Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Fear and Loathing in Fallujah

Fallujah is back in the news again with the recent escalation of terrorist activity in the small portions of Iraq that the Old Media care about. This in turn has caused many commentators to renew their assertions that the US handing of Fallujah last Spring was a mistake. To quote David Warren [who I am not picking on; he’s just handy and his views are typical]:

"The Americans have made one big mistake since entering Iraq. It was to make local peace deals in Fallujah, and elsewhere, which left the fox in charge of the hens.

"The idea was not, however, as stupid as it now looks. It was a risk: that if you put a few old Saddamite officers, and tribal leaders with lapsed Saddamite connexions -- the ones not currently wanted for war crimes -- in charge of a town, they will know how to restore order. They will prevent it from becoming a staging area for terrorist hits elsewhere, because if that happened the Marines would be back. And psychologically, one is likely to earn the gratitude of your erstwhile enemy, if you recruit him when he is expecting to be shot.

The risk may have been worth taking, in hindsight, for what the U.S. learned from it. We now know the policy backfired badly. The territories put off-limits to U.S. and allied patrol became terror havens immediately, as the local Jihadis came out of hiding to celebrate an "American defeat" -- even as the Marines, who had nearly exterminated them, were in the act of withdrawing, according to agreement."

He concludes:

"Election or no election, the Americans must now undo their mistake. They must, regardless of casualties, retake every town in the Sunni Triangle, and clean each one out, properly. Or, go home beaten by the Jihad. There really isn't a third option."
With all respect to Mr. Warren and the others who feel likewise, they are correct in that the idea was not "as stupid as it looks" but otherwise mistaken. The hard fact is that the US handling of Fallujah was not a mistake, nor has it backfired. I understand the desire to put the heads of the likes Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Moqtada al Sadr on sticks in the middle of village square for everyone to see, but that is an emotional argument and in making it — in saying that we "must, regardless of casualties, retake every town in the Sunni Triangle, and clean each one out, properly" — Mr. Warren is letting his disgust run away with him.

I don’t think Mr. Warren really means the "regardless of casualties" part above; it is a sign of his frustration. But since he raised it, let’s address it. As bad the continued killings by the terrorists in Iraq are, they are not necessarily worse than storming Fallujah "regardless of casualties." Fallujah will eventually be pacified; that is near certain. So if by overrunning Fallujah last Spring we had caused, or allowed the terrorists to cause, a greater number of civilian deaths than will have happened by that happy date, we would clearly have made the wrong decision.

But history does not allow us to play it both ways, so we are left to rely on the judgement of the commanders on the ground at that time, and their judgement was that storming Fallujah was an unacceptable risk. I was not at Fallujah, nor was Mr. Warren, nor any of the other commentators who disagree with the commanders’ decision. We do not have all the data they had, nor their firsthand experience in that theatre, nor their training — in short we are in no way qualified to second guess them. We do know that the terrorists are still a problem, but we cannot say that they are a worse problem than the potential consequences of the attack that was not undertaken. History may someday reveal enough about the situation that we may be able to make that judgement, but until it does, we owe the commanders on the ground the benefit of the doubt.

But this is a small and secondary issue. The major point, apparently unappreciated by the critics, is that Fallujah is not in the US. Fallujah is in Iraq, and it is very important, perhaps crucial, that the Iraqis be the ones that ultimately deal with it. There are several reasons for this:

First and foremost, no nation is sovereign unless it can defend itself [memo to Old Europe: this means you too]. For Iraq to truly regain its sovereign status it must demonstrate that it can deal with both internal and external threats to its security. We brought in Iraqi forces last Spring, but they were not ready yet. That was an important test, and we and the Iraqis both learned important lessons that has been applied since then. Soon, the Iraqis will be ready to have another go.

Second, it is critical to Iraqi national pride to have a victory to call their own. Relying on us for protection only fosters feelings of dependency and resentment. An Iraqi victory in Fallujah will bolster Iraqi confidence and signal to them and to the world that they are now allies, not servants. Creating a stable, independent Iraq is not possible without such a victory.

Thirdly, an Iraqi victory over the terrorists is vital to the GWOT as a whole. The terrorists and their supporters know they can never beat the US militarily, so every US victory over them has muted psychological impact on them. They can spin almost any confrontation into a "victory" just by claiming they "stood up to us", for as long as there any of them still standing.

Not so when pitted against Iraqi forces. An Iraqi victory really hurts them; all the more so because it is accomplished by an Arab nation, particularly an Arab democracy. The terrorists do not enjoy the wide support in the Islamic world that some believe they do. The example of a free Iraq successfully combating terrorism would go far to turning that lack of support into an active force against terrorism. Put another way, success is contagious. Just as terrorist "victories" [usually perceived US retreats] embolden terrorist supporters, Iraqi victories will embolden those who condemn terrorism. Much has been made, quite rightly, of the general Islamic silence in the face of terrorist atrocities. Having an Islamic nation engaged successfully in the GWOT is perhaps the only effective way to attack that silence. [see Footnote]

These are the reasons why holding off on Fallujah last Spring was the right strategic decision. Thinking the US should have pacified Iraq by force and then handed it over to the new Iraqi government with a stern warning — "There, we’ve cleaned things up. Try not to make a mess again"— is the sort of patronizing attitude that undermines our cause and causes the international resentment that Kerry and his ilk whine about. It sends the signal that we feel Iraq [and therefore all other Islamic nations] are too weak, too stupid, too undeveloped to be able to solve their own problems, and too fragile to endure the cost of doing so. Freedom cannot be granted; it is not gift. It must be earned and the price is often high and always bloody. We can and have been and will continue to help Iraq and stand by them, but we can’t keep them from paying the necessary price and so cheapen their freedom if they are to succeed. To the coddled American ear, unmindful of how we got where we are, that will sound horridly callous; even intolerable. But I think the Iraqis lined up to volunteer outside of police stations that have just been shelled understand it. We should too.

Finally, the prescription offered by Mr. Warren that "They must, regardless of casualties, retake every town in the Sunni Triangle, and clean each one out, properly" is not for the US to decide or attempt. "They" in this case must refer to the Iraqis. Only the Iraqis can decide to retake every town in the Sunni Triangle, regardless of casualties, and I am confident that they will indeed do so when they feel they are ready. I believe we should and will support them in this, but we cannot demand it of them — it is not our country.

Footnote: The above focuses on Iraq and Fallujah but I don’t wish to convey the impression that I think they are the only game in town. The issue is bigger than that, although Iraq gets all the press. In particular, I think the contribution of Pakistan to the GTOW has been vital. However, Pakistan is not much of democracy and General Mussharef does not enjoy the popular support the PM Allawi does, so he is a less useful ally for rousing Islamic public opinion against the terrorists. In this regard, the outcome of the recent election in Indonesia is very promising. Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a strong advocate of eliminating terrorists rather than appeasing or supporting them, won landslide victory, capturing 60% of the vote. He wants to restore full military co-operation with the U.S and shows every sign of being a valuable ally in the GWOT, and most importantly he has a true popular mandate for doing so. This will increase to three [possibly four, since I’m not sure of Jordan’s stance] the number of Islamic countries taking an active and open stand with the US against the Islamo-Fascists. This is very good news. [Hat Tip: DavidWarrenOnline]

UPDATE: This account demostrates some of the problems with "clean them out once and for all" advice I criticize above, and shows why restraint can often be prudent in a war of this kind. I believe this scanario never occured to the critics, but it seems to have to the people on the ground over there. This is the sort of thing I was talking about when I said we over here, commenting comfortably in our PJ's, aren't over there and don't have all the info or first-hand experience needed to pass reasonable judgements on tactical decisions. This event is reported by a Lt. Col Jim Rose, now in Iraq, and of course I can't personally vouch for the accuracy of it. But it is certainly plausible. As sickening as this is, it is the way our enemies think:

''The Najaf shrine — HUNDREDS of dead women and children were brought out after Sadr left,'' Rose wrote. ''They (Sadr's supporters) rounded them up during the battle and brought them in to be executed. Why? Because they anticipated the Americans would eventually enter the shrine and walk into a media ambush. We never went in. The people of Najaf love us right now because of that. They hate Sadr and want him dead.

As Glenn says, read the whole thing. And by way of postscript, does anyone have any more stupid questions about why we're fighting this war? [Hat Tip: Instapundit]

UPDATE: 10/06/04

Commenting on my article, SharplyShiloh disagrees with me and presents a closely reasoned argument in support or his or her contention [and by the way, I would be grateful for a gender-neutral 3rd-person singular English pronoun that isn’t "it"]. While admitting the for force of this argument, which might possibly be right — certainly it has substantial support — I believe the issue turns on the question of legitimacy.

In the examples given [retreating now into the passive because of the lack of that damned pronoun], both sides of the conflict have equal legitimacy, and in such case the argument holds. But in Iraq today, the government, being new, has yet to establish it’s legitimacy. The terrorists get their legitimacy from their association with Saddam and with fundamentalist Islam, and tyrannical authority has a much longer track record as a source of legitimacy in the Mid-East than democracy does [about 4000 years to 4 months, at this point]. Revolts and insurgencies against recognized legitimate authority do not succeed. But legitimacy can only be conferred by a likewise accepted legitimate source, [think the Divine Right of Kings or the Chinese Mandate of Heaven] and democracy does not yet have this status in Iraq or in the Mid-East in general. Nor can legitimate democracy, by it’s nature be created from outside; it has to be voted into existence and supported from within.

The genius of democracy as a system of government is that derives legitimacy, thus sovereignty, from the populace, and the populace is generally unwilling to view itself as illegitimate. Insurrection only occurs in democracies when a sizable percentage of the populous become convinced they are disenfranchised, and even them their road to success is difficult, perhaps impossible.

The problems of democracy are the difficulty in implementing it, and its sometimes fatal tendency towards being irresolute or devolving to mob rule. Democracy must prove itself in Iraq be demonstrating that most valued of qualities — strength. Once that happens, the terrorists in Iraq are done for, but until it happens all our military success are just biding time because the terrorists will be able to use their legitimacy to replenish their ranks.

So we are attempting to follow a narrow and difficult course in Iraq. We can as undermine the legitimacy of the new Iraqi government both by doing too little and by doing too much. This, BTW, is I think the cause of al the fault finding and finger pointing on the part of the chattering classes, the armchair generals, and the Media. Everyone has a different view of what is too much or too little or whether democracy in Iraq is possible at all, and they make their arguments accordingly. For my part, I choose to leave the plotting of this difficult course to those who are there and walking this shifting ground. But that should in no way discourage the posting of contrary points of view.


Blogger Lynn said...

OK, you convinced me. Steady as she goes...

10:03 AM  
Blogger M. Simon said...

I have been saying similar stuff (not near so eloquent) for the last several months.

I think an Iraqi victory is critical.

For a number of reasons. One of which is providing the relief to the Americans so they can go on to other pressing chores.

It is not a matter of taking the ground. It has to be held. To hold it requires sovereignity. Sovereignity requires at best popular assent. At minimum acquiesence. Such assent may be obtained with American troops. It cannot be maintained by them. To be soverign is a maintenance issue. It has to be worked every day.

Bush in time will be seen as a great war President; as great as Lincoln or FDR. Of course now I have veered of into sheer speculation.

11:40 AM  
Blogger dymphna's double said...

Nemesis, do you think that it is too far-fetched to consider having the Iraqis--at some point--help us with Iran?

Heck--I'll just ask all my questions...

2.What is your take on Iran?
b.How many months have we got?
3.Why do you think it's going so much better in Afghanistan?
b.when we don't hear anything can we presume things are okay there?
c.do you have an internet source you respect for info re Afgh?
4.Is there any internet info on intel games or theory so one can learn some of the parameters of military thinking here?
5.I presume Bush will be re-elected...the GWoT is going to go on for a long time--has been going on. Do you think the Bush Doctrine will carry over into a new administration down the road?

1:20 PM  
Blogger SharplyShiloh said...

I disagree. There is no substitute for Victory. This analogy will leave me open to ridicule and attack, but so be it.

Consider football. You're a power running team with a good passing game and an awesome defense. You face a team in its 'rebuilding' years. They've got nothing to lose by coming after you hammer and tong, and everything to gain. If you do not perform, in other words, if you do not crush them over and over and over on every play in every quarter, you run the risk of the lesser team getting uppity and imagining they can beat you. Even as powerful as you are. A couple of muffed plays, and their defense starts getting cocky. You fumble and they recover. Suddenly the 'Mo is shifting. They drive downfield despite all the odds makers and scouts saying they can't do it. Their home town fans - the twelfth man on the field - start going crazy screaming for blood. The 'Mo really starts shifting and before you know it the powerhouse team is down by 14 just like that and having to battle back.

Worse than this is the sense among the rest of the teams they have to play in the remainder of the schedule. They now know you can be rattled. Knocked off balance. You can be beaten. Their game films show a bottom 2 rank team knocking off the acknowledged champions.

'Mo is a very very real force. Mojo is indefinable. Bit it is as real as box office. You cannot allow the killers and the Got Nothing To Lose people to get up a head of mojo. Their fans are emboldened by it. The press is emboldened by it. The fans back home lose heart temporarily as they watch the Sure Thing get cut down. The whole league (think Allies) starts to take notice that your big plays and big talk actually can get cut down to size by a very small but very determine group of 'We Got Nothing To Lose'. Che and Castro started with twelve, ended with 800 and the mob no longers has their island gambling paradise. Think about that long and hard.

I ask you to consider this real world experience and that it applies to fire fights just as much as it applies to power statesmanship and football. Mojo is THE powerful force you cannot let get away from you. Any other analysis is doomed.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Great Stuff, Thanks.

To the coddled American ear, unmindful of how we got where we are, that will sound horridly callous; even intolerable. But I think the Iraqis lined up to volunteer outside of police stations that have just been shelled understand it. We should too.


The only thing I still don't understand about this is why can't we help the Iraquis make these incidents less frequent/devastating by trying to provide, wherever possible, some type of place/arrangement where large crowds don't have to wait within easy range of IED's, Car Bombs, etc?

6:01 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

and now, a Short Comedic Intermission:


J.J.: I am sure I can't be the first to suggest that if indeed Mr. Bambang Yudhoyono has defeated Mrs. Megawati Sukarnoputri for the Presidency, when she hands over the seals of office to him at the inauguration ceremony, he should offer a gracious:
"Bambang, thank you, Ma'am."


6:31 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Would appreciate a comment on this if you have the time.



It looks as if there is more evidence, as if it were needed, of the international nature of the Islamic extreme.

“A member of the group responsible for the Beslan school massacre last month is a British citizen who attended the infamous Finsbury Park mosque in north London, The Observer can reveal. Two other members of the group, loyal to Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, are also believed to have been active in the UK until less than three years ago. They are suspected of taking part in the raid on the school in which 300 people, half of them children, died.”


7:16 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Sorry, wrong thread: I will repost appropriately.

7:18 PM  
Blogger SharplyShiloh said...

Let's put it this way...when Werner von Braun was asked, '...what will be the hardest part of getting men on the Moon...?' his answer illumines this debate on the topic of Iraq.

von Braun's answer?

'The Will to do it. Everything else is just engineering.'

Every day we allow terrorists and insurgents to dictate the terms of the fight we demonstrate how right von Braun's answer is.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Dean Douthat said...

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure." -- T. Jefferson

The US-led Coalition can and has well handled the tyrant part. By definition, no member of this coalition can be an Iraqi patriot. IMHO, the strategies and policies followed by the Coalition leadership in Iraq has been focused entirely on promoting the growth of Iraqi patriots ready and willing to bleed for liberty. No other approach has a ghost of a chance.

7:29 AM  
Blogger SharplyShiloh said...

Thank you, Doug. Quite Gracious of you. I am a man, by the way. Unstable, off a half bubble, and learned how to load my own at 12. But that's just for color commentary.

Your rebuttal is dead on. If I may, since you brought up the excellent riposte of the Chattering Classes, I'd like to point out that any of us who believe we can make reasoned analysis from News feeds are smoking rope. As you know what gets into the "news" is but the tiniest minnow in a school of news-sturgeons. The Best Stuff cannot be told and will never be told. Alliances for the moment that must undergo painful metamorphosis are tomorrow's foes and then all over again next week's ally. It's a strange business trying to overturn tyranny and wean the wicked, the weird and nasty from the Easy Money Easy Power teats. And herein is our Commander in Chief hobbled rather brutally. He cannot tell us what's going on. Let me repeat that - the President simply cannot tell us the Real Deal Truths of What's Really Happening. To do so would endanger God Knows how many, and shatter untold handshake agreements, and put at risk a gigantic effort to turn the tide of Hate and War and a Death-Cult that has dominated the region since 600AD or thereabouts.

The grunt on the ground at the sharp end of the spear has some idea, because the Intel he needs to ferret out the Bad Guys is far far more potent than anything the talking heads at the networks will ever learn. And that is exactly how it should be. I Do Not Have A Need To Know. I have a desire, but not the overriding National Security Need, nor the Constitutional Right. In the same vein the Networks cannot keep their biscuit traps shut. You know it. I know it. What they do not know or do not learn keeps us safe, manys the time.

What I do have a Right to, is to have a Commander I can Trust, because almost all of the power that issues from 1600 Pennsylvania will be conducted out of sight. Think about this. Almost everything that truly matters will happen quietly, behind closed doors and will never see the light of day. Therefore, the single most CRITICAL essence of a Commander is Character. Is he the same man Sunday morning he is Saturday night? Is his word his bond? Can I trust him with my bank book and my wife and kids? Answer no to any of that and there you have it. If you cannot trust the Commander in Chief, you have no hope of a properly managed America. The power Up There is so terrific, the capacity to hide and obfuscate and manipulate information is so profound that my little vocabulary isn't up to the task. The sheer numbers of people willing to do dirty work for you just to be near the Power is staggering. So, the real and most overwhelming factor in a Commander in Chief is Trust. Can I Trust Him?

All that we do in Iraq is built upon this simple equation, because you and I will NEVER know even 1% of it. Sometimes what we're told is done specifically to throw off a party we need derailed. Sometimes disinformation is our best and least bloody tool. Sometimes it's best to shutter the news away from reality. Because this is serious work on the magnitude of All The Marbles.

And none of us have the "right" to know. The desire, yes. But not the Right.

But we do have the Right to have a Commander we can Trust, who does do the Right Thing where we cannot go, where we cannot see.

And GWB is that man.

5:12 PM  

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