When John Kerry ran for president in 2004, he dismissed the allies fighting alongside the United States in Iraq as a “trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted.”
Now, as secretary of state, Kerry is going hat-in-hand to many of the same nations he insulted, asking them to join a U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
No wonder he’s having so much trouble.
As Kerry lobbies potential coalition partners at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York this week, it is worth recalling how he offended the 30-plus nations that sent ground troops to fight alongside us in Iraq — including the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Australia, Romania, South Korea, Japan, Denmark, Bulgaria, Thailand, El Salvador, Hungary, Singapore, Norway, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Mongolia, Latvia, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Slovakia, Albania, New Zealand, Tonga, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Spain, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Philippines, Armenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina — plus the many others who supported the mission with basing, overflight and other crucialassistance.
Kerry dismissed as “window dressing” the sacrifice of those nations, including the 14 coalition countries who by then had seen their soldiers die on the battlefield in Iraq. His cavalier comments prompted the president of Poland (a country that led Multinational Division in Central-South Iraq and lost 23 soldiers in battle) to declare, “It’s sad that a Senator with twenty years of experience does not appreciate Polish sacrifice . . . I don’t think it’s a question of ignorance. . . . It’s immoral not to see this involvement we undertook.”
Kerry mocked the contributions of smaller nations, declaring “When they talk about a coalition, that’s the phoniest thing I ever heard. You’ve got 500 troops here, 500 troops there.” Never mind he’s now working for a president who just used a prime-time address to announce that he is deploying — wait for it — 475 troops to Iraq (but insists they will not have a “combat role”).
Now, Kerry is meeting resistance from nations small and large as he seeks allies to join the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey has forbidden the United States from using Incirlik air base for military strikes on Islamic State targets. Egypt’s foreign minister told Kerry that Egypt’s “hands were full” with its own fight against terrorism. In Jordan, the New York Times reports, King Abdullah II “told Secretary of State John Kerry . . . that Jordan was focusing on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.” Looking at Kerry’s efforts, CNN reports that “it looks like a coalition of the not-so-willing.”
Kerry claimed at the U.N. on Friday that “we have seen more than 50 countries come forward with critical commitments.” But in his U.N. speech, he named just two countries
— Australia and France — that are providing fighter jets and military personnel, while explaining that “the coalition required to eliminate ISIL is not only, or even primarily, military in nature.” Bahrain, Kerry said, “has offered to host an international conference in the near future to . . . counter terrorist financing,” Germany is providing “lethal aid,” and Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea are contributing “to the UN-led humanitarian response in Iraq.”
How many of these contributions would have passed Kerry’s “window dressing” test in 2004? Not many.
Let’s be clear: If countries want to keep their cooperation with the United States a secret, that should be fine by us. When the George W. Bush administration formed coalitions in Iraq, Afghanistan and the broader war on terror, it did not insist that every nation publicly declare if and how it was contributing. The policy was to accept help from countries on a basis that was comfortable to them, and then let them characterize how they were helping the coalition. Many contributed openly, while many others cooperated privately.
But this was not good enough for Kerry in 2004. He declared that 30 nations with actual boots on the ground was evidence of a “go-it-alone policy in Iraq.” Now he expects to get credit for the support of any nation that issues a strongly worded statement.
To be fair, Kerry’s difficulties are not entirely his fault. No one believes President Obama’s strategy in Iraq will work — not the Republicans, not the Democrats, not the generals, not the American people. So it’s little wonder that our allies are questioning the strategy as well and finding ways to avoid making specific commitments.
After all, in 2004, Kerry declared that the United States could take preemptive action abroad only if it “passes the global test.” Well, if the current Iraq coalition is any indication, Kerry is failing his own global test.