IN HIS ANNOUNCEMENT of war on Iraq, President Bush repeated a very strange word: coalition. He said the word in his first two sentences, three of his first five, and added a fourth reference when he said, ''I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm.'' From this, you would think that the globe is shouting, ''Go USA!'' It sounds as if world leaders are joining Bush on a street corner to say, ''What up, bro? Oh yeah? You want to assassinate Saddam? Cool, I'm down with that. You got it. And remember bro, no matter what happens, I got yo' back. Peace.''
Really now. The world's got our back as we try to ''decapitate,'' ''take out,'' excuse me, assassinate Saddam. ''The United States is prepared to lead a coalition of the willing,'' Secretary of State Colin Powell said. ''We now have a coalition of the willing that includes some 30 nations.'' By wartime, Bush said the list had grown to 35 nations who ''are giving crucial support, from the use of naval and air bases to help with intelligence and logistics, to the deployment of combat units.''
Given how the Unilateral States of America just flushed the United Nations into the East River, it is interesting to see just who has ''got our back.'' When you look at the list, you realize that the actual thing that most of the ''coalition of the willing'' actually said to Bush was, ''You want to assassinate Saddam? Cool, I'm down with that. You got it. Now, I can't exactly be there with you right now, you know what I mean bro, right? You know how it is. My treasury is bankrupt, my people are starving, and I got some rebels to repress. But, hey, you go ahead and take out Saddam. And remember bro, no matter what happens, I got yo' back. Peace.''
The reason the word ''coalition'' flows every five seconds from the lips of the Bush and Powell is because they do not want us to know that no such thing exists. The United States has 250,000 troops bearing down on Iraq. Britain is contributing 45,000. After that, the next greatest contributor is Australia, with a grand total of 2,000.
After that, it is a gathering of street-corner brothers, the kind who are legendary for loudly threatening to start a fight, but at the moment of truth runs back to his buddies and screams, ''Fellas, hold me back! You gotta hold me back before I kill this guy!''
Poland, obviously to protect its $3.8 billion in US fighter-plane loans, will loan us a grand total of 200 soldiers. Spain was the third-loudest voice behind the United States and Britain in asking the UN to go to war. But faced with 81 percent opposition by Spaniards to the war, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar committed only 200 troops to go only to Turkey. Fellas, hold me back!
Denmark threw in a submarine and a destroyer. Nations like Turkey, Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania will let US planes land or fly in their airspace. But concern that Saddam Hussein is a world threat does not extend to risking the lives of their own soldiers. Nations like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Hungary said they will assist in any cleanup activities after the war is over or help house refugees. Big deal. Even Germany, one of the most vocal opponents of the war, says it will help in a cleanup.
One of the ''coalition of the willing,'' President Francisco Flores of El Salvador, said, ''If the world had disarmed Hitler in 1937, then maybe what happened wouldn't have happened.'' President Enrique Bolanos of Nicaragua said his nation will ''back this action in the fight against terrorism wherever it exists.'' Neither nation has committed troops. They got our back.
Bush's 35 nations is less about fear of Saddam Hussein than fear of not wanting to end up like Turkey. When Turkey waffled on allowing the United States to deploy troops on its border with Iraq, the United States pulled a $15 billion aid package. That is why Ethiopia and Eritrea, which need aid to fight starvation, are ''coalition'' partners. That is why Colombia, which needs our aid in the drug war and to fight rebels, is a partner. That is why the Czech Republic, which is just getting into the Western economic game with wonderful products like cigarettes, put their name on the list.
Bush needs none of them to waste a rust-bucket like Iraq. He needs them to add a veneer of morality to his aggression. He could not convince the UN to become the coalition of the willing. He was so eager to go to war, he settled for a coalition of welfare states.
If Bush does not spare innocent civilians from harm in Iraq, we will find out very quickly who has his back.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company