The current struggle in Iraq proves that we can only successfully work from a position of strength. Due to our weak response to terror prior to 9/11, our enemies concluded that we are decadent and weak, care only for our own comfort, and – especially with our behavior in Somalia as shameful evidence – we would cut and run rather than confront the enemy. This perception by bin Laden and al-Qaeda led directly led to 9/11.
Even though the coalition forces moved through Iraq last year like a flaming sword through butter, key areas of the country, including Fallujah, did not directly experience the “shock and awe” of our military might, as NY Times military correspondent Michael Gordon notes today:
- A year later, it is clear that the victory was never complete. The killing of four American contractors in Falluja last week and the mutilation of their bodies at the hands of a riotous mob indicate that many there have neither accepted their defeat nor the United States’ plans for a new, more pro-Western Iraq.
….I went to Falluja in June with the 2nd Brigade of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, the same soldiers that conducted the April 5, 2003 “Thunder Run” – an armed dash through a still unconquered Baghdad – and fought their way into the center of the Iraqi capital two days later.
It seemed clear back in June that there were several reasons for the troubles in Falluja, a city of a quarter million that is located some 65 kilometers, or 40 miles, west of Baghdad. Falluja was not on the invasion path of American forces on their way to Baghdad and thus did not witness the full display of American might.
….This month, the Marines returned to Iraq to take responsibility for Falluja and western Iraq. The Marines came to Iraq vowing to use a “Velvet Glove” strategy of building ties with locals.
But the killing of the American contractors and the inability of the new Iraqi security forces to establish order changed that. Sensing that a moment of truth had arrived, the Bush administration took off the velvet glove and ordered the Marines to take control.
The outcome of the new battle for Falluja will send a signal as to whether insurgents or the coalition will shape the future of Iraq. Overoptimistic assumptions within the Bush administration about the number of forces required to stabilize Iraq and the ever-changing array of forces that have tried to deal with the city have made the situation in Falluja and western Iraq more difficult than it need have been.
As a press release from the Marines noted this week, “Establishing a persistent presence in areas where U.S. forces have not consistently operated over the last 12 months has been costly.”
In other words, we have to be steadfast, stable, and when necessary – such as right now – be ruthless. That is the critical point of Lee Harris’s new book, Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History:
- Much as Popper once attacked illiberal dogmatism, Harris now reproves the liberal West. In its complacency and comfort, it has forgotten the basis of its own existence — namely, a ruthlessness that it once practiced. We need, he says, to attend to the lesson of Kurosawa’s ”Seven Samurai” — that only violent men of honor can save us from the violent thugs who beset us.
….Harris, who writes with considerable clarity and erudition, provides an antidote to the empty claims of some that if we change our behavior in any significant way, then ”the terrorists win”; or that if we become more aggressive toward terrorists by moving away from a law enforcement model toward warfare, we have abandoned any claim to legitimacy; or that we can successfully defeat Al Qaeda if only we have better intelligence.
….Our own people, to say nothing of the allies we must have in order to wage a successful war against terrorism, have to be persuaded that the violence we use will in fact result in a safer, more humane world.
….Confidence can be undermined when some Westerners — read ”Americans” — are held in the contempt that invites aggression or excuses it by those who envy our success and feel powerless to dislodge us from our ever-growing heights of influence and willfulness, [NYTimes]
concludes book reviewer Philip Bobbitt. In other words, we must confront the enemy with confidence and calm, honorable ruthlessness. Where mercy is viewed as weakness, we must first remove any possible thought of weakness before we can be merciful.
Our forces appear to have learned this lesson:
- In Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad and the scene of bloody fighting with Sunni insurgents this week – Marines called a halt to offensive operations at noon, while a delegation of city leaders met with Marine commanders, said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, commander of the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment.
But 90 minutes later, Marines were given the go-ahead to resume operations, Byrne said. U.S. forces were heard firing into the city soon after. The reasons for the end of the suspension were not immediately clear, but it appeared negotiations never took place.
The heavy siege of the city, a bastion of anti-U.S. Sunni guerrillas, has angered even pro-U.S. Iraqi officials.
“These operations were a mass punishment for the people of Fallujah,” Adnan Pachachi, a senior member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, told Al-Arabiya TV. “It was not right to punish all the people of Fallujah and we consider these operations by the Americans unacceptable and illegal.” [AP]
Actually, it is appropriate to “punish” the people of Fallujah for allowing this situation to develop, and to demonstrate our strength and resolve.
- Five days of heavy fighting using tanks, warplanes and helicopter gunships in residential areas of the city of 200,000 has killed more than 280 Iraqis and at least four Marines.
Insurgents, armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, have put up stiff resistance, but Marines have said they are winning the battle, holding at one point around a quarter of the city.
Scores of Fallujah residents tried to leave the city during the brief pause in fighting, said Byrne. Troops used loud speakers overnight to tell people that old men, women and children would be allowed to leave, but not “military-age men.”
“We told them that they would be afforded the opportunity to leave and they are leaving,” he said, adding that a long line of cars was lining up to be checked by Marines before being allowed out.
This is exactly the right course of action.
Regarding Iraq in general, the same rules apply: steady, ruthless strength must be demonstrated so that the coalition forces will no longer be challenged, and this course of action will, in fact, save more lives in the long run. The populace must be disabused of the notion that there is any hope of successful insurrection. Period.
Some of our allies appear to understand the need for stability:
- Japan vowed not to withdraw 530 troops after kidnappers threatened to burn the three Japanese captives alive unless Tokyo withdraws its noncombat soldiers. Militants were holding at least six foreign hostages.
— Australia said it would keep troops in Iraq despite escalating violence and a string of kidnappings. Canberra said to “cut and run” would be bad for Iraq and global security.
— The Philippines said it would keep its troops in Iraq., but Thailand said a further deterioration of the situation may force a pullout of its 443 troops in the southern city of Karbala, scheduled to stay through September.
— South Korea stood by plans to send 3,600 troops to Iraq despite rising violence there, but placed severe restrictions on travel to Iraq after the kidnappings. [AP]
We must demonstrate equal or greater resolve regarding our troops:
- With the surge of violence, officials say Gen. John Abizaid, the war’s top commander, likely will keep more troops in Iraq than planned. All or parts of the 1st Armored Division, scheduled to turn over responsibility for the Baghdad area to the 1st Cavalry Division next week and return home, is likely to be ordered to stay.
A look at the Sadr situation.