In 2003, George Bush had his “coalition of the willing.” For his Iraq war, Barack Obama will have his own coalition of the illing.
Democrats attacked the Bush administration at the time for assembling a coalition of the willing that was anything but. It should be remembered now, when President Obama is seeking allies for a war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, that more than 35 nations contributed about 20,000 troops to the 2003 intervention and reconstruction of Iraq. The nations included many of the world’s leading democracies (though not the faithless French and Germans).
President Obama’s call for allies, on the other hand, has received the enthusiastic embrace of only one nation — Syria (though that is a bridge too far). The administration hopes other ruthless dictatorships and American rivals, such as Iran and China, will join. Who is Obama going to ask next, Putin? North Korea? And even for those allies who might join, such as Saudi Arabia, none of them has promised to send any military force. No nation is going to promise ground troops. Turkey, the most powerful nation in the region, is reportedly refusing overflight rights for any airstrikes. Remember then-senator Kerry’s 2004 debates with President Bush, in which he said that U.S. uses of forces should pass some kind of global test? Although President Bush rightly ridiculed the notion, I wonder what Secretary of State Kerry today thinks of his grade from his global proctors?
On the one hand, it is hard to blame any of these countries. After watching Russia annex parts of Ukraine despite a written U.S. guarantee of the latter’s sovereignty, with no military response, not even aid, from the U.S., no nation will have any confidence that the Obama administration will see this job through. They will be unwilling to put their own political and military assets at risk for a president who has ignored his own red lines and has run for the exits in Iraq once already. Allies might find some reassurance if Congress were to authorize force and to launch a broad buildup in the U.S. military, good not just for this conflict but to allow the U.S. to keep up its global security responsibilities. It is a moment for conservatives to demonstrate their leadership qualities on national security, and to set the stage for a new president truly interested in foreign policy to revitalize the nation’s fortunes.