May 02, 2004

Fallujah and the Fog of War

I donít know what on earth is happening in Fallujah. I get the impression, and so does Andrew Sullivan, that the folks in Washington donít know whatís happening either. And they know a lot more than I do.

Itís tempting to come up with my own take on it, but at this point Iíd be almost certain to get it all wrong.

Tacitus thinks we just lost the war. And Wretchard at the Belmont Club thinks itís all going swimmingly. Even though they wildly disagree with each other, theyíre both worth your time. They canít both be right and they both could be wrong, but I seriously doubt either of them will be entirely wrong. Read the whole thing at both links.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 2, 2004 11:00 PM

I read both Tacitus and Wretchard on a regular basis. Who do you think has the greater credibility on military matters? Wretchard's coverage of the battle in Fallujah has been impressive because he provides insight about what is going on based on statements by high ranking officials, (Kimmit, Myers, etc...) He effectively explains why the marines are doing what they are doing and provides assurance that the marines are in control of their situation, (despite what the media coverage suggests).

I think that Sullivan's pessimism is unwarranted. The next few days will be uncover a lot. This will be a real test for the Iraqi battalion. If they aren't successful in dealing with the insurgents, I expect that the marines will be back in full force.

Posted by: Alasdair Robinson at May 3, 2004 01:07 AM

When we remember that "winning" is not the imposition of your, my, or even Bush's "solution", but the creation of an Iraqi solution, we might well be winning. What will a "won" Iraq look like?

In the short term, it be one where Iraqis do most of the police work, and protect Iraqis from terrorists and kidnappers. And the US will be available for heavy support it the terrorists are massed in enough power to threaten the Iraqi police.

I believe Tacitus is right about the wimping mistakes Bush/ Bremer (& Gardner) has made in the reconstruction issue -- the Iraqi army should have been reconstituted as a construction brigade, with pay. And he might well be right about the end of an Iraqi unitary state -- the 3 state solution, based on nation-states, has long made sense. And if that's the future, it makes sense to get there peacefully through a velvet divorce (Slovakia & Czech Rep), rather than the Yugoslavia break up wars for Slovenia (already in the EU), Croatia, and Serbia (& Monte Negro).

The key issue is whether the future elections will be national parties (breakup), or constituent (like US Congressional districts), so local personalities are more important. Note that Czechoslovakia had "national parties" -- but there was no Czech party active in Slovakia, nor vice-versa, in the 1992 elections (before the break). I've long favored more mayors, and local Iraqi power; and of course the constituent model (see AEI's Michael Ledeen).

Fallujah is a special case; and NOT leveling it is even better after the abuses of a couple Iraqi prisoners.

Posted by: Tom Grey at May 3, 2004 01:27 AM

Alasdair: Who do you think has the greater credibility on military matters?

I don't know either of them well enough to say.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 3, 2004 02:23 AM

War is something that is impossible to judge based on a moment in time, such as the current situation in Fallujah. For example, the Tet Offensive was considered a huge failure - in military terms - for the VietCong and yet is now considered to be the (a?) turning point of that war.

Personally I assign more credibility to Tacitus and Wretchard - Sullivan is (IMHO) given to emotional outbursts which cause him to swing somewhat wildly from optimism to pessimism.

You could argue that the show of force of last week, followed by the installation of a local security force headed by an Iraqi, was intended to send the message that the US can level the place if needed, yet is willing to allow local control so long as the security objective is met.

Posted by: steve at May 3, 2004 04:03 AM

When I saw the news last week of the Marines bringing in the Iraqi forces, I let out a cheer. Boy, am I behind the curve if it meant that we've lost the war. The Marines and their Iraqi allies have the city surrounded. Tacitus's argument rests on the premise that the Marine's move is a wimping-out. He goes to town on that argument, but to no avail, since he didn't prove the premise. He can cite a Falluja fascist's view of the matter, but I doubt that source's ability to predict the seige's outcome. We could just as easily cite a Marine's view of the matter.

I'm also looking forward to seeing the Iraqi government come into existence. Since it doesn't exist yet and most Iraqis want it to work, any conclusiveness in an argument that it will fail is unwarranted.

Posted by: Jim at May 3, 2004 04:26 AM

I read Tacitus a lot, I'm willing to trust his opinion on military matters, even though I don't agree with him on a lot of politics. But I think he may have gone a bit overboard in this particular incident. I still think that the situation in Fallujah is severely screwed up, but I dont think that we've lost the whole war just yet. Of course that could just be my optimism talking.

Does anybody know anything about this Baathist general thats been appointed to head the new Iraqi regiment? Whats his record like?

Posted by: sam at May 3, 2004 04:28 AM

"When I saw the news last week of the Marines bringing in the Iraqi forces, I let out a cheer. Boy, am I behind the curve if it meant that we've lost the war."

The problem is that no one I've read over the past week or so seems to have any real idea which way this new force is going to jump. If their on our side, then we just got a new ally in fighting the insurgents. If they arent, then we just gave a load of weapons to a bunch of people who are going to turn them on us at the first opportunity.

Posted by: sam at May 3, 2004 04:32 AM

It seems to me Tacitus' analysis lumps what is happening in Falluja right now with famous unilateral withdrawls from entire theaters in earlier conflicts. I was vacationing in New Orleans last week, so I'm a little out of touch with the details of the situation, but unless our troops are on their way home, I don't think the analogy holds.

What I see is a process where our tactics are evolving around a high-level strategy. I may not agree with the tactics or strategy, but to say we've suddenly become clueless flies in the face of recent history.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 3, 2004 06:04 AM

Using terrorist paramilitaries to fight their war against the west is a tactic that nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria have been using for decades. They’ve been using it in Israel for years, they used it in Lebanon. Their armies are so weak, paramilitaries are their only weapon.

I still don’t understand why we were so surprised that they used this decades-old tactic in Falujah. Yet another urban street war, terrorists using civilians as shields. Why did we allow ourselves to be pulled into this predictable mess?

I don't really agree with Tacitus - I think it’s good news that we’re pulling out of Fallujah, while we’re also considering putting sanction on Syria. Finally, we’re directly confronting at least one of the states that’s at war with us.

We can’t win a war if we’re afraid to confront our real enemies, and a Marshall Plan style reconstruction isn’t going to work until all fascist elements are powerless. These sanctions would be a step in the right direction.

Posted by: mary at May 3, 2004 08:21 AM

Two weeks ago, I was figuring that the US forces were screwed on the whole Fullajah thing. They'd been doing what they should with this problem spot - ignoring it - until the grotesque killings of the security contracters. Because this was in the media so much, it demanded a response in order to not appear weak or ineffective in Iraq.

A politically-inspired military response was required against a target with limited strategic value, which swiftly became of negative value when Sunnis and Shia united to provide humanitarian aid the city, and Iraqi and world attention began to focus on the high number of civilian casualties. To "pacify" the city would probably require killing a substantial number of the non-combatants there, which would be a PR nightmare, and contribute to the growing anti-occupation feelings elsewhere in the country. To withdraw would look like defeat, especially to US citizens that Bush has to convince to vote later this year. So what to do?

I suspect that the Iraqi-general plan is the best they can do to walk a middle ground. And doing it in this fashion (IE semi-officially, but not sanctioned from above) allows administrators to take credit if it succeeds, and blame underlings if it fails badly. If the Iraqi forces go in with guns blazing, then it's Iraqis killing Iraqis, and political heat is avoided. If (as is likely) the Iraqi forces just go in and say "Hey, put down the guns, we're not the Americans, make us look good and we won't keep shooting up your streets", then the city is "pacified" without a lot of kids getting shot and blown up.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 3, 2004 08:35 AM

At some point there will have to be a moment where Iraqis settle an issue within Iraq. If they are in fact going to chart their own course in the future there must be some benchmark from which to say "this is where the old ways changed".

Fallujah may be the moment. Both tacitus and Andrew Sullivan have tactical takes that differ from what I have read and been told about.

The thugs in Fallujah are alive because the Marines haven't been told to kill them. Yet. Period.

The situation in Najaf gets restated daily by media, but the fact that the conditions set by the CPA haven't been temporized is largely ignored. Sadr is the subject of a warrant, and the existence of his armed militia is a direct rejection of CPA/coalition authority. There's been no move to ease Sadr out - just a continuing blockade on his gang.

Why is it the same people who were against going to Iraq in the first place are now playing the 'timid' card re our tactics against Sadr? There's so many goalposts on this field that I have for all practical purposes abandoned media in favor of blogs and unit email contacts to get a feel for the tempo and morale of troops on the ground. Wretchard's essay on the Marine maneuvers and the subsequent shifts of militia types fits closely with other sources I have...and the positioning seems aimed at forcing the militia to concentrate in areas that are more generally industrial and public than private residences. Curioser and curioser; the militia has aimed at causing us to discomfit the maximum number of residents when we engage them before, but they may have done the math and realized that our aggressive patrolling and reconaissance of the last weeks has made it impossible for them to sustain contact. We also know a lot more about the battlefield, and we know how they move from contact to contact.

Predictability kills. We know what areas they value. We know how they maneuver and fight...and know that they depend on our P.C. restraint in order to survive contact with us. Three weeks ago the WaPost and NYTimes reported the destruction of some minarets and a wall near a mosque like it was cusp of a clash of civilizations.

Like Islamists could possibly hate us more, right? Right.

I believe the current tactictal tempo is training the opposition to assume certain moves are 'safe'...and that they are watching way, way too much al Jazeera and CNN.

Good luck to the Iraqi battalion in Fallujah. They might well be remembered as the Iraqis who first stood on a battlefield for the rule of law.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 3, 2004 10:36 AM

sam: Does anybody know anything about this Baathist general thats been appointed to head the new Iraqi regiment? Whats his record like?

I read somewhere that he's a general we were trying to turn against Saddam just before the war but we couldn't convince him that he wasn't being set up by Saddam. I don't remember where I read that, it was a few days ago. He wasn't picked because he was a Baathist, but despite that fact. I'll see if I can find more info on him...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 3, 2004 11:12 AM

I tend to agree with Belmont and tmjUtah (partly because I emotionally need to) but if we are really retreating, why are we strategically bombing the crap out of them every night? In a way, the Iraqi general is sort of irrelevant but provides a nice political story.

As for the masked terrorists and their daily end zone dance for the cameras, I don't worry too much. We can't stop it -- jihadis have been making propaganda hay out of defeat for years. As more and more die, the real word will get out.

Posted by: PJ at May 3, 2004 12:17 PM

sam and Micheal,

The Iraqi officer corps is the product of multiple generations of Stalinist purges. Nevertheless, there probably were a few officers of sufficient integrity to be capable of actually leading troops in combat. That he did not turn against his country is not necessarily a bad thing; that he was targeted for turning is probably a very good sign.

What a lot of the screaming pundits forget is that leadership requires integrity. The resource Saddam plundered most mercilessly from Iraq is integrity.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at May 3, 2004 12:19 PM

The change in tactics regarding Falluja remind me of the famous Patton quote:
"No poor bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making other bastards die for their countrt".
Maybe the new Iraqi security force are the real poor bastards.

Posted by: sammy small at May 3, 2004 12:22 PM

Like virtually everything the guy writes, "Tacitus"'s piece is written in such a pompous, overwrought, off-putting style I can barely analyze the argument itself, though, emotionally at least, I'm more inclined to his doom-and-gloom attitude about recent event's than to "Wretchard"'s guarded optimism.

As someone said above, Tacitus simply takes the fact that our actions in Fallujah are an ignominious retreat in the tradition of Beirut, Mogadishu etc. as a given, and then goes on lamenting this for thousands of words. I agree that this would seem to be the most logical first interpretaion, but he still needs to make some kind of argument as to why he thinks this is the case to make his essay at all persuasive.

I, from the safety of my cubicle, am most definitely going wobbly at the moment, but I don't really know how meaningful that is. What worries me besides Fallujah is that we seem to be wimping out a bit on the de-Baathification process in general. "Sam" of Hammorabi, who is a pro-American Iraqi blogger, is really freaking out about this. We are giving the UN a bigger role. This can't look good to the Iraqis, who are now learning how corrupt the UN is and how much complicity it had with Saddam's regime. Also, we seem to be wimping out with the Sadr situation as well. This all has the appearance of drift, confusion, weakness, and the giving up of ideals to me, sitting here thousands of miles away. It may indeed be part of a brilliant master strategy, as "Wretchard" thinks, but it at least needs to be explained better, and the appearances by Richard Myers and others over the weekend were not encouraging.

Posted by: Eric Deamer at May 3, 2004 01:09 PM

Fallujah has shown a new degree of flexibility, competence, and finesse in the american military.

I'm willing to give the military and Bush the benefit of the doubt at this time. We could have levelled the place but chose not to. It's still early to make sweeping generalizations about the war and the occupation.

Also, y'all should know that the level of bedwetting of journalists is never an accurate indication of how things are really going.

Posted by: Raymond at May 3, 2004 03:40 PM

Eric: This can't look good to the Iraqis, who are now learning how corrupt the UN is and how much complicity it had with Saddam's regime.

I keep hearing this assumption from many that the Iraqis don't want the UN there, despite the extensive ABC poll of thousands of Iraqis a month ago that had 40% saying they trusted the UN, yet only 25% saying they trusted the US/UK.

And as for the complicity of the UN with Hussein's regime, most of the evidence of that is coming from Chalabi, as documented in this post from Josh Marshall. I'd say that some of the information may well turn out to be as reliable as almost all other stuff that's come through Chalabi, which is to say, worthless. He also has a vested interest in keeping the UN out of Iraq.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 3, 2004 03:40 PM

Josh Marshall says that most of the allegations are probably true, and he calls for a thorough investigation.

He also says that Chalabi is planning to run Iraq for ‘fun and profit’ (as opposed to Sistani, who wants women to have fewer rights than dogs)

As far as the left is concerned, Chalabi is the new dark Sith lord, with a heart blacker than Karl Rove’s (almost as black as the left's Satan incarnate, George Bush) Because of this somewhat overwhelming hatred, I have to be suspicious of this recent effort to direct attention away from Kofi and the UN.

Posted by: mary at May 3, 2004 04:08 PM

I agree, a thorough investigation is certainly needed. I hope that Chalabi soon releases the evidence that he's refusing to release so that the UN officials can be either castigated or exonerated.

As far as the left is concerned, Chalabi is the new dark Sith lord...

New? Nah, we've been squawking about him since last year. He's just been getting so blatent recently that even the right wing has had to take notice.

Anyone see the allegations today about convicted embezzeler, con man, and liar Chalabi passing on security information clandestinely to Iran?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 3, 2004 04:26 PM

Chalabi is being accused of giving sensitive information to Iran. Explain that, neocons:

Pentagon wishes aside, this guy doesn't have a snowballs chance in hell of ruling Iraq.

Posted by: Markus Rose at May 3, 2004 05:01 PM

Well, if traditional political mudslinging is the point here, has anyone heard about the Kerry campaign’s war against the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran?

Funny, Newsweek has been focusing on their boogyman Chalibi so much lately, they haven’t mentioned this info about Kerry.

Boogymen and dark Sith lords make are always handy when the masses need to be distracted. They're such convenient scapegoats.

Posted by: mary at May 3, 2004 05:10 PM

Mark Poling: I may not agree with the tactics or strategy, but to say we've suddenly become clueless flies in the face of recent history.


Posted by: Mork at May 3, 2004 05:32 PM


Posted by: calibar at May 3, 2004 06:42 PM

I think that the lesson of Vietnam and Somalia isn’t that if we make the right moves in a political and image war we would win but that we cannot fight a political and image war at all. (That doesn’t mean we can fight an unethical war with genocide and prisoner mistreatment.) No matter what we do it will be used against us. If we move back it will be played as a defeat and a display of our weakness. If we come in and crush them than we are being too brutal and give the impression of empire. If we go the mid ground and take our time than it can be used as a sign of weakness, “What’s taking so long”; or the daily death toll on them can make people cry, “when will it stop? Do the Americans enjoy killing us?” Domestically, there would be some of these feelings that would play to the dove crowd others to the hawks. It’s a no win situation.

It’s the NBA playoffs and it reminds me of something you hear a million times during the games. If two teams play conflicting styles than the team that force its style on the other will win. That’s playing out now. The enemy wants us to leave while Iraq is unstable and unable to secure itself internally. They can only achieve this through image and politics. We want to withdrawal and leave a stable Iraq that can secure its self. That can only be achieves by meeting objectives. (Iraq can’t appear to be stable and self-secure it actually has to be that way.) If the Marines had gone in and took care of business instead of Iraqis than we would be playing the image game and would not have been closer to meeting our objective. The insurgency may have been killed but that doesn’t necessarily mean that another wouldn’t take their place. Why do such a thing? Iraq wouldn’t have proven it can secure its self. Therefore the enemy’s goals can still be achieved. A second Fallujah would hit America like “Chinese water torture” or maybe I should say “Vietnam water torture”. Even if it was militarily equal to Fallujah it would be politically and psychologically more powerful. So would a third one and a fourth one. As long as we were relying on our military to handle the situation than the game is in their favor and so is time.

I’ve heard on other blogs that crushing the insurgency would show them that messing with us comes at a price. Unfortunately, dying doesn’t seem to be a problem with them. If it were than they sure as hell wouldn’t be taking on us. This can only be stopped if the Iraqi military becomes involved. Fallujah seems to be a great opportunity to achieve this goal. This will allow us to find out who ‘s reliable and still be able to move in if they need help or things go badly. If they are successful it will boost moral within their ranks and build trust with the US and the Iraqi civilians. It also will begin to destroy the enemy’s ability to meet their objective. We would be taking true (baby) steps to a withdrawal.

We should be fighting this war or win this peace by simply meeting objectives. This will result in the images we want here and in Iraq. We may be susceptible to politics and negative images but we ultimately want results and so do Iraqis. The media can’t completely distort the truth. If Iraqi's self security is becoming better and it is slowly becoming what we want it to be, eventually, the people will feel it and see it and no amount of distortion will change that fact. Trying to make things appear a certain way only leads to failure.

Is this what’s happening? I have no idea but I certainly hope. There are obvious potential problems, and I expect that there will be, but I believe getting the Iraqi military involved is our only exit strategy.

Posted by: Paul Young at May 3, 2004 06:50 PM

Funny, Newsweek has been focusing on their boogyman Chalibi so much lately, they haven’t mentioned this info about Kerry.

Strange, I can't find it mentioned in any of the conservative media either. I smell a conspiracy.

Posted by: Stu at May 3, 2004 07:35 PM

I knew that Falujah would deteriote into a loud-music-blaring-from-speakers war.

Posted by: David at May 3, 2004 07:40 PM

Nice hoops reference, Paul. I can really appreciate something like that (being a Hoosier and all).

As for the content of your message, well, your message and alot of others echoing the same: Everybody keeps talking about Vietnam. Everybody keeps saying we can't let it turn into another Vietnam. I'm more worried about it turning into another Lebanon.

You're right, by the way. The real risk isn't about getting sucked into to a quagmire. The real risk is in the American people losing their stomach for such a long project and abandoning the situation far too soon.

If that happens, it'll look great at first, from the outside looking in. But, as with Lebanon, the appearance of democracy won't last. Democracy not built on a solid foundation of law and order will crumble before our eyes. Like I said, it's not a replaying of Vietnam that we ought to be worried about.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at May 3, 2004 07:48 PM

The threat is Islamofascism.

The objective is to address that threat, and choke off the source of the threat.

Anyone care to wonder where the split will be between 'moderate muslims'...and the actual number of car swarming psychotics that will have to be killed befor any sort of democracy can be viable in the mideast?

In breaking news, the plan to install a former regime general as the CO of the Fallujah CPA battalion has fallen through. Time to cut the Marines loose.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 3, 2004 09:05 PM


This whole "Fallujah Brigade" idea, what with all the former generals and all, never sat right with me from the start. If "Iraqification" has to mean turning over power and WEAPONS to former Iraqi strongmen, then consider me more than a tad skeptical as to wisdom of it all. History has shown that we haven't exactly had the greatest of luck in arming and assisting the right individuals. Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein come to mind.

If you want a job done right, sometimes you just gotta do it yourself. Storming Fallujah in an all-out Marine-led assult is gonna be incredibly ugly and is gonna result in massive civilian causalties. In essence, it's a bad option. It's a much worse option, however, to subcontract out a former-regime-led force of unproven ability and to give off the impression of American surrender. If the insurgents feel that we're backing down in the face of armed resistance it will only embolden them, and there will surely be a much greater loss of civilian life in the months to come. The least worst option has to be the way to go.

There's a time for peace and a time for war. This neo-liberal Democrat understands that, just as our Marines understand that. In this regard, TmjUtah is right...

It's time to introduce the enemies of Iraq in Fallujah to the greatest fighting force the world has ever known. It is, indeed, time to cut the Marines loose.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at May 3, 2004 10:03 PM


And it's in moments like these, I should add, that I'm left to wonder just what President Kerry would do. It's moments like these, in other words, that I'm the most bewildered with my own Party.

Short of announcing he plans to appoint John McCain as Secretary of Defense,...I don't know how in the world I'm supposed to take the guy seriously.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at May 3, 2004 10:13 PM

Gee, Grant, you are looking at Iraq and finally beginning to recognize what an utter fuck-up the whole thing is ... and you're worried about how to take John Kerry seriously.

You have a choice between a proven incompetent and an unknown quantity. It's not that hard. Even before you start to think about the importance of accountability.

Posted by: Mork at May 3, 2004 10:22 PM


Yes, it's an utter fuck-up. And, yes, George W. Bush has made some pretty big mistakes along the way that haven't made the situation any better. We've needed more troops in Iraq for months and months and the planning has been horrible.

But what does John Kerry offer in its place?

So far, all he's mustered is that we need to internationalize the effort (i.e. hand it over to the United Nations). That's why I don't take him seriously, Mork: Because his only plan for Iraq is turning over sovereignty to those I take even less seriously. If you're honest with yourself, you've got to realize that the UN would have fucked this up even more.

John Kerry, to me, seems to postioning himself between Kofi Annan and President Bush. The last thing I want is a half-Kofi-Annan-like Commander-and-Chief. I don't even want a Commander and Chief that 1/10th Kofi Annan. I want a Commander and Chief that's 100% Tony Blair: One that's every bit as tough as George Bush, but one that has the vocal abilities to take a case bigger than "evildoers" to the American people.

Have you ever actually sat and listened to any of Tony Blair's speeches on the subject? The guy's magnificant. The Democrats need to be more like Tony Blair, not Kofi Annan. John Kerry seems not to be going in this direction, however, thus my lack of faith.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at May 3, 2004 10:55 PM

Putting the Marines on the job doesn't mean the Carthagination of Fallujah. The mission will be to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by direct fire and supporting fires. I expect the operation to take a couple of weeks, and I expect us to lose men because we won't raze the city in the process despite the best efforts of the enemy to cause us to do so.

That's what Marines do. No - that's what Americans do. We are in a war, and from time to time we'd best act like it. There are real and brutal reasons that Afghanistan and Iraq fell in months - and it wasn't because our cause was just or our hearts were pure. We are much better at killing on a battlefield than they can ever imagine.

It just takes our people a long time to get around to acting because the process is so repugnant to any civilized human being...even in the face of barbarism and lethal threat.

It means that the message gets delivered loud and clear that to stand against us is to LOSE.

I expect Najaf to be resolved in the same way. Shrine, or no Shrine.

We cannot offend them beyond a desire to see us dead, and that, boys and girls, was the position the militia types and foreign terrorists have held since before 9/11. Strong horse time.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 3, 2004 10:57 PM

P.S. -

Grant? Fuck up? It's a battlefield with an enemy remaining to be dealt with.

Who is dictating tempo here? Are the militimen alive because we cannot destroy them...or because our command has elected not to at this time?

If anyone can name the date that this war was scheduled to be over, with footnotes detailing the schedule of peach pie socials and high school band competitions, go ahead and put the information up. There is no objective measurement available for failure. There's plenty of room for analyzing past actions and critiquing performance...and gee whiz, what value that would bring to the situation where it not being performed at the level of whining usually associated with a sorority character assassination.

There are people who believe this war is a deadly serious matter directly effecting the lives of millions of people around the planet, as well as the lives of our families, friends, and selves...then there's others who can't get past the concept that because they don't approve of a political opponent, the need to prosecute this war isn't as important as destroying the object of their loathing.

Carried to an extreme, that attitude consciously seeks failure on the battlefield...or domestic terror attacks... as political capital.

Can't wait for the next news cycle; looks like the flavor o' the day is the breathless speculation of who Kerry can convince to be his VP. I just can't wait.

Good hunting, Marines.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 3, 2004 11:10 PM

Grant - I think you'd be silly to take too seriously what Kerry says at this stage of the election campaign.

Let's assume that he sees the truth of the matter the same way I see it: the only way we avoid an absolute disaster here is to commit many more troops for much longer than we ever imagined - I'm talking 5-10 years - plus $100 billion per year, plus 500-1,000 dead for the next couple of years.

If that were how Kerry saw the situation today, why on earth would he say so? If he has half a brain, he'll take a play from the Nixon playbook and maintain that he has a plan to make everything alright ... and once he wins, he can then say, well, everything's a lot worse than they told us, and here's what I'm going to do.

So in that sense, I don't expect Kerry to tell us what he plans to do, because it would be such bad politics. That's why I really believe that the choice is between an unknown quantity and Bush, who you surely would not dispute is a proven incompetent.

But what's really weird about your approach here is that you hold Kerry - who's not yet even the nominated candidate for the opposition party - to a higher standard than you do Bush, who constantly fobs of questions with meaningless rhetoric, refuses to provide any specific information about either the facts on the ground or what he intends to do and vacillates wildly between policies, and he is President of the United States.

Posted by: Mork at May 3, 2004 11:18 PM


The commander in charge of managing the insurrection in Fallujah has a mission. That mission involves conserving his forces while accomplishing the pacification of the region, when possible destroying armed insurrectionists. Nothing in that mission precludes training local forces to assist in accomplishing the mission.

Part and parcel of our nation's effectiveness in conflict is dependant on the ability of commanders on the scene to be able to take decisive, innovative action to accomplish their mission. The security of this nation depends on our troops being able to make decisions for themselves.

Let me put it this way, the face in the breeze when fan is hit may be yours if you keep punishing troops for initiative.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at May 3, 2004 11:22 PM

There is no objective measurement available for failure.

If you define victory as achieving the goals for which we went to war, then we have already lost, because achieving those goals is no longer possible.

The only issue now is how to minimize the damage.

Posted by: Mork at May 3, 2004 11:23 PM

mork -

We've lost? Everything? Total, abject, failure?

Have we truly arrived at Selma all over again?

Oops...sorry. I trip over that cliche all the time. Whenever I respond to a meaningless bleat it just floats right to the top.

Explain 'minimize' in the context of surrendering to Islamofascism.

Oh, and write down this day in your calendar, with "We've LOST" in big, red, letters.

We've got years to go on this. And if losing ever does come to pass, it will be marked by much, much more than a petulant whine. We won't be around to comment at all, because that will be the measure of victory for the other side.

We'd best recognise that....those of us who don't already, of course.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 3, 2004 11:38 PM


I agree with your objective. (In fact you have a no nonsense approach I really appreciate.) I just wish we would take care of it regardless of image. I still believe that we ultimately need to get the Iraqis heavily involved. Testing them under fire, literally and figuratively, is the best way of finding out who passes mustard and whom we can trust, that way, later down the road we have a better chance of not running into any surprises. (Bloody coup anyone?) We may look stupid in the process but I would rather look stupid now while the Marines are ready to come in and fix the situation than later down the road when it would be much more difficult and politically devastating.

Posted by: Paul Young at May 3, 2004 11:38 PM


Iraq was a voluntary war, undertaken for specific goals.

In the most simplistic possible terms, it was thought that by removing Saddam and replacing him with a democratic state, we would eventually reduce the number of people in the Middle East who hated America enough to become terrorists.

It is clear that the effect has been the reverse: Iraq is unlikely to become a functioning democracy - at least not for many years - and there are now more people in the Middle East who hate America ... and we've spent hundreds of billions of dollars and 700 American lives to achieve that result.

So, we have failed to achieve the objectives for which we invaded Iraq.

But, lucky for us, achieving our original goals in Iraq never had much to do with the real fight against militant Islamicism.

I guess it's ironic, then, that the Administration's fuck-ups have accidentally achieved the very thing they insisted was the case all along (in the face of overwhelming evidence): turning Iraq into a front in the fight against Islamacism. It's just that the Islamacists have chosen to bring the battle to us, on their terms, rather than vice versa.

Posted by: Mork at May 3, 2004 11:55 PM

"In the most simplistic possible terms, it was thought that by removing Saddam and replacing him with a democratic state, we would eventually reduce the number of people in the Middle East who hated America enough to become terrorists."

Very good. You get the simple stuff. But do you ever actually read what you write?

"But, lucky for us, achieving our original goals in Iraq never had much to do with the real fight against militant Islamicism."

Without we change the culture that breeds terror, there will always be terrorists. The effort necessary to reshape a nihilistic, homicidal society takes years, and costs blood in buckets and treasure by the ton. We know this to be true, because we accomplished the same task twice last century.

Elective war...we elected to enforce U.N. resolutions when that august body of corrupt third worlders and conniving second tier 'allies' wouldn't - for reasons that look to have a LOT more to do with oil than ever applied to our motives.

The president didn't push a button and unleash the dogs, either. I seem to remember a brief period...fourteen months...when the congress debated the issue, looked at the intelligence, and listened to constituents, before authorizing the action. Democracy. What a concept.

But getting back to the beginning, there's little difference to me if fifty million hated us on 9/11 and a hundred million hate us now. None at all, matter of fact. The crux of the matter is that the ability of the enemy to hurt is is no longer measured by industrial capacity but by bank balances, seasoned by the willingness of the enemy to kill indiscriminately and without limit at any time.

These people aren't victims of colonialism or white privelige or even religious persecution - they are driven by a self-embraced virtue that allows them to deny humanity of "others" out of hand.

If we cannot kill or capture the active terrorists without ensuring their slots won't just be filled by the next generation, we'll have to try something else. That something else is horrible to contemplate for civilized man but will look a lot less unpalatable after hundreds of thousands or even millions die at the hands of the frustrated jihadists.

It is within our power to pursue individual terrorists, to pressure specific governments, and to make both pay dearly for attacking us... but that strategy just avoids the fundamental conflict.

Fifty years of watching Israel keep the darkness at arm's length and our own timeline of escalating attacks beginning in 1979 tells us all we need to know about our future if we decline to remove the threat. The only difference will be scale, and I don't think that Americans will tolerate that.

The moderate muslims better stand up. Their Martin Luther needs to tack up his theses quick...and survive the assassination attempts...before something more mundane but just as final as the hand of God decides their fate.

These are serious times. I surely wish there were more serious citizens.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 4, 2004 12:43 AM

TmjUtah - you might have written that post in March, 2003. Is there nothing that has happened since then that has changed your understanding of the situation?

Posted by: Mork at May 4, 2004 12:53 AM

Not a thing, no.

Personally, I'm all for levelling cities and making Iraq a benchmark for the price of resisting us, but I'm not the president - and more importantly, that's not the policy enacted by our government in this case. The majority has spoken through the legislative process.

So, all I can do is suck up my personal differences and support the defined strategy. It helps that the policy does make a lot of sense to me, even though it carries grave risk in the regard it depends on sustained citizen support. Politically, it's very, very gutsy. It's also a defacto statement of faith on the part of the president that the electorate will do the right thing.

I find it pretty easy to do. Must be something in the civics classes I had in school. Give it a shot sometime.

Ooooooooo...I'mintrouble. Mom Utah is ow...ouch...telling me it's time to go to BED!.

A pleasure to disagree, as always.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 4, 2004 01:17 AM

I am reminded of the scene in Jurasic Park 2 where the mother T. Rex wounds a lawyer and then backs away.

Baby needs to practice hunting.

Posted by: Peter A. Taylor at May 4, 2004 06:13 AM

TmjUtah said: "If we cannot kill or capture the active terrorists without ensuring their slots won't just be filled by the next generation, we'll have to try something else. That something else is horrible to contemplate for civilized man but will look a lot less unpalatable after hundreds of thousands or even millions die at the hands of the frustrated jihadists.

These are serious times. I surely wish there were more serious citizens."

I'm a serious citizen, seriously concerned that before we resort to genocide or Armageddon as a solution to the threat of Islamic fundamentalist jihadism, we exhaust EVERY other option... including disengagement with that whole part of the world.

George Will and Robert Kagan are also serious citizens.

Will is pissed off at neocon idealism. This is from his most recent column:
"Speaking of culture, as neoconservative nation-builders would be well-advised to avoid doing, Pat Moynihan said: 'The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself'...The issue is the second half of Moynihan's formulation -- our ability to wield political power to produce the requisite cultural change in a place such as Iraq. Time was, this question would have separated conservatives from liberals. Nowadays it separates conservatives from neoconservatives...Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice...Traditional conservatism. Nothing 'neo' about it. This administration needs a dose of conservatism without the prefix."

Kagan supports Iraqi liberation, but worries it is being implemented by fools and knaves. This is the from the last paragraph of his Sunday op-ed in the Post:

"...Bush himself is the great mystery in this mounting debacle. His commitment to stay the course in Iraq seems utterly genuine. Yet he continues to tolerate policymakers, military advisers and a dysfunctional policymaking apparatus that are making the achievement of his goals less and less likely. He does not seem to demand better answers, or any answers, from those who serve him. It's not even clear that he understands how bad the situation in Iraq is or how close he is to losing public support for the war, a support that once lost may be impossible to regain. Bush politicos may take comfort from polls that show the public still trusts Bush more than Kerry when it comes to conducting the war. That won't be worth much, however, if the public turns against the war itself. The tragedy may be that Bush will not understand until it is too late. In which case we will lose in Iraq, and the dire consequences that he has rightly warned of will be upon us."

Posted by: Markus Rose at May 4, 2004 04:05 PM

Those are eloquent editorials, but how does Kaplan, for instance, that Bush "tolerates" certain policymakers, doesn't demand better answers, doesn't "understand" how we feel, etc. I beg the question, the assumption that winning a war such as this is an intrinsically easy task and the fact that because building a democratic nation in the ME is taking longer than one year means this president is a failure.

Posted by: PJ at May 4, 2004 08:19 PM

PJ -- Lots of things going on in Iraq are beyond our control. I think that Kagan's point is not that its not supposed to be hard, but that we are taking a difficult job and making it impossible through screwing up the parts that ARE under our control.

Posted by: Markus Rose at May 5, 2004 07:25 AM
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