Apparently, British troops are tired of constantly being greeted as liberators.
On Feb. 21, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a plan for the phased withdrawal of 1,600 of the 7,100 British troops currently stationed in the Basra (closest to Iran) region of Iraq. Blair’s plan will call for fewer than 5,000 British troops to be stationed in Iraq by mid-summer, with the remaining troops staying in Iraq until at least 2008.
Blair’s departure from his hawkish position on the Iraq War was seen by Iraq critics as a deterioration of the so-called ‘coalition of the willing,’ resulting in another ally slowly distancing itself from the burden and nuisance that has become Iraq.
Four years into a war that has lasted longer than America’s involvement in World War II and taken more American lives than those killed on Sept. 11, the number of troops provided by the ‘coalition of the willing’ outside the United States is almost shameful.
Upon hearing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, one would assume everything is going according to plan.
‘The coalition remains intact,’ Rice said, following Blair’s announcement, which came on the same day Denmark’s government declared it would withdraw its 460 troops in August.
Slovenia (four troops), the Netherlands (15), Moldova (24), Macedonia (40) and everybody’s new favorite country Kazakhstan (27) are just some of the dozen or so coalition partners who have contributed fewer than 100 troops.
In fact only South Korea with its 2,300 troops (1,100 to be withdrawn by April) and Great Britain break the thousand-troop mark.
And now with the United States’ closest ally, the British, slowly receding from its early commitment, the burden will soon entirely lie on the shoulders of the United States.
Vice President Dick Cheney also asserted himself shortly after Blair’s announcement, stating that the withdrawal was a positive step.
‘I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well,’ Cheney said.
Latent in Cheney’s words is the apparent hypocrisy of his position. If Democrats call for a timetable or a phased withdrawal of troops, they are ridiculed and labeled as ‘giving aid and to the enemy,’ ’emboldening the terrorist’ and ‘validating the al-Qaeda strategy.’
However, when the British government implements the same policy they are commended and seen as vindicating the Bush strategy.
No one is going to question Cheney’s claims that parts of Iraq are ‘going pretty well.’ The main struggle, however, is not in Basra, where the British troops are stationed.
Basra is one of the safer regions in Iraq. The regions where the war will be won or lost and where the most imminent threat lays are in the al-Anbar province (Ramadi and Fallujah) that terrorists have essentially taken over and Baghdad, where terrorist attacks and car bombings are common.
Blair’s withdrawal also puts into question the effectiveness of President George W. Bush’s ‘troop surge.’
One can only ask the question, if the United States needs to increase its troop levels by 21,500 to finish the mission, why can’t British troops be sent to Baghdad or al-Anbar, instead of being redeployed back home?
Even Blair stated that Baghdad suffered from ‘an orgy of terrorism’ and ‘if Baghdad cannot be secured, the future of the country is in peril.’ If Blair’s words weren’t more then mere rhetoric, his next course of action would be for the British troops to address the situation in Baghdad.
Instead, the British government, like the rest of the coalition, reiterates the necessity to win the war on one hand, while slowly withdrawing troops in the other.
With the Bush administration foolishly applauding Blair’s declaration, one can only imagine how out-of-touch and delusional the administration has become.
To argue Blair’s announcement is an encouraging step in the war is disingenuous and insincere. Rather, Britain’s withdrawal plan should be the first step in recognizing that if the United States does not start to withdrawal its troops, it will be eventually become the coalition of one.