11/17/2004

Wesley K. Clark :The Real Battle: Winning in Fallujah Is Just the Beginning

Methinks that by the criteria Clark pointed below, we've already lost..
Denying entrance to aid agencies, brutalizing hospital workers and shooting civilians in broad daylight in front of cameras doesn't win hearts & minds...

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assures us that U.S. and Iraqi government forces have moved steadily through the insurgent stronghold and that the assault has been "very, very successful." Last night, even as troops fought to secure the final section of the Sunni city, senior Iraqi officials declared it "liberated." But it's hardly surprising that the measure of success in Fallujah is elusive: There's no uniformed enemy force, no headquarters, no central command complex for the troops to occupy and win. At the end, there will be no surrender.

Instead, the outcome of the battle must be judged by a less clear-cut standard: not by the seizure and occupation of ground, but by the impact it has on the political and diplomatic process in Iraq. Its chances for success in that area are highly uncertain. Will Fallujah, like the famous Vietnam village, be the place we destroyed in order to save it? Will the bulk of the insurgents simply scatter to other Iraqi cities? Will we win a tactical victory only to fail in our strategic goal of convincing Iraqis that we are making their country safe for democracy -- and specifically for the elections scheduled for the end of January?

An attack on Fallujah has been inevitable for many months. If we are to succeed in the democratization of Iraq, the interim government and its U.S. and coalition allies must have a "monopoly" on the use of force within the country's borders. There can be no sanctuaries for insurgents and terrorists, no fiefdoms run by private armies. Fallujah could not continue to be a base for those waging war on the Iraqi government and a no-go place for those organizing elections.

Now that we have engaged, there cannot be any doubt about the outcome. It, too, is inevitable. U.S. forces don't "lose" on the battlefield these days. We haven't lost once in Iraq. Nor in Afghanistan. Not in the Balkans, or in the first Gulf War. Nor in Panama. We fight where we are told and win where we fight. We are well trained, disciplined and, when we prepare adequately, exceedingly well equipped. We will take the city, and with relatively few U.S. casualties. And we will have killed a lot of people who were armed and resisting us.

But in what sense is this "winning?"

To win means not just to occupy the city, but to do so in a way that knocks the local opponent permanently out of the fight, demoralizes broader resistance, and builds legitimacy for U.S. aims, methods and allies. Seen this way, the battle for Fallujah is not just a matter of shooting. It is part of a larger bargaining process that has included negotiations, threats and staged preparations to pressure insurgent groups into preemptive surrender, to deprive them of popular tolerance and support, and to demonstrate to the Iraqi people and to others that force was used only as a last resort in order to gain increased legitimacy for the interim Iraqi government.

Even the use of force required a further calculus. Had we relentlessly destroyed the city and killed large numbers of innocent civilians, or suffered crippling losses in the fighting, we most certainly would have been judged "losers." And if we can't hold on and prevent the insurgents from infiltrating back in -- as has now occurred in the recently "liberated" city of Samarra -- we also shall have lost.

Wesley K. Clark / The Washington Post: The Real Battle: Winning in Fallujah Is Just the Beginning

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