Guest Commentary: Ray Close on ‘The Real Meaning of Fallujah’
‘ The proposed plan to turn over control of the Fallujah security situation to an Iraqi force under the command of four retired generals is much more significant than might at first be apparent.
On the strategic level, with regard to overall American policy in Iraq, it represents a defeat for those who have contended all along that the insurgency is being carried on by a small group of thugs who do not enjoy widespread support within the Iraqi population at large. Today Donald Rumsfeld is explaining that he is merely acceding to the recommendations of local American military commanders that this compromise arrangement be substituted for the original plan for an all-out assault —- weakly shifting from himself to them the responsibility for this sudden abandonment of both tough tactics and tough rhetoric. This represents a humiliating defeat for those who have argued that the United States had no choice but to “pacify” Fallujah, arrest the insurgents, confiscate their weapons, and reestablish the authority of the American military occupation forces. The new plan would accomplish none of those explicit and uncompromising assertions made repeatedly over the past few weeks by the president himself, by US military commanders in the field, and (please note) by politicians in the United States of BOTH PARTIES.
Strangely, George W. Bush does not seem willing yet to acknowledge this obvious defeat for his policies. One cannot attribute this merely to bad advice from his mentors, unless one is to believe that the neocons have a complete monopoly on all in-put to his mental processes. That is not a credible explanation. It seems more likely that his stubborn adherence to simplistic explanations of all anti-American sentiments and actions is another sign of his worrisome inability to comprehend the subtleties of this and other similar international challenges falling within the broad title of “the war on terror”. Perhaps his intellectual mind-set (“there is no common ground between freedom and terrorism”) simply makes it impossible for him to see the world as anything other than a zero-sum conflict between good and evil. That is very troubling quality, especially in the leader of a superpower.
Another conclusion one may draw from events of the past few days is that the general US strategy for dealing with Iraq, which has been based on predictions and recommendations of the neocon cabal in Washington (especially Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle) is becoming exposed at last as the disaster that informed analysts always knew it would become. As the neocons become more and more discredited, the political currency of their chief Iraqi protege, Ahmed Chalabi, sinks rapidly in value. Hence the efforts of the neocon faction to discredit the United Nations and its principal representative for Iraqi affairs, Lakhdar Brahimi, whose ascendancy they recognize as an obvious measure of their own failure.
This morning, I heard the Iraqi foreign minister vehemently protesting the characterization of the four Iraqi generals in Fallujah by the American media as “former Saddam Hussein generals.” They are, he insisted very adamantly, IRAQI generals, not “SADDAM” generals. His message seemed very clear. He was saying to all Americans: “We can handle this ourselves, damn it! We may not have your numbers or your firepower, and we may not yet be adequately trained. But if YOU try to pacify Fallujah and the rest of Iraq by brute force, you will make this country impossible for ANYONE to govern, and that means that when you eventually leave Iraq, (God willing!), you will leave us in an even worse mess than we were in before you arrived. So let us do it by ourselves, please, for better or for worse. ”
I take all of this as additional strong evidence supporting the points that I made last week, before the new compromise solution in Fallujah was proposed:
1. The political personalities around whom Lakhdar Brahimi and the United Nations will build a transitional governing authority in Iraq after 30 June (whoever they may be; it doesn’t matter) have already privately abandoned any expectation that the United States military will be an appropriate or an effective force on which to rely for the establishment of unity and stability in the country; where there is no such expectation, there can no longer be any real trust, and where there is a lack of trust, there will inevitably be conflict, first political, soon violent;
2. The leadership group on which Lakhdar Brahimi bestows “legitimacy” on 30 June will have the intention (perhaps not publicly expressed at first) of vesting complete responsibility for military and security decision-making to a strictly IRAQI command authority just as quickly as possible; in the short term, this may seem virtually impossible because of insufficient resources, but it has become the clear objective of even the most moderate and reasonable Iraqis of the leadership class; the political imperative of independence may very well trump the obviously high short-term risks of chaos; the Iraqi people place a very high value on stability, and rightly so, but the force of national self-determination can become irresistible in an atmosphere of foreign occupation, and reason is sometimes the loser in that contest. Ask the Hungarians in 1956. Ask the Palestinians today
3. This means that the US Army will probably be obliged to leave Iraq before Bush, Rumsfeld & Company are prepared to manage the retreat as if it were a triumphant event for freedom; the Americans will therefore be seen by the rest of the world, and particularly the Muslim world, in much the same light as were the Israelis when they departed from Southern Lebanon —as a frustrated and defeated occupation force expelled by victorious nationalists; this will make many Americans who supported the “liberation” of Iraq extremely angry and resentful; the British and other members of the glorious “coalition of the willing” will effectively have to make the best of a bad situation — if they haven’t wisely removed themselves from the scene in the meanwhile;
4. All of which makes the probabilities of chaos and civil war in Iraq next year even higher than we pessimists have been predicting. (UNLESS the “expulsion” of the American “occupiers” serves to unify Iraqis and restore their sense of national unity and common purpose; my fear is that this would be only a temporary triumph at best; historic divisions and rivalries would very soon resurface, and chaos would pick up where it left off.) “
Ray Close is the former CIA Station Chief for Saudi Arabia.