Commentary

America on Its Own in Iraq War

This article was originally published by Knight-Ridder on November 23, 2005.

John Edwards, the Democratic Party’s 2004 vice-presidential nominee, recently recanted his support for the original congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Although undoubtedly pleasing opponents of the war with his move, Edwards also embraced the all-too-common panacea for the Iraq problem: more international support.

He is not the only prominent political figure to latch on to that “solution.” Numerous liberal critics of the war explicitly or implicitly argue that if the arrogant, unilateralist George W. Bush had not been president, developments would have gone far better.

According to that thesis, the United States ultimately could have secured international support, including far more military contributions, for both the war and the postwar reconstruction effort.

Typically, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry still was arguing in late 2004 that he would be able to get other nations, especially the NATO allies, involved. Indeed, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is still pushing this idea more than a year later.

In fairness, for more than a year after the invasion, the Bush administration also indulged in the illusion that substantial international support soon would be forthcoming. Administration leaders were confident that even countries opposed to the war such as France, Germany, Russia and India would contribute money for reconstruction and troops for postwar peacekeeping. In reality, the international community pledged only meager financial contributions, and never offered significant numbers of peacekeeping personnel.

There always has been a dearth of evidence to support the “international rescue” thesis. Contrary to the wishful thinking of both the Bush administration and its liberal opponents, other countries are not eager to spend their money on transforming Iraq. They are even less willing to sacrifice the lives of their military personnel on the altar of nation-building. Russian President Vladimir Putin succinctly expressed the attitude of most governments on the eve of the invasion when he responded to a reporter’s question about whether Russia would join in the venture. “Yeah, like we’re really that stupid,” he replied.

The brutal reality is that the Bush administration has conducted the Iraq intervention in the only way it could have proceeded - as an overwhelmingly U.S.-British venture with a handful of good wishes and token contributions from the so-called coalition of the willing. The hope for a truly international mission always was a non-starter - and it remains so to this day.

Regardless of their views about whether the war was justified or what policy Washington should pursue going forward, all factions in the debate need to realize that there is no global cavalry ready to ride to the rescue in Iraq. For better or worse, the Iraq mission is an American problem, and it is up to the American people and their elected representatives to craft a solution.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of seven books on international affairs.