Insurgents could return to Fallujah

Here is a negative strategic assessment of the post-Fallujah situation which seems like a microcosm of everything I’ve been saying about Iraq. According to a report by U.S. Marines intelligence officers, the U.S. command cannot afford to shift the forces that subdued Fallujah away from Fallujah to continue fighting the insurgency elsewhere, because if they do so, the insurgents will simply return to Fallujah. The implication is that we can attack one insurgency stronghold at a time, but we don’t seem to have the capability to defeat the insurgency as such. I’m quoting below the first several paragraphs of the story on this in the New York Times.

Marine Officers See Risks in Reducing U.S. Troops in Falluja
November 18, 2004

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17—Senior Marine intelligence officers in Iraq are warning that if American troop levels in the Falluja area are significantly reduced during reconstruction there, as has been planned, insurgents in the region will rebound from their defeat. The rebels could thwart the retraining of Iraqi security forces, intimidate the local population and derail elections set for January, the officers say.

They have further advised that despite taking heavy casualties in the weeklong battle, the insurgents will continue to grow in number, wage guerrilla attacks and try to foment unrest among Falluja’s returning residents, emphasizing that expectations for improved conditions have not been met.

The pessimistic analysis is contained in a seven-page classified report prepared by intelligence officers in the First Marine Expeditionary Force, or I MEF, last weekend as the offensive in Falluja was winding down. The assessment was distributed to senior Marine and Army officers in Iraq, where one officer called it “brutally honest.”

Marine commanders marshaled about 12,000 marines and soldiers, and roughly 2,500 Iraqi forces for the Falluja campaign, but they always expected to send thousands of American troops back to other locations in Iraq eventually, after the major fighting in Falluja. This intelligence assessment suggests that such a move would be risky.

Some senior military officers in Iraq and Washington who have read the report have cautioned that the assessment is a subjective judgment by some Marine intelligence officers near the front lines and does not reflect the views of all intelligence officials and senior commanders in Iraq.

“The assessment of the enemy is a worst-case assessment,” Brig. Gen. John DeFreitas III of the Army, the senior military intelligence officer in Iraq, said of the Marine report in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “We have no intention of creating a vacuum and walking away from Falluja.”

The report offers a stark counterpoint to more upbeat assessments voiced by military commanders in the wake of the Falluja operation, which they say completed its goals well ahead of schedule and with fewer American and Iraqi civilian casualties than expected.

Although the resistance crumbled in the face of the offensive, the report warns that if American forces do not remain in sufficient numbers for some time, “The enemy will be able to effectively defeat I MEF’s ability to accomplish its primary objectives of developing an effective Iraqi security force and setting the conditions for successful Iraqi elections. (cont.)

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 19, 2004 08:42 AM | Send

The statement that “the insurgents will continue to grow in number, wage guerrilla attacks and try to foment unrest among Falluja’s returning residents, emphasizing that expectations for improved conditions have not been met” says it all. The Falluja campaign, which cost the lives of 51 U.S. soldiers and which the Weekly Standard crowd is claiming has broken the back of the insurgency, is pointless because it is not part of a comprehensive strategy to defeat the enemy in all of Iraq. If we take the senior Marine intelligence officers at their word, we lack sufficient forces to secure the country. It seems that the best that we can do is to occupy a particular city and rebuild it for media consumption…and then what? If it is inevitable that “the insurgents will continue to grow in number” then Bill Buckley was right when he suggested that we have already lost and it is just a matter of finding an acceptable exit narrative.

Posted by: Manny on November 19, 2004 10:10 AM

There can be no final victory over insurgents who strike, flee and blend into the civilian population. The idea that we killed upwards of 1000 “insurgents” in this latest action seems cause for celebration, until you realize that there are another 1000 waiting to take their place. I thought the Iraqi people would welcome the opportunity given them, I was wrong. Thought there are many Iraqis who genuinely want peace, it is not acceptable that it be under American involvement of any sort.

I misquoted Sherman, but not his actions. His tactics, unquestioned in his time would be the only successful solution, Fallujah would have to be completely razed to achieve our objective. But the consequences would be potentially catastrophic for us. Arabs in Jordan can allow Palestians to live in limbo without lifting a finger and not suffer the repercussions we would in a similar situation. Arab on Arab brutality is acceptable, but not infidel on Arab. That results in the call for Jihad being answered by Muslims ummah world wide, even those living comfortably in Western countries.

Yet when the Syrians had a similar extremist problem, Assad dealt with it by identifying the source of the problem, their fourth largest city Hama, and ordered it destroyed. After four days of artillery bombardment the pulverized city was then plowed over into parking lots. They never had an uprising there again to this day (link below).

Assad’s Sherman approach was highly successful because it was not done by Americans, but by Assad, a Syrian strongman. There was no call to jihad in response.

We would benefit from a strongman there who speaks a language they truly understand, force, not compassion, which they view as a cultural weakness.

Hama Rules, by Thomas L. Friedman

Sherman Refuses to Rescind His Orders to Burn Atlanta.

Posted by: Andrew on November 19, 2004 10:40 AM

“We would benefit from a strongman there who speaks a language they truly understand, force, not compassion, which they view as a cultural weakness.”

Gee, that sounds like the guy we got rid of.

Posted by: Derek Copold on November 19, 2004 4:12 PM

I think one could find something better than Saddam Hussein and the Baathists in Iraq even if it was hubris to think that we could form a stable democracy by snapping our fingers.

Posted by: Alan Levine on November 19, 2004 4:32 PM

Touché, Mr. Copold.

I doubt that the I MEF intelligence assessment was a great surprise to the officers in-country to whom it was distributed. Unfortunately, it was probably more of a surprise than it should have been in the Pentagon and the White House.

I’m no pacifist (I once commanded one of the rifle companies - Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines - currently engaged in Fallujah) but I am troubled by some of the posts I see on VFR lately. Annihilate terrorists who kill and maim Americans, yes. Indiscriminately annihilate the populations of Iraqi cities? I hope not. Hafez Assad razed Hama because he could get away with it, to be sure. He also did it because that is how ruthless Arab dictators dispose of opposition. When Americans get the idea that it is acceptable for us to behave the way Arab dictators do, it really is time for us to leave the Near East. I hope we are deterred from a scorched earth policy in Iraq not merely because Arabs would hate us for it, but because we know it would be wrong. HRS

Posted by: Howard Sutherland on November 19, 2004 4:37 PM

I’m sure we could find something better, but will he be 1250-dead-soldiers better? Will he be 5,000-maimed-soldiers better? Will he be tens-of-thousands-of-dead-Iraqis better?

Posted by: Derek Copold on November 19, 2004 4:41 PM

I was not justifying the war, merely pointing out that something better than Saddam and more practical than immediately creating democracy in Iraq was attainable. In my view, lacking the WMDs, there was no sufficient reason for war in 2003.

Posted by: Alan Levine on November 19, 2004 4:48 PM

Mr. Sutherland,

I agree with you. America cannot engage in scorched earth policies nor should we unless absolutely imperative. That is why we cannot win a final victory as measured by then yardstick of the Japanese or European models in the long run.

Using the strategies of “winning hearts and minds” is not going to change the culture of the region. It is like the scene from Apocalypse Now where renegade Colonel Kurtz is explaining the VC reaction to the US Army inoculating village children from polio. He recalls the consequences, the VC came back after their unit left and hacked off every inoculated arm and left them in a pile. He lamented what he described as the pure genius of such an act and compared it to American weakness.

That is the Islamic mindset, the overriding essence of the region is a tendency to pure savagery despite the many who are merely powerless subjects of Islamist imperialism and totalitarianism, and how can the shackles be broken?

Mr. Copold’s rather astute and well timed quip cuts to the heart of the matter. I agree that Saddam was the ideal person to rule the region from purely functional standpoint. His brutal repression seems rather tame when considering the lawlessness and mayhem unleashed now. But he had to go. Now our hope lies with Allawi and the stabilization before withdrawing the bulk of our troops and establishing a cordon sanitaire around the region.

Posted by: Andrew on November 19, 2004 6:17 PM

I suggest all read Martin Van Creveld’s piece on Iraq: [LA note: Please place at least a hundred characters prior to a hyperlink in a comment, otherwise it throws all the content of the right column to the bottom of the page.]

Van Creveld is Israel’s leading military historian.

Posted by: Derek Copold on November 19, 2004 7:07 PM

Mr. Sutherland’s post makes a point that is not discussed enough, it seems to me. We seem to think of ourselves as existing independently from the circumstances in which we embroil ourselves, as if what we do is just something we have chosen and doesn’t change us. There is a long tradition in Christendom of avoiding not just sin but the near occasion of sin, though, and not without reason. Part of what we should always consider in our strategy is how the campaign will change *us*. There is truth in the notion that in fighting an enemy we become, not exactly like him or even directly comparable to him, but _more_ like him nonetheless. The firebombing of Dresden may be an infamous example of that phenomenon.

And therein lies part of the danger of the Bush strategy, which is not to utterly defeat and disarm our Moslem enemies but rather to neutralize the enemy by making him more like us. Or actually worse than that: not so much making him more like us but just unlocking his supposed natural like-us-ness. If we stick to that pipe dream for too long we may not like what _we_ become. Talk of indiscriminately wiping out civilian populations seems to be on the rise in the blogosphere as the difficulties in Iraq mount and the dream of liberal democracy there starts to look less and less immediately plausible. I don’t think that is just an illusion of mine, and I don’t think it is an accident.

But then for Bush to truly become an apostate from the religion of democracy-as-universal-terrorist-prophylactic probably seems, to him, to be the same as becoming more like the “terrorists”. This despite the fact that giving up the pipe dream would be the first, most important step in preserving our differences. If enough people fervently think that deep down westerners and Arab Moslems are just alike, it is entirely possible that the religious force of that thinking may make us become more alike.

Posted by: Matt on November 19, 2004 9:37 PM

Matt’s point would also apply to immigration, which is no surprise, as the twin project of Americanize the world while bringing the world into America have many points in common.

In Matt’s account of democratization, we think we’re going to make the Moslems to be like us, on the assumption that they are, basically, already like us, but, because they’re NOT actually basically like us, our attempt to make them like us ends up making us like them.

With immigration, we think that we’re going to assimilate them into America, based on the assumption that they’re basically like us, but, because they’re not like us, they end up changing America into something more like them.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 20, 2004 1:28 AM
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