On some cable networks, they were comparing it to the Battle of Stalingrad, which is absurd. At Stalingrad, 500,000 Red Army soldiers died along with 147,000 Germans. Another 91,000 Germans surrendered, few of them ever to be seen again.
No, Fallujah was no Stalingrad. It was not even first Bull Run in 1861, where society matrons rode out to see the rebels routed and saw instead a Union Army streaming in panic back up the road to Washington. Union and Confederate dead at Bull Run were near 900.
In Fallujah, U.S. dead were several score at most.
Yet, as Stalingrad was the turning point of the war and Bull Run meant Lincoln must fight a long war or let the Confederacy go, Fallujah may prove a decisive battle in Bush’s war, and presidency.
For after the killing of the contractors and the desecration of their bodies, we were told punishment was certain and coming. And should Fallujah refuse to give up the killers, it would be taken. When a superpower gives an ultimatum, it must make good on it.
Yet when the insurgents defied the Marines, and the Marines prepared to fight their way in and finish off the 1,500 fighters, U.S. commanders ordered them to withdraw. Last week, a Republican Guard general was sent in to Fallujah to work things out.
The insurgents had mocked a truce offer by sending out a small truckload of worthless weapons. They had mounted nightly assaults on the Marines. And after the Marines pulled out, photos of their jubilant enemies were flashed across the Middle East. Message to the Islamic world: The superpower can be defied.
Fallujah belongs to the insurgents. The enemy has established a sanctuary, a base camp in U.S.-occupied territory in a war zone, as has radical Shi’ite Sheik Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf.
The message from Fallujah is that either the Americans are afraid to take casualties or they are afraid to inflict heavy casualties in an urban battleground for fear that pictures of smashed mosques and dead women and children could convert any tactical Marine victory into a strategic U.S. defeat in the battle for hearts and minds.
But if that is the call the president has made, how do we win the war? How do we stop provocations out of Fallujah? How do we answer attacks mounted out of the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala?
If the Americans with all their firepower are unwilling to kill or disarm the insurgents, militias and foreign fighters in the cities, how do we expect an Iraqi regime set up by the UN to do the job?
“April is the cruellest month,” said T.S. Eliot, “breeding lilacs out of the dead land.” April summons up hope and promise when neither may be justified. Consider what April brought for us in Iraq.
As many U.S. dead and wounded as we suffered in the initial invasion and occupation.
Perceived U.S. defeats in Fallujah and Najaf, where the enemy holed up after launching murderous assaults on U.S. troops.
Surveys among Iraqis that found that, outside the Kurdish north, 81 percent of Sunnis and Shia look upon us as occupiers, two-thirds want us out of their country, and half think there are occasions when Americans deserve to be killed.
U.S. polls that show one-third of Americans now believe Iraq was never a threat. Half of us now believe the war was a mistake, 41 percent believe Bush’s policies have increased the threat of terrorism, and 71 percent say his policies have damaged our image in the Arab world.
This soaring hostility to the U.S. presence in Iraq and falling support for the war at home were recorded before the awful stories and graphic photos appeared of U.S. troops abusing Iraqi prisoners of war in the most depraved and humiliating fashion.
The president of Egypt says the United States has never been more hated in his part of the world. The King of Jordan has refused to come to the White House to protest what Arabs see as Bush’s betrayal of the Palestinians to Sharon.
The questions raised by the events of April are far-reaching, even historic. Is the United States about to lose Iraq? Is America’s Middle East policy collapsing?
With hatred of America and hostility to us pandemic, how long can we remain in Iraq? What now are the chances that Bush can build a government that is free, democratic, pro-American and willing to allow the permanent presence of U.S. bases on Iraqi soil? Who is winning the battle now for the Middle East, Bush or bin Laden?
One wonders if the president ever asks himself: Why did no one in my war cabinet warn me it could turn out like this.