The Importance of Fallujah
Before I begin, the usual disclaimers - this will be a post analyzing the current siege on Fallujah. As such I should remind you that I'm not an expert of military tactics, and I don't claim to know all the details of the current conflict. The nature of military conflict is such that even commanders on the field can't possibly perceive all relevant details, let alone a civilian who resides safely thousands of miles away from the battlefield. One would hope that in twenty years, military historians will be able to sort through the mesh and find the relevant facts, but even then it's never easy. Still, I'll do what I can.
My longtime readers know I've been pretty skeptical
about comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam
, but lately it's looking more and more like Vietnam is the best analogy to our conflict with Iraq. What I mean is, there was a point in Vietnam, say by 1969, where we couldn't win. But it still took 4 years, and thousands of American lives before we finally pulled out, and in the end, all we accomplished was delaying the North's conquest of South Vietnam until 1975.
So, how is this analogous to our current operation in Iraq? Well, I believe that our current operations in Fallujah is quite possibly the most critical part of this war. By which I mean, if we fail to stabilize Fallujah, we have no hope of stabilizing Iraq.
Now, I should clarify what I mean by "stabilizing Fallujah". It's not enough to establish a clear military victory, nor to demonstrate our military might to insurgents. That's the easy part (and likely that will be hard enough on it's own). What I mean by stability is a standard of law and order in the streets, and the overwhelming majority of the population either supports our actions, support the stability we bring, or are too scared to resist. Turning Fallujah into a happy terrorist and insurgent free land with gum drop trees and unicorns dancing on rainbows is probably outside of our ability, but things can still remain relatively peaceful.
Before elaborating, I'll say that even if we succeed in stabilizing Fallujah, that does not mean we'll have this war won, nor does it even mean we have victory in our sights. What it means is that the war can
be won in the foreseeable future, by which I mean, we can turn Iraq into a relatively stable, relatively Democratic sovereign nation.
But what if we fail? The rational course of action, as I see it, would be to pull out. I should clarify, we should loudly pull out, and announce to the world we cannot maintain a stabile Iraq and cannot afford the level of casualties we are seeing for the foreseeable future, and plan to have all forces out of Iraq shortly after the January elections - say, by February. At this point, we can wait and see what happens - any nation whose national interest requires a stabile Mesopotamia will likely, should they believe that we are serious, offer a portion of their Armed forces to help in Iraq on condition that America stays. If we get enough international help, this can put a new face on the conflict - we would absorb fewer casualties, and a more international coalition would receive more popular support. However, if we do not get enough foreign help for this, we should then make good on our promise and pull out. At worst, this means Iraq will descend into chaos and civil war, but that's better than losing thousands of American soldiers only to have Iraq descend into chaos and civil war anyway.
Do I expect this to occur? Well, I doubt it. Bush has established firmly that he will not accept the reality of Iraq, and even if he did, he would not take such a surely unpopular course in Iraq. But, that's just what's happening specifically with Bush. Even if we had a President Kerry, or a President Dean, or a President McCain, or even a President Nader, I'd doubt they'd take this action, even if my assessment of Fallujah is correct. Universally, national policy is usually not rationally based. This is especially true in a time of war, when National Pride comes to play. So the best we, over here, can hope for is that the raids in Fallujah go well, and we succeed in stabilizing the city. We'll have to wait and see.