Friday :: Sep 17, 2004

The Nein Situations

by pessimist

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. - Sun Tzu, The Art of War, III 18

As I hope to show with this post, George Warmonger Bu$h should consider himself extremely lucky that his opponent in his 'War on Terra' is not Sun Tzu, author of the most basic, yet complete, tract on the conduct of war - The Art of War. Dumbya has no clue as to what he is about militarily, which would have made him easy pickings for the warrior of over 2500 years ago. Assuming that Sun Tzu could understand the usage of modern war technology, Dumbya wouldn't stand a chance against him.

I interpose excerpts from The Art of War amid the following modern posts about the travails both in Iraq and among our armed forces expected to fight the War for Oil. Roman numerals are the chapter, and the Arabic numerals the specific line [From SUN TZU ON THE ART OF WAR].

Far graver than Vietnam

Most senior US military officers now believe the war on Iraq has turned into a disaster on an unprecedented scale.

In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
Sun-Tzu, The Art of War, II 19

'Bring them on!" President Bush challenged the early Iraqi insurgency in July of last year. Since then, 812 American soldiers have been killed and 6,290 wounded, according to the Pentagon. Almost every day, in campaign speeches, Bush speaks with bravado about how he is "winning" in Iraq. "Our strategy is succeeding," he boasted to the National Guard convention on Tuesday.

IX 37,41 - To begin by bluster, but afterwards to take fright at the enemy's numbers, shows a supreme lack of intelligence. He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.

But, according to the US military's leading strategists and prominent retired generals, Bush's war is already lost. Retired general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He adds: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends."

II 7 - It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.

Retired general Joseph Hoare, the former marine commandant and head of US Central Command, told me: "The idea that this is going to go the way these guys planned is ludicrous. There are no good options. We're conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in Iowa, no sense of the realities on the ground. It's so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part of the world. The priorities are just all wrong."

I 26 - Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

Jeffrey Record, professor of strategy at the Air War College, said: "I see no ray of light on the horizon at all. The worst case has become true. There's no analogy whatsoever between the situation in Iraq and the advantages we had after the second world war in Germany and Japan."

IV 16 - The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success.

W Andrew Terrill, professor at the Army War College's strategic studies institute - and the top expert on Iraq there - said: "I don't think that you can kill the insurgency". According to Terrill, the anti-US insurgency, centred in the Sunni triangle, and holding several cities and towns - including Fallujah - is expanding and becoming more capable as a consequence of US policy.

III 4,5 - The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken.

"We have a growing, maturing insurgency group," he told me. "We see larger and more coordinated military attacks. They are getting better and they can self-regenerate. The idea there are x number of insurgents, and that when they're all dead we can get out is wrong. The insurgency has shown an ability to regenerate itself because there are people willing to fill the ranks of those who are killed. The political culture is more hostile to the US presence. The longer we stay, the more they are confirmed in that view."

III 1,2 - In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

After the killing of four US contractors in Fallujah, the marines besieged the city for three weeks in April - the watershed event for the insurgency. "I think the president ordered the attack on Fallujah," said General Hoare. "I asked a three-star marine general who gave the order to go to Fallujah and he wouldn't tell me. I came to the conclusion that the order came directly from the White House." Then, just as suddenly, the order was rescinded, and Islamist radicals gained control, using the city as a base.

III 6 - Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.

"If you are a Muslim and the community is under occupation by a non-Islamic power it becomes a religious requirement to resist that occupation," Terrill explained. "Most Iraqis consider us occupiers, not liberators." He describes the religious imagery common now in Fallujah and the Sunni triangle: "There's talk of angels and the Prophet Mohammed coming down from heaven to lead the fighting, talk of martyrs whose bodies are glowing and emanating wonderful scents."

IX 34 - When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills its cattle for food, and when the men do not hang their cooking-pots over the camp-fires, showing that they will not return to their tents, you may know that they are determined to fight to the death.

"I see no exit," said Record. "We've been down that road before. It's called Vietnamisation. The idea that we're going to have an Iraqi force trained to defeat an enemy we can't defeat stretches the imagination. They will be tainted by their very association with the foreign occupier. In fact, we had more time and money in state building in Vietnam than in Iraq."

XI 32,34 - The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard of courage which all must reach. Thus the skillful general conducts his army just as though he were leading a single man, willy-nilly, by the hand.

General Odom said: "This is far graver than Vietnam. There wasn't as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with the war that was not constructive for US aims. But now we're in a region far more volatile, and we're in much worse shape with our allies."

IV 15 - Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.

Terrill believes that any sustained US military offensive against the no-go areas "could become so controversial that members of the Iraqi government would feel compelled to resign". Thus, an attempted military solution would destroy the slightest remaining political legitimacy. "If we leave and there's no civil war, that's a victory."

II 3 - If the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

General Hoare believes from the information he has received that "a decision has been made" to attack Fallujah "after the first Tuesday in November. That's the cynical part of it - after the election. The signs are all there."

II 20 - Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of the people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in peace or in peril.

He compares any such planned attack to the late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Asad's razing of the rebel city of Hama. "You could flatten it," said Hoare. "US military forces would prevail, casualties would be high, there would be inconclusive results with respect to the bad guys, their leadership would escape, and civilians would be caught in the middle. I hate that phrase collateral damage. And they talked about dancing in the street, a beacon for democracy."

V 5 - In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.

General Odom remarked that the tension between the Bush administration and the senior military officers over Iraqi was worse than any he has ever seen with any previous government, including Vietnam. "I've never seen it so bad between the office of the secretary of defence and the military. There's a significant majority believing this is a disaster. The two parties whose interests have been advanced have been the Iranians and al-Qaida. Bin Laden could argue with some cogency that our going into Iraq was the equivalent of the Germans in Stalingrad. They defeated themselves by pouring more in there. Tragic."

III 12-15 There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army: -- (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier's minds. (3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.

War-weary US military more wary of Bush in election

President George W. Bush is best positioned to win the military vote in the November 2 presidential election but experts say his popularity has dimmed among servicemembers who have borne the burden of three years of warfare. "He has the incumbent's curse on a number of issues," said Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University in North Carolina and an authority on US civil-military relations, referring to the disappointment over unrealized campaign promises.

III 17 - Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

Bush is believed to have won the military vote hands down against former vice president Al Gore in the 2000 election. Absentee ballots cast by military deployed overseas helped push Bush over the top in Florida in 2000, and his 537-vote margin of victory there ultimately gave him the presidency.

I 5,6 - The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

But four years later, the excitement Bush once generated with promises to rescue an overworked military has been offset by events. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have put active duty and reserve military under unprecedented stress with frequent, lengthy and dangerous deployments. In Iraq alone, the death toll has surpassed 1,000.

III 16 - But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to come from the other feudal princes. This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging victory away.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Republican appointees had stormy relations with the military brass, including clashes over the size of the army and other issues. Some retired generals who sided publicly with Bush in 2000 after serving under president Bill Clinton have switched sides, this time lending vociferous support for Senator John Kerry , the Democratic challenger.

VII 27 - A whole army may be robbed of its spirit; a commander-in-chief may be robbed of his presence of mind.

How much of an impact all this will have on service members in November is still a matter of guesswork.

XI 11 - All armies prefer high ground to low and sunny places to dark.

Little polling data exists on how the military actually voted in 2000, although it is widely assumed it went for Bush by a large margin. Exit polls generally have not been performed at military bases where service members cast their ballots. Public opinion polling of the active duty military also has been scant because the 1.4 million member force represents a tiny constituency that in itself is unlikely to alter the election outcome even in battleground states. Polls of veterans, however, show Bush doing better than Kerry among Americans with military experience.

A Pew Research Center poll released on July 23 found that Bush led Kerry 49 to 40 percent among male veterans, a group that included active duty military personnel. Non veterans were more evenly divided -- 46 percent for Bush versus 44 percent for Kerry.

Nevertheless, students of the military detect a shift in sentiment when compared to the last presidential elections. "You don't find much antipathy toward Bush in the way that there was antipathy toward Clinton. But there is disenchantment in some quarters," Feaver told AFP. "The military support the Iraq war much more strongly than the general public does. But there is still some ambivalence among the military, and it is plausible that that ambivalence is growing as the situation in Iraq proves so difficult," he said.

IX 35 - The sight of men whispering together in small knots or speaking in subdued tones points to disaffection amongst the rank and file.

Bush may be particularly vulnerable among the national guard and reserve and their families, who have endured longer, more dangerous active duty deployments than anticipated, he said. Before the 2000 election, Feaver had tracked a growing tendency on the part of US military officers to identify with the Republican party. "Republicanization (of the military) has receded a bit," he said. "It hasn't flipped to loyalty to the Democrats. It probably has increased the number of people who would identify themselves as independents."

IX 42 - If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be practically useless.

But it was still clear Bush would win the military vote, he said. Kerry, he said, "has not presented such a compelling person, or platform or campaign that would cause a constituency that was a Bush stronghold to completely reverse. He might do better than Gore did, and in a very, very close election that might matter. But there are very few states where the military vote is large enough, where the election will be close enough, where Kerry's eating into Bush support will be decisive," he said.

XI 22 - Carefully study the well-being of your men, and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength. Keep your army continually on the move, and devise unfathomable plans. [This is one axiom that appears to be accidentally going right for Bu$h]

US running short of reserve troops: report

The United States military may run out of national guard and reserve troops for the war on terrorism because of existing limits on involuntary mobilisations, a congressional watchdog agency warned in a report released overnight. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the US Government has considered changing the policy to make members of the 1.2 million-strong guard and reserve subject to repeated involuntary mobilisation, so long as no single mobilisation exceeds 24 consecutive months.

II 8 - The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy.

In commenting on the report, the Department of Defence (DOD) says it plans to keep its current approach. "Under DOD's current implementation of the authority, reserve component members can be involuntarily mobilised more than once, but involuntary mobilisations are limited to a cumulative total of 24 months," the report said. "If DOD's implementation of the partial mobilisation authority restricts the cumulative time that reserve component forces can be mobilised, then it is possible that DOD will run out of forces."

II 2 - When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped.

The guard and reserve are crucial to the US war effort because they include specialised units such as military police, intelligence and civil affairs that are in high demand but in short supply in the active duty force. The Pentagon also has turned to the guard and reserve to ease the strain on active duty infantry divisions that have had to deploy repeatedly to Iraq. More than 47,600 members of the guard and reserve were serving in Iraq as of last month, about a third of the 140,000-member US force currently deployed. When those deployed in Afghanistan and rear areas are added, the total is in excess of 66,000, according to Pentagon figures. Since September 11, 2003, more than 335,000 guard and reserves have been involuntarily mobilised for active duty - 234,000 from the army alone.

II 13,14 - With this loss of substance and exhaustion of strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare, and three-tenths of their income will be dissipated; while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.

Report: Soldiers say they are being threatened with Iraq duty

Soldiers from a combat unit at Fort Carson say they have been told to re-enlist for three more years or be transferred to other units expected to deploy to Iraq, the Rocky Mountain News reported Thursday. Hundreds of soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team were presented with that message and a re-enlistment form in a series of assemblies last week, two soldiers who spoke on condition of anonymity told the newspaper. "They said if you refuse to re-enlist with the 3rd Brigade, we'll send you down to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is going to Iraq for a year, and you can stay with them, or we'll send you to Korea, or to Fort Riley (in Kansas) where they're going to Iraq," said one of the soldiers, a sergeant.

V 1 - The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.

The second soldier, an enlisted man, echoed that view: "They told us if we don't re-enlist, then we'd have to be reassigned. And where we're most needed is in units that are going back to Iraq in the next couple of months. So if you think you're getting out, you're not." The enlisted soldier said the recruiters' message left him 'filled with dread.' "For me, it wasn't about going back to Iraq. It's just the fact that I'm ready to get out of the Army," he said.

II 16 - Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards.

The sergeant told the News the threat has outraged soldiers who are close to fulfilling their service obligation. "We have a whole platoon who refuses to sign," he said. Extending a soldier's active duty is within Army authority, since the enlistment contract carries an eight-year obligation, even if a soldier signs up for shorter terms. Members of Iraq-bound units can be retained for an entire year in Iraq, even if their active-duty enlistment expires. One of the soldiers provided the form to the News. If signed, it would bind the soldier to the 3rd Brigade until Dec. 31, 2007.

V 21 - The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy.

An unidentified Fort Carson spokesman said Wednesday that 3rd Brigade recruitment officers denied threatening the soldiers with more duty in Iraq. "I can only tell you what the retention officers told us: The soldiers were not being told they will go to Iraq, but they may go to Iraq," said the spokesman, who confirmed the re-enlistment drive is under way.

V 13 - The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.

An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Gerard Healy, said sending soldiers to Iraq with less than one year of their enlistment remaining "would not be taken lightly." "There's probably a lot of places on post where they could put those folks (who don't re-enlist) until their time expires," he said. "But I don't want to rule out the possibility that they could go to a unit that might deploy."

V 20 By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march.

"I don't want to go back to Iraq," the sergeant told the News. "I went through a lot of things for the Army that weren't necessary and were risky. Iraq has changed a lot of people."

II 4 - Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

Editorial: Time to add grunt units

With Pentagon planners already at work on a fourth round of troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, itís clear the wartime pace isnít slowing anytime soon. To meet the global demand for Marines without burning out the troops, the Corps is getting creative. Okinawa is stripped of its infantry battalions. Artillery, air defense and tank units are pinch-hitting as "provisional" grunt units. And two Marine Expeditionary Units were pulled off their normal at-sea deployments for Iraq duty; a third will do the same this fall. At this point, only a handful of infantry units remain that havenít deployed for war at least once in the last 18 months. But with most experts measuring the future demands of the Iraq and Afghanistan missions in years, not months, the use of provisional rifle units is only a temporary fix.

II 1 - In the operations of war, where there are in the field a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots, and a hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers, with provisions enough to carry them a thousand li, the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.

Rather than gin up more ad hoc solutions, itís time to start building new infantry battalions. Corps leaders are considering such a move but have hesitated to do so thus far, citing the time and money required to raise, train and equip a new unit. Thatís why they also continue to resist congressional efforts to boost the Corpsí end strength by 9,000 troops to 185,700. They fear that by the time new grunt units are built and ready to deploy ó a process that most likely would take at least 18 months ó the demand for troops in Iraq wonít be there, and the Corps will be left holding the bag on units it doesnít need.

VI 19,20 Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight. But if neither time nor place be known, then the left wing will be impotent to succor the right, the right equally impotent to succor the left, the van unable to relieve the rear, or the rear to support the van.

The hope is that the upcoming Iraqi elections set for late 2004 or early 2005 will help quell much of the violence that has required an occupation force of nearly 140,000 U.S. troops. So far, that wait-and-see approach hasnít done any visible damage ó Marines arenít leaving the ranks in droves as some predicted. In fact, the Corps needs to re-enlist about 8 percent fewer Marines than it did this year.

VI 6 - An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not.

But faced with the prospect of a third or even a fourth Iraq deployment, many Marines may have a change of heart. In fact, a Rand Corp. study presented to lawmakers earlier this year shows that one or two hostile-duty deployments can be good for retention, but a third can be more than many troops are willing to take.

VI 1 - Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.

That means the time to start building new grunt units is now, to send a clear signal that help is on the way before Marines make their opinions about the pace of wartime service known by voting with their feet.

VII 2 - Having collected an army and concentrated his forces, he must blend and harmonize the different elements thereof before pitching his camp.

Turning point

A journalist who was embedded with the U.S. Marines in Fallujah explains how the Bush White House lost the key battle of the Iraq war.
Sept. 16, 2004

On Sunday, at his change-of-command ceremony, the outgoing top Marine general in Iraq, Lt. Gen. James Conway, gave tragic voice to what thousands of servicemen throughout Iraq have believed for months. He announced that the April assault on Fallujah had been an overly aggressive mistake and that the often-vacillating American approach to the town had undermined U.S. efforts to win the hearts and minds of local Iraqis.

III 3 - Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.

V 14 - Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision.

I arrived in western Iraq shortly after the siege of the town was called off, and whenever the subject came up, young Marine officers -- men with crew cuts in the duty-honor-country mold who evince an almost pathological optimism about all things Iraq -- would look away wistfully or just shake their heads in disgust. Many of the Marines involved in the attack would have preferred to complete the assault once it started, despite the likely huge increase in civilian casualties. Those who fought on the ground have complained about the timing, intent and restrictive rules of engagement of the White House-ordered assault.

VI 29 - Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.

Responding to the killing and subsequent mutilation of four U.S. contractors in Fallujah on March 31, Conway had led a 5,000-man Marine force that laid siege to the restive town for over three weeks. Bad press and reports of civilian casualties by Al-Jazeera later caused the Marines to halt their advance into the heart of the city and, on the eve of a renewed offensive, the Marines unexpectedly turned over the town to a local militia force that later became known as the Fallujah Brigade.

VI 32 - Just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.

Reflecting on the course of the White House-ordered campaign on Sunday, Conway indicated that he had had serious misgivings about the Fallujah operation from the get-go, "We felt that we probably ought to let the situation settle before we appeared to be attacking out of revenge," he told reporters gathered on the sprawling Marine base just east of the embattled town. "I think we certainly increased the level of animosity that existed."

VI 31 - Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.

The mainstream press has largely overlooked the fact that in the case of Fallujah, the White House unnecessarily injected itself into the military's tactical decision-making process in Iraq, ignored the informed opinions of ground commanders, and in effect micromanaged the battle. According to many observers, the seemingly contradictory U.S. military actions over the course of the siege were largely the result of the wishy-washy directives being issued by the Bush administration and its failure to appreciate the implications of sending in a large Marine force to seize a notoriously hostile town.

VII 1,5 - Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign. Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous.

To both outside observers and former high-placed officials, including former U.S. Central Command chief Anthony Zinni and historian Robert Kaplan, it appeared as if the Bush administration had ordered the punitive campaign out of anger and then lost nerve when Arab outrage over civilian casualties rose to a fever pitch. Says Kaplan, who was embedded with the Marines during the opening stages of the battle and who later wrote about it for the Atlantic Monthly, "It's fine to send in the Marines. It's fine to have a cease-fire, but you can't do both. What this amounts to is ... foreign policy incoherence."

I 3 - The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.

In his unusually candid parting remarks, Conway appeared to echo this sentiment, saying, "When you order elements of a Marine division to attack a city, you really need to understand what the consequences of that are going to be and perhaps not vacillate in the middle of something like that. Once you commit, you've got to stay committed."

VII 13 - We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country--its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.

In his remarks Conway likely was attempting to set the record straight on Fallujah and distance himself from the unmitigated disaster that it has become for the American mission in Iraq. For the Bush camp, intent as it is upon portraying its candidate as an unflappable war leader and John Kerry as an intellectually addled flip-flopper, such charges from high-ranking members of the military would seem to call Bush's vaunted decisiveness into question.

VIII 4,5 - The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompany variation of tactics knows how to handle his troops. The general who does not understand these, may be well acquainted with the configuration of the country, yet he will not be able to turn his knowledge to practical account.

Little of this comes as a surprise to the men and women on the ground with whom I spoke in Fallujah in April. While rigorously apolitical, most Marines, up to the rank of major, when discussing the battle, readily admitted that it was overly politicized, and many bluntly told me that they "got fucked by higher-ups." One particularly conscientious 1st sergeant, from the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment, kept getting choked up when I asked him to recount the battle and was openly disdainful of the command authorities who had ordered his men to attack the city and then paradoxically ordered them to retreat as soon as victory seemed within reach. "There's no two ways about it: We were robbed of victory at Fallujah."

X 18 - When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization.

The overwhelming impression one gains from these Marines is that while they were surprised by the decision to launch a full-scale assault on the city -- the people I spoke to expressed no desire for revenge -- they considered the decision to call it off in midstream disastrous, believing that higher-ups had seriously undercut their credibility in the eyes of local Iraqis.

III 11 - Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak.

Lamenting this turn of events, retired Marine Gen. Zinni, in a speech not long after the siege, said, "One thing you learn in this business is, Don't say it unless you're going to do it. In this part of the world, strength matters. And if you say you are going to go in and wipe them out, you'd better do it." Another Marine, a chain-smoking lance corporal from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, Fifth Marines, put it more bluntly: "My buddies died in vain."

VI 21 - Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yueh exceed our own in number, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory.

Although few have blamed the Marines themselves for the mistakes in Fallujah, it is only now, as principal commanders such as Conway exit Iraq, that what actually occurred is beginning to emerge. In fact, as I came to learn during my brief stint in Iraq, Marine commanders were initially unconcerned by the reports of the four slain contractors and planned what can best be described as a modest response to the Iraqi atrocities. Kaplan, the author of "Balkan Ghosts," recalls touring the Abu Ghraib prison compound with the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division on March 31. He remarked that the general was only momentarily concerned by reports of the contractors' deaths and subsequent mutilation. Kaplan recalls, "He never raised the issue. He may have thought, 'Oh, shit, they may want us to do something about this,' but five minutes later he had other problems on his hands, like dealing with the ongoing insurgent mortar attacks."

VI 11,12 - If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we need do is attack some other place that he will be obliged to relieve. If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from engaging us even though the lines of our encampment be merely traced out on the ground. All we need do is to throw something odd and unaccountable in his way.

(It is fascinating to note the disparity between the reactions of troops on the ground and the reactions of pundits back home who immediately drew parallels between Fallujah and Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, when the bodies of dead U.S. Army Rangers were dragged through the streets. No Marine I interviewed drew this same parallel, and they were surprised that others had done so.)

VI 16 - The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few.

An operations officer from 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, informed me that initially his battalion was considering a tightly focused series of raids in Fallujah to capture or kill the men who had slain the contractors but that this was quickly scotched by orders from higher-ups. The restraint on the part of the Marines on the ground is in line with Conway's instructions to his subordinate commanders at the time. I spoke with Conway at a Marine base in California before he departed for Iraq, and he spoke passionately about his finely wrought ideals of cooperation with Iraqis and hopes of establishing youth soccer leagues throughout western Iraq. He explained with pride that a plan was in the works to bring a delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus to speak to Sunni tribal leaders about legislative coalition building for minority groups in a democracy.

VI 22 - Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting.

All of this stands in stark contrast to what unfolded once the Marines crossed the Rubicon and into the dark heart of Fallujah. The more measured response was quickly discarded when instructions came from Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Conway's boss in Baghdad, on April 1 to prepare for a no-holds-barred assault on Fallujah. (It was later reported and confirmed by officials in both Iraq and Washington that Sanchez and his boss, Gen. John Abizaid, were acting on instructions from the White House.)

VI 15 - And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits.

Despite his initial objections, Conway eventually acquiesced and the Marines launched the prescribed attack with their typical ardor, quickly seizing sizable chunks of the town. However, as media coverage critical of this heavy-handed approach began to mount, the American high command initiated a long string of cease-fires. (Many Marines contend that the cease-fires began only because the insurgents in the town were beginning to suffer heavy casualties and suddenly wanted to negotiate their way out of the fight. Patrick Graham of Harper's magazine, who lived with a band of Fallujah-area insurgents for several weeks, confirms this.)

VIII 10 - Reduce the hostile chiefs by inflicting damage on them; and make trouble for them, and keep them constantly engaged; hold out specious allurements, and make them rush to any given point.

The Marines also found their rules of engagement (about whom they could and could not shoot) becoming progressively more restrictive. The Marines from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, for instance, were ordered not to cross Highway 10, which bisects the town -- a maddening development that in their view granted the insurgents a choice sanctuary and allowed them to stage ambushes at their leisure. This trend of White House micromanagement reached a crescendo as the siege entered its third week and the Marines were ordered to surrender the town to the hastily vetted scratch force of Iraqis that later became known as the Fallujah Brigade.

VIII 6 - So, the student of war who is unversed in the art of war of varying his plans, even though he be acquainted with the Five Advantages, will fail to make the best use of his men.

Conway's exculpatory comments Sunday highlight the extent to which the White House was "joysticking" events on the ground (in contradiction to the often celebrated post-Vietnam tradition of keeping the Beltway out of the commander's tent). Given the inestimable benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the White House's draconian response to the March 31 killing of the contractors was a complete disaster. What remains obscure is the rationale behind the Bush administration's ill-advised policy and its uncharacteristic willingness to flatly overrule on-scene commanders such as Conway.

VIII 3 - There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must be not attacked, towns which must be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.

Major questions remain about the nature of the decision-making process at Fallujah -- specifically, how vigorously did Conway and other Marine commanders protest the White House's order to attack? How much was President Bush personally involved in the decisions? To what degree were the cease-fires driven by the protests of fledgling Iraqi legislators in Baghdad?

VII 12 - We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.

In retrospect, what is most striking about the entire set of events in Fallujah is the vertiginous postmodern sheen that it takes on at times. When one excavates the history of the battle, it quickly becomes apparent that all the major policy decisions were driven not by events on the ground but instead by the raw power of the images the battle produced: Americans being dragged through the streets, wailing Iraqi mothers returning to shattered homes, American Spectre gunships strafing neighborhoods -- pixilated nightscope views almost Gothic in tone, no perception so definite that it might not be interpreted as its opposite.

VI 26 - How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy's own tactics--that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.

One thing can be said for sure: Never before has media coverage of events so dominated the entirety of the military process; never before has the raw power of the burning images so trumped the seasoned opinions of professionals on the ground.

VII 31 - To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while the enemy is famished:--this is the art of husbanding one's strength.

In an insurgency such as that in Iraq, where the political realm is so closely tied to the tactical realm, perception often becomes reality. Nevertheless, the question remains why the White House failed so completely in its grasp of Iraqi perceptions and allowed the coverage of Fallujah to lure it into a rash decision to punish the residents of Fallujah and then reverse itself when the going got tough.

VII 30 - Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy:--this is the art of retaining self-possession.

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