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April 29, 2004
Fallujah As Microcosm of the War on Terror

For 24 days, the US Marine Corps has surrounded Fallujah, the center of a nagging insurgency that made headlines when their successful ambush of four contractors turned into a macabre party, with people literally tearing the bodies to pieces in front of reporters and photographers. However, the US has been reluctant to move past siege status for a number of reasons, as this Los Angeles Times article states:

The plans have been laid, the troops are positioned, and all is ready for a massive Marine assault on Fallouja and with it the long-dreaded prospect of major urban warfare in Iraq.

"We got the last unit in place today. We're tightening the noose," Col. John Toolan declared with grim satisfaction, standing on the roof of the Marine command post at the edge of the volatile Sunni Muslim city on Wednesday as occasional hostile rounds zinged overhead and American tanks rumbled toward their positions on the dusty plain. ...

Since April 5, days after four American civilian contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated in Fallouja, Marines have encircled the city. And despite an 18-day cease-fire, skirmishes have erupted daily, with Marines calling in airstrikes Wednesday for the second consecutive day. It is the sense of Fallouja's importance to larger U.S. interests in Iraq and beyond, Pentagon and Bush administration officials said, that has caused delays in a planned full-scale assault which at one point was set to begin Sunday.

By delaying the attack, U.S. planners have hoped to show the Iraqi population, the Muslim world and the American public that Washington has done everything possible to avoid a bloody assault on the city.

While understandable, the reluctance of the CPA and Washington to speedily reduce the Fallujah base for the insurgency not only sends the wrong message to Iraqis and the Middle East at large, but it also provides a microcosm of the type of thinking that has guided American anti-terrorism efforts for decades. In holding off for so long on using our vastly superior firepower, strategy, and tactical positions, the message that we have sent is not one of benificent arbiters of peace -- it is a message of weakness. To hold up for a few days to evacuate those noncombatants who would leave sends the former message. To wait for more than three weeks while negotiations drag on with the insurgents themselves demonstrates that we lack the political will to do what's necessary to win. It's not Mogadishu, but it still shows that insurgents and terrorists can simply outlast the US by hiding in civilian areas, taking potshots at our forces interspersed with bouts of fruitless "negotiations".

For twenty-seven years, going back to Teheran, we have delivered the same message. No one doubts (any more) that we have an overwhelming military advantage in the Middle East and anywhere else, both in personnel and in technology; the three-week fall of Saddam demonstrated that beyond doubt. What we lack is both political will to win a war, and the political will to recognize that we're in a war. Negotiation with terrorists brought us to 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and instead of learning the lessons of the past quarter-century, we seem to be repeating them in Fallujah. This vacillation only communicates a sense of weakness, negating our tactical and strategic superiority, as political weakness always does (see: France, 1939-40).

It's doubly frustrating because Fallujah does not have the tactical disadvantages we face in Najaf, with the Shi'a shrines complicating our ability to attack al-Sadr's militia. Fallujah, in fact, holds the center of the Ba'athist reaction to the Coalition's regime change, and as such makes the case much stronger for direct military action. Instead of acting under a war-time paradigm, the CPA has turned the Marines into a SWAT team with better weaponry, which is a strategy for failure. We cannot be the new police force in Iraq; we must see the war to its conclusion first.

Time to quit fooling around and parleying with terrorists and unreconstructed Ba'athists, and fight the battle of Fallujah from the offense rather than the defense that the past 24 days have brought. The sooner we demonstrate our will to use all of the resources available to us to crush those who would take up arms against us, the sooner other pesky militias and insurgents will recognize that their battle has already been lost. Further delay only gives them hope of outlasting us.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 29, 2004 5:53 AM

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» More Fallujah from Back of the Envelope
think the real key, however, isn't what we want, but what the Iraqis want. I don't think we were pausing out of sensitivity as Captain Ed thinks, or in order to corral them as Donald Sensing believes, although both of those may have been consideratio... [Read More]

Tracked on April 29, 2004 10:45 AM

» Fallujah and predator dogs from Doc Rampage
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Tracked on April 29, 2004 3:57 PM

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