GCC nations are on the Undeclared Member list. Countries like Saudi Arabia might be glad to see the back of Hussein, but they would also like to maintain good relations with the rest of the Arab world. Being a member of the American-led Coalition doesn't look good when you try to borrow a cupful of plutonium from the neighbours.
I don't know if the TAB is taking bets, but here's my pick of the undeclared members: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Iran, Germany, France, North Korea and Liechtenstein. Keep your eye on Leichtenstein; I think it's the ring-leader. We'll refer to this group as the Axis of Unbelievable.
So, what next? Operation Iraqi Freedom has been declared a success, and the Coalition has achieved its primary goal - the removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime. The U.S. will stay in Iraq, under its "you break it, you bought it" theory of international relations. Countries like Australia will withdraw their troops while others, like Romania, will assist the humanitarian effort. The United Nations will congratulate itself on being nobody's patsy, and then it will spend the next six months reminding everyone of just how relevant it is in other regions. It will also consider the downsides of leaving resolutions open to interpretation; the loopholes that allowed the U.N. to distance itself from the war, also allowed the U.S. to pursue the war. Anti-war protesters will start replacing "Iraq" with "Syria" on their placards (my suggestion: "Nothing's sillier / than war on Syria"). And the world's comedians will have to stop copying their jokes out of the headlines, and start writing original material again. Thank you, and goodnight.