So it's come to this...
White House spokesman Scott McClellan pointed to Mongolia's continued presence in the coalition as evidence of its strength...Yep, the strength of our coalition and the international prestige of our nation seems to rest in the hands of our 180 Mongolian allies.
While the withdrawal of the Philippines 51 man contingent from Iraq has captured headlines, it may be the least of the problems the US faces in holding together its 'coalition.' The original group of 32 countries has now dwindled to 27 (Spain, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic having withdrawn before the Philippines) and of those remaining, some are mere shadows of their previously meager selves. Singapore has drawn down its forces from 191 to 33, Norway has pulled 140 of its 155 combat engineers. Moldava's 42 troops have been drawn down to 12, and while Australia plans to reinforce its delegation to bring it to a total of 880, that's actually less than half the number originally comitted for the invasion, and most of the Aussies aren't in Iraq at all, but offshore in sea and air support postitions.
Thailand and New Zealand plan to be gone by September and the Polish government has announced that its forces will be cut in half by the time of the elections scheduled for January, although a UN resolution calls for Poland to maintain some presence through 2005.
Many of the withdrawals have come from internal pressures in the coalition countries (even relative stalwarts, like Italy, are remaining on razor thin parlimentary approvals that could shift at any time), and there's little happening on the ground to reassure them. There have been three major offensives in the Iraqi war, and while the initial battle for Baghdad was argubably a victory, it contained the seeds of the subsequent defeats in the pacification attempt in Fallujah and Sadrist uprising.
Yes, defeats. Two months following the pullout of the US Marines at Fallujah, the city is off limits to coalition forces, with the Fallujah Brigade holding sway over a city described as "a den of terrorists and a refuge for foreign Muslim fighters waging global jihad..." The only response available to American forces has been a series of bombing raids which US officials claim are aimed at safe houses used by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Residents dispute the claims, which are impossible to verify. Certainly, Fallujah could be retaken, but the cost of the door to door urban warfare that would be required is a price that American officials seem unwilling to pay. Fallujah is just one of the areas that was left unpacified and insecure in the rush to Baghdad, a strategy that was necessitated by the refusal to commit an adequate force for an effective occupation following the original invasion.
That failure also led to what can only be counted as a defeat in the Sadrist uprising this spring. Launched with the expressed goal of capturing the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, it led to al-Sadr's Mahdi Army capturing a number of underdefended cities in southern Iraq while solidifying their hold on the Baghdad ghetto called Sadr City, and although much of the ground was recaptured and thousands of Sadrist fighters were killed, al-Sadr himself, rather than being "brought to justice," found his prestige among the Shiite rank and file enhanced and is now being courted politically by the interim government. Symbolic of that courtship is the decision of Prime Minister Allawi to approve the reopening of the Sadrist newspaper, Al-Hawza, the closure of which was one of the main events provoking the uprising.
Having lost two major military campaigns and steadily losing even the token support of our token coalition partners, it's harder every day to judge Iraq as anything less than the first defeat of the United States in the 21st century. It's clear that the current administration hasn't learned enough to make it the last. The fate of Iraq remains uncertain, but there's no doubt that the fate of the US depends on domestic regime change this November.