HE WHO HESITATES
By RALPH PETERS
April 27, 2004 -- OUR troops in Iraq are fighting a 21st-century war. And they're winning on the battlefield. But they're being defeated by diplomats seeking a 20th-century peace.
Paul Bremer, Washington's scoutmaster in Baghdad, is a solid, hardworking 20th-century bureaucrat. But the future of Iraq - and the entire Middle East - demands a 21st-century strategist who can escape the cant of the foreign-policy establishment and the lure of failed models of nation-building.
We created the problem of Fallujah - through neglect. Had we had adequate forces on hand a year ago in the immediate aftermath of combat to permeate the Sunni Triangle with troops, and had the administration had the clarity of vision to declare martial law, the current violence would have been averted.
Instead, we handed gold-plated lollipops to killers and worried about hurting the feelings of Saddam's hard-core supporters. We looked away as the terrorists gripped one Iraqi city after another - because we lacked the forces to put a military "cop" on every beat. Our enemies didn't need to hide - we weren't around often enough to see them.
Nonetheless, when the revolt began in Fallujah earlier this month, our Marines, supported by the U.S. Army, hammered the terrorists into the dirt. We took casualties - but the losses were overwhelmingly on the enemy's side, as they always should be.
The Coalition Provisional Authority's response? And the Bush administration's? They made the Marines stop well short of the goal post. Listening to Iraqi leaders who have their own personal power - not Iraq's interests or ours - at heart, our civilian leadership ordered the Marines to break off combat operations before the job was finished. We let the terrorists off the ropes, granting them time to recover for another, inevitable round.
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Since the cease-fire, our troops have had to endure the ludicrous charade of "negotiations" with the Fallujah city fathers - breaking the rule that we never negotiate with terrorists or their surrogates. The resulting "agreement" to turn in heavy weapons led to the mockery of sending the Marines a pick-up truck full of junk while the terrorists gained weeks to prepare their defenses, construct ambushes and organize a far tougher resistance than they could have presented two weeks ago.
Our enemies are laughing at our folly, while creating a myth of heroic resistance in Fallujah - for which we will pay dearly in the months and years ahead.
Make no mistake: There can be no compromise in Fallujah. If we stop one inch short of knocking down the last door in the last house in the city, our enemies will be able to present the Battle of Fallujah to their sympathizers as a great victory: They fought the Americans to a stalemate (with the implication that, next time, the Americans will be defeated and driven from the Middle East).
Of course, we could defeat them. We know that. But in the broken world between the Bosporus and the Indus, seductive lies trump hard facts. Our insipid diplomacy plays into the hands of our enemies: It looks like cowardice. And it is.
We must not only win, we must be seen to win, graphically and decisively.
"Experts" warn that we mustn't alienate the hard-core Sunnis or the fundamentalist Shia's. Wake up and smell the cordite: They're already alienated. They'll never love us. So we'd better make damned sure they fear us.
The Battle of Fallujah isn't about one city. It's about the future of the entire Middle East. Despite the low number of casualties in historical terms, this could prove to be one of the decisive battles of history in its long-term effects.
If the enemy fights from mosques, level the mosques. If they fight from hospitals, gut the hospitals. If they open fire from orphanages, turn them into blackened shells. We cannot allow terrorists any sanctuaries. The men we face - and the watching world - interpret our decency as weakness.
The diplomats have had their chance. Now it's time to fight.
Unfortunately, our Marines and soldiers are in the position of a man in a fistfight in an alley. The other guy has total freedom of action, while our man's "friends" keep tugging at his arms and trying to restrain him. Guess who gets his teeth knocked out?
The president needs to lead, not equivocate. If there is any emerging resemblance to Vietnam, it isn't on the battlefield, but in the White House, where no one seems to have the will to win.
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We cannot waste the lives of our troops for yesterday's bankrupt theories of international relations. Stop worrying about making our mortal enemies happy. We must either make up our minds to win, or bring our soldiers home.