Last week, there was an ambush in Edwardsville, Kansas. USA. Two people were killed. No one paid much attention.
Four Americans were killed in Fallujah, Iraq. The world took notice of the grisly encounter. And yet, despite the fact the Fallujah ambush has become a coat of many colors, with people seeking what they want to see in the tragedy, no one has pulled together the multiple failures of American policy and tactics. Until now.
First, the horrible facts.
I won’t dwell on the obvious: the murders, the desecrations, the vile behavior of the mob.
But where were the Americans troops? Although the civilians were "ambushed" in the loosest sense of the term, this was no spur-of-the-moment ambush. It was a planned hit. The town had been set up. There were warnings. And yet there was no one in Fallujah to warn local police, or to warn U.S. forces. A dangerous situation developed and no one noticed.
What kind of intelligence does this reflect? What kind of communication? None. What kind of coordination between Iraqi law enforcement and U.S. troops? None. The Marines stationed near Fallujah might has well been on the moon.
Despite the fact that even a small American presence, a lieutenant or captain or platoon at the police station, might have been there to spur or prod some intelligence, there were no Americans in Fallujah. There was no "occupation" of Fallujah. The Iraqis were also asleep at the switch. One year after Fallujah fell, there was no U.S. intelligence presence in a major city. Pitiful.
Even after they learned of the encounter, U.S. forces did nothing. They stood by helplessly. Why? What rules of engagement would allow troops to sit on their hands while Americans are slaughtered? An explanation is needed. Now.
I went to Fallujah in April, 2003, and again later last year. The city was volatile, but not dangerous, angry but not impossible. I have watched one unnecessary disaster after another unfold.
The conclusions to be drawn from the latest Fallujah massacre?
First, the current plan to allow stand-alone Iraqi forces to assume primary security responsibility on July 1st will not work. Commanders in the field, and armchair warriors in Washington, are dreaming. We need to consider creating combined units. Such units worked in Korea, where Korean KATUSAS were added to U.S. platoons. Combined action companies worked in Viet-Nam. Special Forces troops also led local paramilitary units. Current plans are unrealistic and jeopardize both Americans and Iraqis. American and Iraqi troops must operate together or end up being slaughtered separately.
Second, the Republican Party spin doctors in Baghdad are living in a dream world when they are "shocked, shocked, to learn that the Iraqis hate us." The Paul Bremer comedy troupe in Baghdad has been misleading the public. Military briefers have not been any better. The fantasy that the United Nations is now going to rescue President Bush is just that, a fantasy.
I am always amazed when Americans express surprise that people in the Middle East rejoice at American misfortune. We don’t seem to want to believe, or don’t understand, how disliked the U.S. has become. Americans nationally may watch the "[CBS] Evening News from New York," but appear oblivious to the fact people in the Middle East also watch newscasts covering more than just their own immediate area. We do not seem to realize there really is a "Middle East" conflict, and just not an Iraq war. Actions in one part of the Middle East have consequences in other areas.
People in Fallujah were not being directly oppressed by an occupation; there was no occupation. Yet the general hatred and dislike of Americans is so intense that no one warned of impeding disaster and locals tolerated barbaric acts by "insurgents."
Third, payback comes, sooner or later. I winced last April when Americans killed 20 people in Fallujah, in an overreaction to a minor incident. Killing sprees by troops always come back to haunt them. When I express irritation at poor fire control discipline by American troops, it is not because I dislike soldiers. Quite the opposite. I respect and admire our men and women in uniform. But when they overact, or act poorly trained, they expose everyone to enhanced danger. I have to speak up.
Marines did not commit the April 28, 2003 abuses in Fallujah, but they now have to deal with the aftermath. The U.S. command has taken a casual attitude towards killing of Iraqi civilians. Is it any surprise such behavior keeps the fires of resentment and retaliation glowing?
Fourth, how could a firefight erupt in Fallujah, and Marines not react at all? How can Iraqi civilians trust U.S. forces to protect them from extremists and "regime remnants" when we won’t lift a finger to protect our own citizens? How?
The Fallujah massacre was a warning, a wake-up call to Washington. I seriously doubt they got the message. Will they ever?
Is there a spin-doctor in the house?