First of all, anyone who thinks that the US's action in Iraq was unilateral needs to get slapped with a crumpet, a vegemite sandwich, and a kielbasa. In that order. Anyone who thinks that having three other countries with boots on the ground means "unilateral" is seriously unbalanced. Anyone who looks at the countries of Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, the Netherlands, The Philippines, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, and can STILL say "Oh, the USA went to war unilaterally" needs to be committed. Only a partisan hack or a mentally insane person calls a coalition of that many countries unilateral. Everybody got that? Just because we told France, Germany and Belgium to take a long walk off of a short pier doesn't make us unilateral.
There. I've gotten that off my chest. Now then, I'm about to explain why, from a military standpoint, being unilateral isn't all that bad.
Anyone who's been in the Army is familiar with the term "Command and Control". It might be called something different in the other branches of the armed forces, but it all boils down to this: You need to be able to command your forces, and control the battlefield. That's a short and sweet definition, but in reality it's just about as difficult as it gets. You need to be able to sort through pure chaos, figure out what units are where, what's happening with them, where they're going, who's attacking, who's counterattacking, who's flanking, who's supporting, who's calling for fire, what support units are working for who, who's free to assist, what reserves you have, and the list goes on and on and on. It is literally like taking a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle that someone dumped on your floor, and trying to put it back together in fifteen minutes. And the USA excels at it for a number of reasons.
One of those reasons is also a large part of why we have the best military in the world. Everybody, from the Commanding General to the lowest Private, is made aware of the plan. The CG comes up with the plan, and hands it down to the Division Commanders. The Division Commanders hands the plan down to the Brigades, who hand it down to the Battalions, who hand it down to the Companies, Platoons, Squads, and Teams. Naturally, as it passes downward the amount of information gets smaller and smaller, but by the time each individual team has the plan, everybody is on the same wavelength. They know what they need to do, and who they're with. Radio frequencies are distributed, as well as the times that those frequencies will change. And that lowly private knows what he needs to know. Objective, fallback plans, co-ordinating units, support and fire-support frequencies, all of it. Should his teamleader die in combat, the private would STILL have the information he needed to get the job done, because it was handed down to him before combat.
With all this information being distributed, there are several opportunities for problems to arise. The military knows this, and does it's best to reduce those chances. Distributing the wrong information could lead to units on the same side attacking each other, not knowing that they're firing on friendly troops. It could lead to a support unit not getting to the objective, thus depriving a forward unit of supplies and/or replacements. A whole host of things could go wrong in combat, and it's the military's job to prevent those things from happening. But it's a hard job nonetheless, made even more difficult by the fact that combat always changes. One second you're hard pressed, the next your enemy is retreating and you're following. Command and Control has to react to that, either calling for that unit to stand firm, or ordering pursuit if the situation is right. The USA's military can act independently, but it's much more effective if they have Command and Control to keep the units clued in. CaC can call for support from the Air Force to help a Marine unit, something that the Marine unit would be hard pressed to do on it's own. Hopefully by now you get the point, because I don't want to bore you with more of the same. The point that I wish to impress upon you is the total chaos that combat causes, and the difficulty in making sense of that chaos.
Combat is hard, difficult and disorienting at best. Now then, put yourself into that soldier's shoes. You're an 11C, an infantry mortar team member. You've been pounding away at an enemy position for about five minutes, shooting and moving. All the sudden, over your radio, you hear what sounds like this: "Whopuioawerhj! Ppahwelkrbopds!"
That's about what Dutch would sound like to me. Just how much of a kink would that throw into your plans? Do you think you could effectively fight in a combat situation if half of your force couldn't understand what the other half was saying?
Let's make it worse. One third of your force speaks English. The other two thirds is a conglomeration of Dutch, Italian, French, Korean, and Japanese. Do you think that this force could achieve the objective as efficiently as a force of all one language could? No, of course not. Co-ordinating efforts now requires translators. From English to Korean. From French to Japanese. From Japanese to Dutch to Italian to English. It would take forever just to get the orders out, much less call for fire from a supporting unit. Soldiers couldn't get the information that they need in order to fight effectively if every order had to be translated five times.
Now let's go back to our poor 11C, who just received some garbled message over his radio. It's in Dutch. Now, this guy knows that the Dutch are fighting on his side, but you can't have a translator on every team, it just isn't possible. There aren't enough translators for one, and the translators wouldn't be much help in a firefight anyways. Their job is to translate, not launch mortars. So what is that 11C to do? What if the Dutch need help? What if he's being warned about an enemy unit sneaking up on him?
What if he just dropped a round on them, and has no way of knowing that he just hit a friendly unit?
Do you see the problem? By introducing all these different units and languages into the combat scenario, you have just lost command and control. You've taken chaos and multiplied it exponentially. And ultimately, you have set up your unit to lose this battle, because they can't get the information that they need. America's forces use bullet and bombs, yes, but they also use just as much INFORMATION. Command and Control is about getting the right info to the right units.
Look at what happened in Afghanistan for a real world example. US forces were flying overhead on patrol at the same time Canadian forces were conducting a live fire exercise. The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing. The pilots didn't know what was going on below them, but a tracking device used by the Canadians lit up their alarms and monitors. Now, the Canadians weren't aiming at our boys, but when a pilot sees a tracker coming from a place that it shouldn't, that tracker goes bye bye. A lack of command and control caused the deaths of our own allies in Afghanistan. And that was between two countries who speak the same language! Imagine the problems that can arise when you have several different languages to go through.
And that brings me back to my point. While the support of all those countries I've listed above is wanted and in many cases necessary, that support does not have to be of a military nature. Too often I've seen and heard people on the left decry our coalition. "But they didn't send any troops!" They seem to think that a lack of armed forces means a lack of support. Not so. They seem to think that without more armies from more countries, we're just one big "unilateral" bully. Once again, not so. Those countries gave us the support we needed in the UN, and in some cases, financially as well. But military support? Not only was it not needed, but it is not wanted. The problems that arise from having that many countries involved completely outweigh the advantage of more troops. In combat, you need to be UNILATERAL. Multilateral = dead allies. Unilateral = Objective Achieved.
Give me the USA, UK, and Australia, and I don't think that the rest of the world combined could wipe us out. Because we would have proper Command and Control. Adding too much of anyone else into the mix results in chaos.
Now, there are exceptions to every rule, and there are exceptions here as well. Many of our forces came out of Iraq impressed with the skills of the Polish troops they served with. But Poland didn't send in a division, they sent in their special forces, small units which could successfully interact with our troops. When the Polish troops were operating on their own, they had their CaC in contact with OUR CaC at all times so that everyone knew what was going on, but there were never any large scale combat operations where the two countries were operating in each other's Area of Operations. The exception proves the rule.
So, I hope that I've removed some of the stigma from the word "unilateral". And please, feel free to copy that list of countries down, so that when other people bring up "unilateral" wars, you can laugh at them.