The wider the chaos spreads in the Middle East, the narrower the view from America.
This morning, the Associated Press reported from Fallujah, in a dispatch carried by The Boston Globe, that "in what could be a sign of progress, the Marines began turning over the northern neighborhood of Jolan to Iraqi forces, signaling that they consider the area relatively secure." But the story also noted:
In one of the most dramatic clashes Wednesday, snipers fired on U.S. and Iraqi troops from the minarets of the Khulafah al-Rashid mosque, the military said. U.S. Marines called in an airstrike, and an F-18 dropped a 500-pound bomb on the mosque, destroying both minarets.
Yes, good, destroy a mosque and create another 10,000 jihadists. As the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 proved, we can roll into a country and "capture" it, but conquering is another matter. Fact is, most of the rebels had already left Fallujah before the Marines launched their long-planned Operation Fuck 'Em All.
Typical of the coverage in the U.S. press today was this Washington Post story, in which U.S. soldiers said Fallujah seemed like a "ghost town" and resistance was "lighter than expected." For perspective, read Nicholas Blanford's comprehensive piece this morning in Beirut's Daily Star, "Fallujah's Insurgents Left to Fight Another Day." Blanford quotes Toby Dodge, of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, as saying:
If you see what's happening in Samarra and Ramadi it seems to me that the so-called dynamic cordon that the Marine Corps put around Fallujah has been next to useless. By squeezing [Fallujah] you have a few hundred diehard jihadis left and the insurgency has moved elsewhere. … I never bought into the argument that Fallujah was the heart of the insurgency. The insurgency is too diverse.
Keep in mind what Dodge says when you read about bombings and attacks by insurgents elsewhere in Iraq. There was a huge disconnect with the Sunnis and Shiites even before the U.S. invaded Iraq, and this attack on the Sunnis in Fallujah isn't a lasting solution. In addition, it may not be long before we reading more about trouble in the north involving the Kurds, who aren't likely to accept Ayad Allawi as the country's strongman. You say you want to see the U.S. puppet Allawi give partial autonomy to the Kurds? That would only inflame the touchy situation with Turkey and, well, let's just say that reducing Fallujah to rubble is not the answer to stability in Iraq.
Not everyone agrees with Dodge about Fallujah, of course. D.C.-based Tony Cordesman, a close observer of Iraq for decades, is a strong believer in the idea that true stability in the Middle East has to start with steps toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian death match. See this Bush Beat item from September 30 on Cordesman.
Nevertheless, Cordesman approves of the offensive against Fallujah as at least a step toward having elections. He told Blanford:
I think it is absolutely critical not to allow an insurgency to simply steadily take control over an area. Denying the insurgents that capability ... is critical if you're going to have elections, if you're going to have any progress [and] if there's going to be a convincing message to both the insurgents and the Sunnis that they not only can be part of the political process but they have a strong incentive to be part of it.
But Dodge's view from London is considerably more bleak—and of course it's a view that's generally missing from the mostly jingoistic coverage of Fallujah in the U.S. press. Blanford quotes Dodge as saying:
Clearly, American policy is failing spectacularly. I think what we have is an American policy that will bludgeon on [until they] leave in the next couple of years, and they will leave [behind] a highly unstable situation.
And then Blanford reaches back to Vietnam not for Swift boat swill but for this reminder:
The grim task facing the coalition forces and the interim Iraqi government was aptly encapsulated by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who, in 1969, wrote in reference to the Vietnam War, "The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose."