by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
the increasingly hawkish 'Washington Post' could not help the journalistic equivalent of a wink Thursday.
"The United States welcomed the kingdom of Tonga yesterday as the 49th member of its 'coalition of the willing' for the war in Iraq, a club that includes many of the smaller of the 191 member states of the United Nations," it wrote.
With a population of just over 100,000 -- less than 20 percent of the total population of Washington, D.C. -- the South Pacific island chain has no army and no navy, but, never mind that. Many of the 48 nations that now stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" with the United States in its bid to "disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein" do not have much in the way of military throw-weight.
"I suppose they could send always send hula girls to entertain the troops," noted one State Department official. "That would help."
Such irreverence aside, the notion that President George W. Bush has assembled a mighty "coalition of the willing" to battle for the disarmament of Iraq and the removal of Saddam has become a standing joke in wartime Washington, no matter how seriously Bush and his top officials seem to take it.
"We've got a huge coalition," Bush responded, somewhat defensively to a question about the lack of support from traditional allies France, Germany, and Turkey that was addressed to him and visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday.
"As a matter of fact, the coalition that we've assembled today is larger than one assembled in 1991 (for the first Gulf War) in terms of the number of nations participating ...This is a vast coalition that believes in our cause, and I'm proud of their participation."
Of course, the first Gulf War, unlike this one, had the authorization of the UN Security Council and the active military participation of 34 countries, but somehow Bush and his top advisers think that they have pulled off an unprecedented diplomatic coup in lining up such military and political heavyweights as Angola, Bulgaria, Honduras, and Palau, whose population stands at about 18,000.
"Our Coalition" was the declarative title of the lead column on the editorial page of the ultra-hawkish 'Wall Street Journal' by Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, on Wednesday.
"Nearly 50 nations are committed to ridding Saddam Hussein's regime of all its deadly, destructive and illegal weapons," she asserted with the solemn tone of determination and gravitas that the administration has been expounding for months.
"To put this in perspective, the combined population of coalition countries is approximately 1.23 billion people (not including Tonga's 105,000), with a combined gross domestic product of approximately 22 trillion dollars. These countries are from every continent on the globe, representing every major race, religion, and ethnicity in the world."
In fact, as pointed out in a new report by Washington-based 'Foreign Policy in Focus', the countries listed by the White House as part of the coalition represent a combined population of less than 20 percent of the globe, and while every continent is represented, the representation of some continents is, to say the least, rather sparse.
South America, for example, is represented exclusively by Colombia, whose embassy, when contacted by a U.S. newspaper, was not aware it was on the list.
Elsewhere in Latin America, the "coalition of the willing" consists of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Of those, only El Salvador has offered anything beyond a "statement of support", namely de-mining and possibly peacekeeping aid. The Dominican endorsement was so controversial that its foreign minister resigned in protest Wednesday.
The countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, which were drafted by Washington as part of another "coalition of the willing" in its 1982 invasion of Grenada, have escaped the list altogether so far.
In Africa, Angola, a major supplier of oil to the United States and major supplicant at the Washington-based World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda have all signed up with "statements of support" and nothing more.
In Asia, Washington counts among the "willing" Afghanistan (whose president is still guarded by U.S. military contractors), Japan, Mongolia, the Philippines, and South Korea, although the South Korean parliament, still furious with Washington's refusal to sit down with North Korea over its threatening nuclear weapons, has thus far rebuffed efforts by the new government to send engineers and medics to the Gulf.
Most countries on the list are European, and about half a dozen are providing real military support to the estimated 325,000 U.S. troops who have been deployed to Iraq. Of course, Britain is providing 45,000 of its own troops, while Australia -- whose diplomatic clout helped enlist half a dozen South Pacific island-states, including Tonga, into the coalition -- has sent 2,000 of its soldiers, sailors, and pilots.
As noted by Rice, Poland has contributed some commandos, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have sent several hundred anti-chemical warfare specialists, and a few Danish and Spanish warships are in the area.
Such contributions are noteworthy, but hardly compare with the number and level of participation of the 1991 coalition, which, unlike the new Gulf War, also coughed up some 60 billion dollars to defray Washington's war expenses.
The administration is also right to point out that a number of Arab countries are co-operating but, with the exception of Kuwait, prefer to keep their names off the official list for fear of angering their publics, which overwhelmingly oppose the war.
That's another aspect of the list that the administration would prefer not to talk about. As noted by the FPIF, public sentiment for the war in virtually all of the coalition countries is overwhelmingly opposed. Only in the United States and Israel - which is not included on the list for obvious reasons - is public support greater than 50 percent.
In Turkey, whose parliament rejected U.S. requests to base invading soldiers on its territory, public opinion against the war is greater than 90 percent. Despite the parliament's move and the level of public opposition, Ankara nonetheless is listed as one of the 49.
The FPIF study also found that more than one-third of the countries on the White House list were considered "not free" or only "partially free" on the latest Freedom House Index, which the administration uses to assess whether poor countries qualify for U.S. aid.
Of those, nine countries, including Azerbaijan, Eritrea, Georgia, and Uzbekistan, were described in the most recent State Department reports as having "extremely" or "very" poor human rights records.
Two dozen countries -- or virtually half of the "willing" -- are considered by Transparency International to have significant levels of corruption, another factor that may have made it easier for the U.S. to enlist statements of support strong enough to make the list.
March 27, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.