I endured Jay Severin and Don Imus on consecutive commutes being hypercritical of the President because of the recent troop deaths in Iraq, which resulted from the current uprisings in Baghdad, Fallujah, and other places. Both of these radio hosts were opposed to going into Iraq in the first place; they continue to be and, Severin in particular, seem to have their ego and career wrapped up in feeling they are always "right" about everything all of the time. Severin in particular likened the ugly display in Fallujah to the events depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down. Well, the author of the book that inspired the movie, Mark Bowden, has written a column (found at OpinionJournal) comparing Fallujah to the events in his book and lynchings in Marion, Georgia in 1930.
In essence, Bowden wrote that all three incidents, Marion, Mogadishu, Fallujah, were public displays of a lack of respect for the dead. All societies revere the dead and such displays serve to dehumanize and purposedly insult the memory of those so displayed. Bowden points out that, "Lynching is deliberate. It is opportunistic rather than purely spontaneous, and it has a clear intent: to insult, to challenge and to frighten the enemy, and to excite and enlist allies." The first point seems obvious, but the second is just as, if not more, important to the lynchmob. It is meant to show those that are sympathetic to them but afraid to act that action is possible. The horrific display demonstrates the commitment of the lynchmob; they wouldn't go to such great lengths if they didn't believe in the justness of their cause, after all. It also challenges those who disagree with them as the display is meant to say "Join us or we consider you our enemy." The best case is that their numbers will strengthen, the worst is that their opponents will be silenced by intimidation and fear. As Bowden wrote, "It is a mistake to conclude that those committing such acts represent a majority of the community. Just the opposite is true. Lynching is most often an effort to frighten and sway a more sensible, decent mainstream. In Marion it was the Ku Klux Klan, in Mogadishu it was Aidid loyalists, in Fallujah it is either diehard Saddamites or Islamo-fascists."
Bowden also wrote that, obviously, the worse thing the U.S. could do was back down, as we did in Somalia. We had won the day, but then we pulled out. "The U.S. did nothing, effectively abandoning the field to Aidid and his henchmen. Somalia today remains a nation struggling in anarchy, and the America-haters around the world learned what they thought was a essential truth about the United States: Kill a few Americans and the most powerful nation on Earth will run away. This, in a nutshell, is the strategy of Osama bin Laden." Finally, according to Bowden, "It's time for opponents of the war to get real. [emphasis added] Pictures like those we saw from Fallujah last week should horrify us, but they should also anger us and strengthen our resolve. The response should not be to back away from the task, but to redouble our efforts."
I also listened to Bowden interviewed this morning on the new talk show Morning in America with Bill Bennett. He was essentially a discussion (or rehash) of the above column, but a couple other cogent points were made. First, the U.S. has a strong moral commitment to people of Iraq, regardless of how we got there. To withdraw too soon would probably mean civil war and an Islamo-fascist regime, supported by Iran and Hezzbolah, led by Muqtada al-Sadr (go here for a fine article on Sadr). Additionally, Bowden believes that it doesn't matter who's President, we have to stick with it and both Kerry or Bush will. He reasoned that, since we have a commitment in Iraq and have a history of abandoning them, up until the point that we have evidence they want us out, we have an obligation to stay. He thinks Kerry would have a hard time extracting and he said he'd be "shocked" if he ordered the U.S. to pull out before the job was done. Bennett also mentioned how the allusions to Vietnam weren't helpful, but Bowden said that may be true, but the spectre of Vietnam is a legitimate fear and can make us wiser in our approach. Finally, Bowden commented that, if things in life were certain, it'd be simple, but we don't know. The effort in Iraq is worth undertaking.
Ralph Peters at the NY Post believes we didn't act fast enough in Fallujah, and says that our fundamental misunderstanding of the Arab mind has caused us lives. First, Peters is one who believes we have too few troops on the grounds. He also thinks that the Bush Administration's "notion that patience and persuasion are more effective than displays of power has made the country deadlier for our soldiers, more dangerous for Iraqis and far less likely to achieve internal peace." Further, the American penchant for compromise is viewed by our Islamic enemies in Iraq and elsewhere as a sign of weakness in that they perceive comprimise a weakness in conviction. They translate this to war and, according to Peters, the displays in Fallujah are aimed at weakening those convictions they think we hold so tenuously to begin with.
Peters points out, correctly to my mind, that "Sadr's militia should have been disarmed and disbanded in the earliest days of the occupation. Sadr himself should have been arrrested for his inflammatory preaching. But we were afraid to stir up trouble." Peters is probably right, but that is a bit of Monday Morning QBing if you ask me. Anyway, to continue, Peter's thinks that after the atrocities in Fallujah, "we made another inexcusable mistake. The Marines, who expected to control a major city with a single battalion, failed to respond immediately. The generals up above seconded the decision. The chain of command was concerned about possible ambushes and wanted to let the situation burn itself out. The generals in Baghdad proclaimed, in mild voices, that we'd respond at the time and in a manner of our choosing. In a textbook military sense, it was the correct response. On a practical level, it was the worst possible decision." This was taken as an encouraging sign of weakness by Sadr's militia. Finally, Peters, echoing a point made by Severin yesterday afternoon, wrote that, "To possess the strength to do what is necessary, but to refuse to do it, is appeasement. Since Baghdad fell, our occupation has sought to appease our enemies - while slighting our Kurdish allies. Our attempts to find a compromise with a single man - the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani - have empowered him immensely, while encouraging intransigence in others. Weakness, not strength, emboldens opponents - and creates added terrorist recruits."
What Peters wrote is all true, but it is a bit of a hindsight argument now. Severin, and possibly Peters, would argue that they knew all along that this would happen given the situation. Good for them. Severin accused President Bush of war crimes for misconduct in the war. That is a bit much, I think, but I don't intend on dwelling on either Severin or Imus. I just want to point out that these characters should be listened to warily. Don't forget that they are also in the entertainment industry. 'Nuff said on them.
My final point is centered on an interesting point about Sadr's militia uprising brought to my attention by a column by Jay Currie at Tech Central Station. (First, though, he points to another good background article at the Christian Science Monitor concerning Sadr's brand of Shiite Islam.) Curry mentioned that Steven den Beste has written about how Sadr may have miscalculated the timing of his uprising. According to den Beste, the Fallujah incident has now given the U.S. and excuse to clean up Fallujah. Also, den Beste believes since "al-Sadr and his supporters have risen in open rebellion. . . . we no longer have to put up with them. It means more hard fighting, and more casualties. The next couple of months will see the worst fighting in Iraq since the invasion. Once it's over, the situation overall will be immeasurably better." Curry summarized that, "Al Sadr's mistake is twofold. First to rise in rebellion when there is an occupying force which can take you out without any serious difficulty. Second, political timing." If al-Sadr had waited until the June 30th handover, he could have taken advantage of fought against an Iraqi provisional government which would have been reluctant to use American troops against Iraqis. "The great balancing act for the putative provisional government will be to prevent the Shi'ites from using their majority to overwhelm the various minorities in Iraq. Sending in the Americans to take out al-Sadr is the last thing a provisional government struggling to establish its legitimacy could afford to do as it would almost certainly further radicalize Shi'ites. Had al-Sadr simply been patient he might well have continued to push the moderate Shi'ite leadership away from compromise; now his rebellion clears the way for the moderates to call for peace while praying the Americans will rid them of this troublesome priest. And his militia."
We can only hope. But what we must do is stay the course. Others can accuse the President of holding to a ridiculous mantra, but they are wrong. It is the truth, it is clear. We cannot back down, we cannot pull out. Iraq must taste democracy on its own. There is nothing to be gained by abandoning it to radical Islamo-fascism. We have a state like that now, Iran, one of the biggest terror-supporting states in the world. Is that what we really want?