Wednesday, March 19, 2003

US names 'coalition of the willing'

The US has named 30 countries which are prepared to be publicly associated with their action against Iraq. Of course, only two of them (Australia and the UK) are contributing troops, but others are providing bases, flyover rights, or just saying "yeah we're on the team" in the hope of a future payoff.

The list itself reads like a Who's Who of who's unimportant. Several are prospective NATO members, who fear a US veto of their membership (instead, they'll now be fearing a combined French-German veto of their entry into the EU). Notably absent are traditional US allies like Canada, Norway, Belgium, France and Germany - countries who share a great many of America's values (and certainly a lot more than, say, Uzbekistan), and who you'd expect to support action that was in accordance with those values. Their absence should mean something to the US, but it doesn't seem to.

As a tie-in, lots of people in the left blogo-hemisphere have been commenting on this week's cover story in Newsweek: The arrogant empire: why America scares the world. There's a lot of good stuff in this article, but the conclusion is particularly relevant to the above:

But the larger lesson [from the Turkish vote] is surely that in an increasingly democratic world American power must be seen as legitimate not only by other governments but by their people. Does America really want a world in which it gets its way in the face of constant public anger only by twisting arms, offering bribes and allying with dictators?

There are many specific ways for the United States to rebuild its relations with the world. [...] above all, it must make the world comfortable with its power by leading through consensus. America’s special role in the world—its ability to buck history—is based not simply on its great strength, but on a global faith that this power is legitimate.

In 1991, the world had faith in the legitimacy of American leadership; Bush Sr's coalition to free Kuwait enjoyed near universal approval, and over 40 countries contributed militarily to it while others picked up the bulk of the bill. Now, Bush Jr seems to be doing everything he possibly can to destroy that faith, and the result is that noone is willing to help. The sad thing is that Americans will probably just dismiss this as another example of foreign ingratitude (similar to our abject failure to offer them blow jobs for "saving us" from nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis), rather than seeing it as a very real problem for the future.