Blogs > Cliopatria > Fallujah Analogies and Analysis

May 2, 2004 3:50 am


Fallujah Analogies and Analysis



Juan Cole's Informed Comment features the most unflinching, broad-sourced and clear commentary on Iraq anywhere. In yesterday's commentary on Fallujah he wrote:

The US would not use 500 pound bombs and AC-130s to get at a gang in Los Angeles or New York that had attacked police officers. It shouldn't be using such tactics in a country where it is the Occupying Power, either.
That is side by side (ok, it's down the screen a ways, but you know what I mean) with a guest commentary by a former CIA Saudi Arabia Station Chief which says that the compromise in Fallujah is as bad as I thought and more. His conclusions:
* The US cannot legitimately pacify the country for Iraqis and Iraqi authorities will have to have complete control over their military affairs, especially after the Abu Ghuraib prison atrocities [Note: Brian Ulrich wants the perpetrators tried by Iraqi authorities. Have we ever handed over military personnel for war crimes trials?]
* US/Coalition retreat from the country will be more like the Israeli retreat from South Lebanon than anyone expected
* Unless anti-Americanism binds Iraq together more than ethnic differences and power plays drive it apart, there will be chaos and civil war.
The caveat to all this is"unless things change." Could they change for the better? Absolutely. How? Dramatic and effective revision of our situation and methods. Imagination, flexible intelligence and humanity. What would that look like?

Update: William Marinara, at our neighbor-blog Liberty and Power, draws parallels between the use of torture and mass slaughter in three of the United State's imperial adventures -- Philippines, Vietnam and Iraq -- including the use of subcontractors for dirty work.


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Name Removed at Poster's Request - 5/5/2004

Not heard, read, from a few different sources. And actually, I didn't want to belief the Marines were shooting any moving non-first world non-English speaker in Fallujah, but accounts from different sources seemed to agree that this is what was happening. I wish it hadn't been. I'm beginning to think that we haven't learned a single social lesson from the Vietnam War other than not to train soldiers to refer to occupied peoples or in country allies in racist terms.


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/4/2004

Or so you've heard -- except that when it comes to claims made about the Marines, apparently corroboration isn't quite as necessary.


Name Removed at Poster's Request - 5/3/2004

"You no doubt are familiar with the fact that the opposition has been using women and children as shields, and firing from mosques and hosapitals?"

I've seen such claims from the U.S. military. Absent other corroboration, I reserve judgement on those claims.

Given that we shut off electricity and water to Fallujah, as well as the "shoot any moving person who isn't an English-speaking First Worlder" de facto policy of the Marines there, I'm inclined to believe that our forces were engaged in collective punishment against that city.


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/3/2004

Actually, I was at one time well-versed in the Law of Land Warfare, including the Geneva Conventions. I think, perhaps, on the subject of mosques and hospitals, you meant rather (or should have meant) to invoke Hague IV, rather than the Geneva Conventions (but I stand ready to be corrected, due to my faulty memory). I hope I don't detect in your comment that mosques and hospitals continue to enjoy special status when they are used for military purposes -- I certainly didn't wish to imply that all mosques or all hospitals become targets if even one is used for military purposes. Rather, I point to Article 27 of Hague IV:

"In sieges and bombardments all necessary steps must be taken to spare, as far as possible, buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not being used at the time for military purposes.

I can understand your reluctance to go further in my "education" in human rights and morality, since I so often find your empirical claims, upon which your moral claims rest, well, risible. I'm still laughing, I assure you, over your assertion that Mao only managed to dispatch 3 million of his fellow Chinese. You sure you're not related to Michael Vickery?


chris l pettit - 5/3/2004

Have you ever actually read the Geneva Conventions?

They explicitly state that just because your enemy does not keep to their obligations does not give you permission to stray from them as well. And we shoot women and children for the hell of it...and torture prosoners...and drop not just one, but hundreds of tons of DEPLETED URANIUM munitions on them, dooming not only them but their children and our troops as well.

But I will stop here because I already know how utterly useless it is to try convey any sense of human rights or morality to you Richard...might makes right...glad you choose to totally ignore your ability to access human reason and intelligence and are comfortable thinking like a pack of wild animals with no morality or common sense whatsoever


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/3/2004

I don't subscribe to ordnance infallibility, any more than the papal variety. I merely maintain that blasting a building in a dense urban area from above, even with shrapnel effects, poses less of a danger to civilians than bringing in troops down narrow avenues of approach firing small arms all the way, with rounds going through walls and bouncing off oblique surfaces to land god-knows-where. It's interesting that you didn't state that the hospital was destroyed from above, whether there was a military target co-located there, or what. You no doubt are familiar with the fact that the opposition has been using women and children as shields, and firing from mosques and hosapitals?


Name Removed at Poster's Request - 5/3/2004

Still, a 105mm howitzer round is a high explosive one, no? So there would inevitably be a blast effect around it. That's how how high explosive rounds are designed to act. So even if they can be pumped accurately into a structure with the dimension of a UPS delivery truck as the starry-eyed boosters our military technology say, shrapnel will fly outward from the target area, endangering people for a fair distance around.

This talk of the great accuracy of U.S. military technology is I think a red herring. From what I gather from news and eyewitness accounts, U.S. forces just aren't all that careful in how they fire ordnance around Iraqi civilians. And sometimes the carelessness seems intentional. I recall the destruction of the one hospital in Fallujah in the non-US controlled area by US ordnance. If our technology was so accurate, then what happened there?


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/2/2004

Actually, I think Cole's point (or, at least the one I was responding to) was that we wouldn't visit such destruction on ourselves, therefore we shouldn't do so to Fallujah. I can understand Cole's desire to be the herald of the downrodden, but I think he is just plain wrong. I think the US would use whatever it thought was necessary, even against it's own people. For instance, when I was a child living in Detroit, not only were tanks brought as defensive, but they went down the street opening up with their .30 cals.

Now I don't necessarily endorse that, nor think that Reno was right in Waco (or the Philly disaster a guide to action) -- she cited as justification for going in, the supposed fact that child abuse was taking place, when in fact there is no federal child abuse statute. This is hardly surprising, inasmuch as Reno rode her way to fame in Florida on the back of dubious child molestation cases (you might want to check the PBS website to see how Reno operates in this area).

What I am saying is that I wouldn't be surprised if an aerial assault on a fortified complex would render fewer civilian casualties than a ground-based one. Of course, this is based solely on my military experience -- unlike Cole I don't hold down a slot at a University. I would add that his judgment seems further incredible given that he doesn't seem to understand even the basic nomenclature. Bombs are gravity driven, though they may have maneuver surfaces. Shells are propelled -- they aren't bombs. When fired downward by an AC-130 (direct-fire mode), particularly given its sophisticated targeting system, the accuracy is astounding, and would in all probability result in less stray ordinance and secondary missiles flying around and endangering civilians than a full-on infantry assault.

As for your larger point, I agree. That is the nature of warfare. Each situation confronts the military with a new learning curve, and the army that learns the quickest has at least that advantage. That's why I marvel at the criticism that we didn't have a plan for everything, nor an exit strategy. MacArthur didn't have everything planned, nor an exit strategy, as far as I can tell. You plan what you can, and you muddle through where you can't.


Jonathan Dresner - 5/2/2004

And I suppose we should also be taking lessons from the suppression of the Branch Davidian uprising? (Janet Reno for US Ambassador to Iraq? It'd be bipartisan....) The MOVE bombing is still considered one of the worst decisions in modern policing (at least I've never seen an analysis to the contrary), and the use of tanks in Detroit was, I assume, largely defensive: they needed armored vehicles in a hurry (much like the hastily-armored humvees of our Iraqi forces); they weren't shelling heavily populated defensive positions.

I think the larger point is that we are still not sure what we're doing, or how to do it in such a way that we solve more problems than we create.


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/1/2004

Actually, one doesn't "bomb" with a howitzer from an AC-130, as it is in direct-fire mode. Having lived through the Detroit riots, and the use of tanks there, I don't share his view that the US wouldn't use a 500 pound bomb if it felt it was necessary. I also remember the firebombing of Philly by the police there as they took on MOVE. About as accurate as Cole's citing dated figures on chemical weapons.

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