The Fallout From Fallujah
Marines of the 1st Battallion, 8th Marines battle insurgents in the streets of the city of Fallujah on November 21, 2004. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Despite U.S. claims of victory in Fallujah, much of the international press seems convinced that the American military cannot win hearts and minds in Iraq. A chorus of foreign observers is predicting a replay of America's failure in Vietnam.
"In Vietnam the Americans destroyed the village to save it," wrote Simon Jenkins in the conservative Times of London (Nov 17). "In Iraq we destroy the city to save it.... Nothing in Iraq has so illumined the folly of this occupation as the now completed suppression of Fallujah.... As for the repopulation of the city from which 90 per cent of citizens are said to have fled — this will bring back the guerrillas and put the Americans under renewed attack. This is the opposite of what Fallujah was supposed to achieve."
Geoffrey Barker writing in the Australian Financial Review (Nov 15) concluded: "Increasingly, the U.S. experience in Iraq is resembling the earlier U.S. experience in Vietnam, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan and the French experience in Algeria.... U.S. hopes of establishing a stable pro-Western beacon of democracy in the Middle East now seem futile."
In another conservative paper, Le Figaro (Nov 15), Charles Lambroschini noted, “the Americans are facing the eternal dilemma of guerrilla warfare. The winner never really wins and the loser never really loses.... And so we ask ourselves the same questions over and over again: will the American army be able to restore a sort of peace for the January elections?"
France's Liberation, a newspaper that is normally critical of U.S. foreign policy, conceded "The battle of Fallujah was a victory for the U.S. Army. And for George W. Bush. But is this military victory a political victory?” Asked senior reporter Patrick Sabatier, “Or is it a vain demonstration of force, which will not advance the cause of Iraq's pacification?”
America's military success in Fallujah is "questionable" and "its political failure almost certain" according to an editorial by Rudolph Chimelli in Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (Nov 15): "The Sunni Arabs, who make up one quarter of the population, are threatening to boycott the elections and their representatives are withdrawing from its institutions."
Concern about the destruction of Fallujah and the fate of its residents was another recurring theme in the world press.
"[T]he American forces clearly don't care about religious symbols like mosques,” suggested Jean Vanempten in the Dutch financial daily De Tijd (Nov 13). “The latter were shelled mercilessly in Fallujah--during Ramadan! It happened with Allawi's blessing, but he owes his authority to the American occupiers. When the smoke over Fallujah has disappeared, the real destruction will become visible."
Spain’s leading daily, El País (Nov 17) editorialized: "In Fallujah, the U.S. has shown that it will continue determinedly with its main mistake: the belief that military force solves everything."
A Shot Replayed Around The World
TV channels around the world have replayed, over and over again, the videotape of an American Marine shooting a wounded insurgent inside a mosque in Fallujah. Many foreign observers see the episode not just as a tragic mistake but also as a symbol of everything that is wrong with U.S. military strategy.
"Something happened in Iraq that could quickly turn into a new PR nightmare for the U.S. forces...." wrote Guido Heinen in Germany's Die Welt (Nov 17) — a newspaper that has defended the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "The pictures are awakening oppressive associations of smiling GIs at My Lai, of children burnt by napalm bombs, and isolated prisoners in Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib's torture victims. It is not the horror about the crime itself that made these pictures so well known, but the horror about the perpetrators: soldiers of our closest ally, fighters in the name of Western culture and freedom."
For Chris Bellamy, a British professor of military science writing in the UK Independent (Nov 17): "The 'pre-emptive' tactic adopted by the young marine mirrors the strategy of America itself.... Even though a quarter of a million civilians may have fled the city, it is unlikely that all the dead are insurgents, and foreign fighters appear to be relatively few in number. Comparisons with Vietnam War 'body counts' are inevitable...."
"In the familiar whir of arguments rationalizing the marine's act in Fallujah — his fear of booby-trapped bodies, etc. — American spokespersons miss a key point," stated Indian Express (Nov 18): "They are being interrogated not by critics this time, but by dusty pictures being rerun around the world."
The independent English-language South China Morning Post (Nov 18) found the video "powerful--and disturbing.... If these facts are supported by an investigation that is now under way, then there will be no doubt that a serious war crime has been committed….But whatever the result, severe damage has already been done to the U.S. cause."