Defining ally

Mark Steyn:

ACCORDING to my dictionary, the word "ally" comes from the Old French. Very Old French, I'd say. For the New French, the word has a largely postmodern definition of "duplicitous charmer who undermines you at every opportunity".
For the less enthusiastically obstructive NATO members, "ally" means "wealthy country with no military capability that requires years of diplomatic wooing and black-tie banquets in order to agree to a token contribution of 23.08 troops." Incidentally, that 23.08 isn't artistic licence on my part. The 2004 NATO summit in Turkey was presented as a triumph of multilateral co-operation because the 26 members agreed to contribute between them an additional 600 troops and three helicopters to the Afghan mission. That's 23.08 troops and a ninth of a helicopter per ally. In fairness, Turkey chipped in the three helicopters single-handed, though the deal required them to return to Ankara after three months.

And these days troops is something of an elastic term, too. In Norwegian, it means "fighting men who are prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Americans, as long as they don't have to do any fighting and there are at least two provinces between their shoulders and the American ones". That's to say, Norway is "participating" in Afghanistan, but, because its troops are "not sufficiently trained to take part in combat", they've been mainly back at the barracks manning the photocopier or staging amateur performances of Peer Gynt for the amusement of US special forces who like nothing better than to unwind with five acts of Ibsen after a hard day hunting the Taliban.

Alas, even being in the general vicinity of regions where fighting is taking place got a little too much so the Norwegians demanded a modification of their rules of non-engagement and insisted their "soldiers" be moved to parts of Afghanistan where there's no fighting whatsoever by anyone at all. Good luck finding any.

Which brings us to that brave band of countries who still use "ally" in the more or less traditional sense. The Old French word it comes from is "alier", which means "to bind to". Au contraire, these days to be an ally of America is to be in a bind. John Howard has just announced that things are pretty tough in Iraq so this is no time for Australia to be heading home. Tony Blair has just announced that things are going well in Iraq so this is exactly the time for Britain to begin heading home. But either way it makes no difference: both Prime Ministers have been greeted with jeers and catcalls, and each man's position has been assumed to undermine the other's, and both by extension to undermine George W. Bush.

Howard, as the most rhetorically surefooted of the Anglosphere's three musketeers, had a good comeback to the suggestion that the Bush surge and the Blair drawdown are mutually incompatible: "Anybody who studies Iraq for five minutes," he said, "knows that controlling Baghdad is infinitely more challenging than controlling Basra in the south. That is the reason why the Americans are increasing their numbers and the reason why, because of the relative improvement in Basra, the British are reducing their numbers."

That would appear to make sense. I had the privilege of being in the Oval Office a couple of months back when Bush observed that 80 per cent of the violence in Iraq took place within 30 miles of Baghdad....

There is much more. While many view Tony Blair as articulate, in the UK he is viewed as somewhat Clintonian. John Howard, on the other hand, is cogent and clear as a hammer as he recently demonstrated in describing al Qaeda's joy at the Obama plan for defeat in Iraq.

It should be noted that while the Brits are pulling 1600 troops out of Iraq the are sending an additional 1000 to Afghanistan which suggest a continued commitment to the war effort, and as Howard points out a rational allocation of resources. Liberals will use any event to spin their agenda of defeat so it is not surprising they would twist good news into bad.


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