Fallujah Report And

The Fallujah Report and the Liberal/Conservative Divide

The “Fallujah Report” prepared by the Marines concerning their enemies in the most recent big campaign is now up on the Web in HTML rather than powerpoint, and so easier to download. One thing that leaped out at me was the small number of foreign fighters it reports. The guerrillas in the city were mostly Iraqi.

I was provoked to the following observations by a journalist’s question.

The big divide between liberals and conservatives in regard to Fallujah is that most liberals do not believe that force can be used to solve problems. They may believe that force is sometimes necessary. But they think it most often just causes new problems. They tend to see the world as complex, not in black and white terms, so that an unalloyed “bad guy” is rare (Bin Laden managed to make himself an exception). Liberals also see military force in the context of the whole society, so that they worry about what happens to children and grandmothers when it is deployed. It is liberals who remember that the Vietnam war killed 2 million Vietnamese peasants. And, they find US military deaths unacceptable.

So from a liberal point of view, Fallujah was terrible. It involved displacing hundreds of thousands of people, subjecting civilians to bombardment and crossfire, and resulted in over 2000 deaths, including over 50 US troops. The icon of Fallujah for the liberals was the little boy with the shard of grenade shrapnel lodged near his liver, or the old woman bewailing her dead relatives.

Conservatives do believe that force can be used to solve problems. They think in terms of good guys and bad guys, and it seems obvious to them that if you kill the bad guys, then you have solved the problem. Getting at the bad guys may be disruptive to civilian populations, and may cause some collateral damage, and may incur some troop casualties, and all that is bad, but it is necessary and worth it. You can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs.

Many bloggers are complaining from a liberal point of view about the downsides of the use of force. They are completely uninterested in the activities of the Baathist and radical Sunni guerrillas holed up in Fallujah. They are uninterested in whether these guerrillas terrorized the local population. All they can see is the vast destruction caused by the US assault, and the innocent lives damaged. From their point of view, the whole operation against the city is a form of collective punishment.

The US military powerpoint slides are classical conservatism. They identify the bad guys, who are the problem. They lay out their crimes. And they document the way the good guys went in to kill or capture them and so solve the problem.

The US military seems strangely unaware of the realities of insurgencies. It seems to think there are a limited number of “bad guys,” who can all be killed or captured. The possibility that virtually all able-bodied men in Fallujah supported the insurgency, and that many are weekend warriors, does not seem to occur to them. In fact, as Mao noted, guerrillas swim in a sea of supportive civilians. The US military slides suggest that now that the bad guys have been taken care of, the civilians can be won over. That this outcome is highly unlikely does not seem to occur to them.

The thing that strikes me about the military powerpoint slides is that they don’t make the argument to the general public. Because they just assume the conservative view of the use of military force, they concentrate on the crimes of the guerrillas but do not successfully defend the need to deal with them by assaulting the whole city.

Whatever the military rights or wrongs, the political judgment on the Fallujah campaign is easy. It was supposed to make holding elections possible in the Sunni Arab heartland. Instead, it has certainly further alienated the Sunni Arabs and made it more likely that they will boycott the elections en masse. If the Sunni Arabs remain angry and sullen in this way, Fallujah will have been a political failure.