March 17, 2004


Honduras has said it is withdrawing its 300 troops from Iraq in July, now, too.

It should be noted this has little to do with the Spanish election outcome... as I've said before repeatedly, no country with the exception so far of Poland and Britain have yet publicly made longer-term commitments than the June 30 "handover" to Iraqi rule. Several were expected to quietly pull out at this point... it's only the fact that it was an election promise in Spain that has shone light on what was already an uncomfortable fact for U.S. military planners.

It's somewhat unclear who those commitments would be made to, for that matter. The new Iraqi Basic Law says that the Iraqi military will remain under exclusive American command, similar to the Indian army pre-1947, to take one example. Foreign contingents working for the Americans would presumably therefore be working solely for the Americans, as well, proving by their presence that the "handover" was less than the supporters of a rapid transition have claimed it might be.

The Spanish pullout is significant beyond its numerical value because the Spanish were providing a lot of the logistical backbone for the Polish and Ukrainian brigades that make up (with the Spanish-speaking brigade) the "Multinational Division" (MND) (which is separate from the British division, that incorporates the other participating NATO countries.) The Polish have now said they can keep their troop level constant if need be, but need another NATO (ie, Western) country to pick up the logistical side. That's going to be tricky... the U.S. has steadfastly rejected NATO taking a role in this formation per se, and presumably the countries that wish to play a lead role in Iraq are already doing so. The most likely outcome is the US Army taking over the MND's logistical support functions, which makes it rather less multinational than I'm sure some would like.

The whole refusal to get a NATO imprimatur, by giving the European countries a sector of Iraq and leaving them to man it, is incomprehensibly short-sighted. None of these foreign commitments were ever on a stable footing... any citizenry will eventually balk at sending soldiers on a foreign adventure under the absolute control of another nation (this fact, more than any other, rules out even token Canadian post-war involvement, for instance; Canadians have been picky on that score since at least Second Ypres). Regardless of their feeling about the war, the Spanish people evidently did not see themselves as partners in Iraq's reconstruction, and in fact they are not; they are just another kind of military contractor, providing and paying for troops to replace American soldiers, and they've now decided the payoff to them (in terms of allegedly increased personal security) isn't worth the price.

The resistance of the U.S. government to formalizing their new alliances in any way will in hindsight surely come across as mistaken as their earlier decision to disband the Iraqi army was... the Poles are reportedly very concerned about the slowness of the U.S. on the various international diplomatic issues the Poles had hoped their significant Iraqi role would leverage. If the Americans are going to rely on coalitions of the willing in future, rather than established alliances, they really need to put more thought into how they're rewarding their friends. "America won't forget," says Den Beste. If the slowness to show any payoff keeps up (Remember the British and Pakistani tariff issues?) it may become more accurate to say, "America won't remember."

PS: Australia's got a lot of nerve, don't they? After pulling out their Iraqi contingent entirely a year ago, they now feel they can urge Spain not to do so? Silly Sheilas.

As said here before, perhaps the more valuable statistic is fatal casualties, the ratio of which for Spain to Australia is currently 73:1.

This website says there are 1,000 Australians participating in the Iraq coalition. That's really only a state of mind thing, though; Australia has not been a player in the ground occupation in the way the other countries on that list have since war's end. That number consists of 250 troops in country, including a 90 person air operations det (traffic controllers) and a lot of little groups and individuals serving on attachment with various American units (some Canadians are still there, acting in a similar, but unrecognized capacity). There are also some embassy guards, and a 650-person naval/air detachment in the Persian Gulf, manning a frigate, 2 Orion patrol aircraft, and 2 C-130 transports. Last summer, when Canada had a larger naval/air detachment in the Persian Gulf (it was there for the war as well), also, coincidentally, manning several frigates, 2 Orion-type patrol aircraft and 2 C-130 transports, it was not considered part of the Iraq mission, because it was part of the global "war on terror" instead. (Canada is now down to one frigate in theatre at a time, as well, and it's still not being counted as part of the coalition, presumably because we want it that way.) For two-plus years, the Canadian and Australian sailors and airmen have been doing exactly the same thing... protecting military and commercial shipping in the Gulf, often as part of the same task force, with the Canadians conducting the majority of surface boardings, and the Australians getting all the credit with the States. If that makes any sense to anyone, please go get your head examined.

Posted by BruceR at 03:22 PM


Paul Knox in the Globe laments the inability of Canada to prop up the Aristide government with its military:

When the French and the Americans gave up on Mr. Aristide, should Canada have acted by itself? Militarily, the rebels weren't much -- a couple of hundred gangsters and former soldiers, most armed with vintage rifles and shotguns.

Knox concludes the will wasn't there, and Canada should have just issued a statement supporting Aristide, galvanizing the U.S. and France to act contrary to their interests and actual actions in the end. That would have been one great speech if it had accomplished that.

It's worthwhile noting that Australia, a smaller country with a smaller military, had no problem launching a similar-sized unilateral intervention to stabilize the Solomon Islands earlier this year.

Leaving aside the question whether propping up Aristide was a good idea or not, the simple fact is this: this "G8 nation" could not, on order, rapidly deploy a few hundred soldiers to its own backyard to support a government foreign policy objective. Even if Canada had not actually engaged in what would have been a risky endeavour, the demonstrable capability to do so would surely have put some actual weight behind the External Affairs Minister's statements on the matter. Simply the process of military deconfliction would have forced the American and French leaders to attempt to accommodate Canada's political objectives to a degree. None of that, of course, needed to happen in this case; the Canadians who arrived in Haiti yesterday long after the Marines took over are now quite irrelevant to determining the country's future.

The outcome in Haiti was, like it or not, the latest installment in the price of Canadian military powerlessness. Until that starts to bother people, strongly worded statements will be our only foreign policy tool. A rather useless tool at that, it seems.

Posted by BruceR at 02:58 PM