We are all alone. Thereâs no other way to put it. With the attack on the Italian installation in Nasiriyah, the Japanese and the South Koreans are now balking on earlier pledges of troops. They havenât exactly pulled the plug on a possible deployment. But theyâre really jiggling the plug in the socket.
The number of troops involved is minor compared to the scope of the operation. Japan had pledged 150 troops and then planned to build that force to 700 early next year. They now say theyâre unlikely to send anyone this calendar year. And it doesnât look much like they plan to send anyone at all. They seem to be, shall we say, letting us down easy.
Meanwhile, the nearly 500 South Korean troops stationed near Nasiriyah have been confined to their compound till further notice. And, as the Washington Post reports, âSouth Korean President Roh Moo Hyun rebuffed a U.S. request for a substantial increase in the number of troops his government has pledged to send to Iraq, instructing officials at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday to keep the figure to 3,000 or less, according to a spokesman today.â
Thereâs a side note to the Korea story.
The Post story contains this graf â¦
"The U.S. needs our help. They can't do this alone, but there is an unwillingness to help, especially as the situation in Iraq is growing more dangerous," said Lee Kyeong Jea, a leading opposition congressman in South Korea. "This is the time when we should be showing we are not fair-weather friends . . . but we are showing just the opposite."
Whatâs the backstory here? Itâs an overstatement to say that South Korean President Roh was elected on an anti-American platform. But he was elected on a platform of deep skepticism about the US-ROK security alliance. And, by common agreement, much of the wind in Rohâs sails, came as a response to the White Houseâs torpedoing of Rohâs predecessorâs so-called Sunshine policy, his policy of rapprochement with the North.
Now, the deep strains in US-ROK relations (what we call South Korea is formally known as the Republic of Korea) have deep roots. Much of it stems from difficulties adjusting to the end of the Cold War and Korean democracy itself, which is fairly new.
But in no small measure the stance of the current South Korean government is the result of the Bush administrationâs aggressive and unilateral policies toward the Korean Peninsula.
Itâs all interconnected.
The retreat of South Korea and Japan must be added to that of Turkey, which has also pulled back on earlier pledges to supply troops.
The winter of 2003-2004 looks to be shaping up as a dark replay of that of the year previous. Only now with a difference. Last year our near total isolation could be floated on tough talk and denigration.
It was, after all, theoretical. We had a nominal need for friends. We needed to get a UN resolution. We wanted the Europeans behind us. We wanted support from countries like Turkey and the Arab states. But our need was predicted and probable, not concrete, not immediate.
Now itâs really concrete.
We are literally begging for assistance and not getting it.
One of the surreal and ridiculous things about the Great Push-back -- the administration's big publicity counteroffensive that started last month -- is that you'd hear the administration principals and a bunch of talk radio show hosts droning on about how the real story wasn't getting through the biased media filter. And then you'd talk to security types who'd been there -- military, military-type contractors, etc. -- and they'd say, 'No, it's terrible. It's on the brink, etc.'
Now, not always that dire of course. The most convincing reports I heard were ones of uncertainty about how the insurgency could be contained and questions about what sort of 'bench strength' the insurgents had. But, broadly speaking, pretty much the polar opposite of what the politicals were saying. And I'm talking about people who are either apolitical or are themselves hawks.
Now we have still more of the backstory: at pretty much the same time the president was pummeling the press for hiding the good news out of Iraq, his own CIA was deciding that things were going from bad to worse. And as I've said in recent days Bremer himself seems to have delivered the same message two weeks ago, and in all probability much earlier.
In this whole unfortunate business, the White House took our preeminence and mistook it for omnipotence or something near to it. And by treating our preeminence as omnipotence theyâve put our preeminence into question.