The "coalition of the willing" is over. One by one, its members have ceded the bloodstained ground to the battling Iraqis and the unyielding U.S. president. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's decision Monday to halve the vestigial British military force in Basra was inevitable; backing the U.S. in Iraq has become a political albatross for governments all over the world.
Washington had always exaggerated the strength of the coalition, which once numbered 34 countries. But Spain and New Zealand pulled out troops in 2004; the Netherlands, Hungary, Singapore, Norway and Ukraine left in 2005, followed by Japan and Italy in 2006. Georgia and Poland, which desperately need U.S. goodwill as a bulwark against a resurgent Russia, still maintain a symbolic presence.
But Britain is our special ally, and so its decision to bail out is momentous. British forces, once more than 45,000 strong, will be cut from the current 5,000 to 2,500, with no promise to stay beyond the spring. Whitehall and the White House attempted to portray the move as made possible by the success of the U.S. troop "surge." In fact, it was made essential by Brown's vulnerability on the war issue. More ominously, it represents a repudiation of the Bush administration's argument that stability in Iraq is of vital importance to the entire Western world.