This column was written by John Nichols.
Vice President Dick Cheney, keeping as far from federal prosecutors as possible these days, arrived in Japan on Wednesday to officially thank that country for supporting the Bush-Cheney administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq.
What made the trip even more comic than Cheney usual campaigning on behalf of the war that he, more than any other member of the administration, wanted, plotted and defended with a disregard not just for the laws of the land but for reality, was the fact that he was thanking an ally that is not exactly in the alliance.
Japan was a part of the original "coalition of the willing" — more precisely referred to as the "coalition of the coerced" — that signed on for the quagmire run.
But Japan pulled its troops out of Iraq last year.
The Japanese still provide a minimal number of airlifts in support of U.S. operations in the Middle East, but even that mission is set to end in July.
So Cheney was thanking a country that is essentially, and quite happily, out of the coalition.
If the Japan Appreciation Day mission was bizarre, the vice president's speech in a hangar bay at the Yokosuka Naval Base near Tokyo was downright delusional. "The American people will not support a policy of retreat," Cheney chirped. "We want to complete the mission, we want to get it done right, and then we want to come home, with honor."
Exactly who are these "American people" the vice president is communing with?
Not the overwhelming majority of Americans who tell pollsters they want the U.S. to exit Iraq.
Not the clear majority of Americans who voted last November for a Democratic Congress charged with the task of bringing the troops home.
And not the American president who cheerfully accepted the decision of British Prime Minister Tony Blair to substantially reduce that country's boots on the ground in Iraq — as well as the decision of the Danes to withdraw from the endeavor.
When the Danish prime minister called this week to inform Bush that the country's 46O troops would be leaving Iraq, the president had no objection to the decision to cut and run. According to Denmark's Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Bush expressed "both understanding and satisfaction that the situation in Iraq makes it possible for Denmark and Britain to reduce their numbers of troops."
If this war gets much more "satisfying," the U.S. will be fighting it alone.
But don't expect to hear Bush or Cheney complaining about the inability of the Brits, the Danes, the Japanese or the Tongans to understand the importance of Iraq to the "war on terror." That silly spin is reserved for domestic consumption. It's a political hammer used to attack Democrats who fail to rubberstamp the administration's misguided strategies — not a serious concern on the part of the administration.
For all the "stay-the-course" rhetoric from Bush and Cheney, this administration has been more than willing to accept the retreats of allies from Iraq. Why? Because the president and vice president don't want Americans to pay attention to the fact that the "coalition of the willing" has crumbled.
In addition to Japan — which, like most countries, had a largely symbolic presence in the Middle East — the following countries have joined the coalition of the unwilling to remain in Iraq: the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Portugal, Nicaragua, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Slovakia, Thailand, Tonga and the Ukraine.
Along with Denmark's exiting troops, Lithuania's contingent will likely leave this summer. Armenia's 46 troops are expected to be out at year end, as are Poland's 9OO. And, while Moldova is technically still in the coalition, its 11 bomb-defusing experts quietly exited Iraq last December and have yet to be replaced.
Aside from Great Britain, which is dramatically downsizing its presence, only Australia — where Prime Minister John Howard appears to be channeling Cheney — and South Korea now have more than 1,000 troops stationed in Iraq. And South Korea, which will extract 1,100 of its troops this spring, may not be around for much longer; the country's parliament has called for total withdrawal by December 31.
According to the www.globalsecurity.org website, which tracks military involvement in Iraq, Kazakhstan, with 29 troops, remains committed to the mission, as does Macedonia, with 33 troops; Estonia, with 34 troops; Bosnia and Herzegovina, with 37 troops and another ten countries, with between 1OO and 865 troops each.
Here's a sobering fact to ponder: Add together all the troops from all the foreign countries that are still in Iraq as committed members of the "coalition of the willing" and you will get a figure that is substantially lower than the 21,5OO U.S. troops that are now surging into the country on President Bush's orders.
But, despite the fact that the real surge is the one taking U.S. allies out of Iraq, Cheney will keep preaching about America's refusal to accept retreat — even as he continues to thank countries, like Japan, that have had the wisdom to abandon a sorely misguided mission.
By John Nichols
Reprinted with permission from the The Nation