Fallujah Revenge and the War Disease

The recent bombing of a mosque in Fallujah meant fiery deaths for about forty Iraqis, but if the hawks get their way, it will be only the beginning of the deadly reprisals waged by the U.S. against that town in retaliation for the massacre of Americans there last week.

The ideals of presumed innocence and individualism, eloquently enshrined in America’s Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, are falling prey to a plague that has infected the sensibilities of Americans since 9/11, and which has hit new heights since the Fallujah massacre. This war disease inspires vengeful Americans to punish large groups of innocents for the guilty actions of a few, sometimes insisting these people are not truly innocent because they have failed to stop the violence committed in their name.

Oh, the War Party assured us in the beginning of the war that Saddam’s evil regime was the target of U.S. military attacks, and that the innocent Iraqis, the most pitiful victims of that regime, would welcome their “liberators” with open arms. This war was supposed to be about standing up for the good guys against the bad.

Saddam’s regime was toppled, and the brutal dictator is now in custody. American forces have not found any weapons of mass destruction, if they ever existed. Any alleged threat to the United States from Saddam has been vanquished, not that it ever existed. At this point there is no longer the pretense of self-defense in the motivations behind this war. It is an imperial nation-building operation, which, according to its name, has the goal of establishing “Iraqi freedom.”

Unfortunately, many of those ungrateful Iraqis, such as the ones guilty of the Fallujah atrocity and the ones leading the current Shiite rebellion, would not understand “freedom” even if it knocked them on the head – or even if it invaded their country, killed thousands of their countrymen, destroyed their infrastructure, and established a military occupation in their towns complete with censorship, curfews, and barbed wire, all to rid them of an evil tyrant that it used to consider a friend. And so they resist.

We should not trivialize the tragic deaths of Americans in Fallujah. The suggested responses coming from today’s imminent warhawks, however, range from na├»ve to downright savage.

In a forthcoming issue of The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol complains about the reaction of one commander to the Fallujah atrocity, who had posed the question: “Should we have sent in a tank so we could have gotten, with all due respect, four dead bodies back? What good would that have done? A mob is a mob. We would have just provoked them. The smart play was to let this thing fade out.” Kristol assures us that

“The alternative to inaction on March 31 did not have to be a single tank. We could have sent many tanks, along with air support, to disperse the mob, kill those who didn’t disperse, intimidate onlookers, and recover the bodies of the dead Americans. And we could immediately have put a price on the head of the killers and those who desecrated the bodies.”

The idea that simply killing all Iraqis who do not comply with U.S. military orders smacks of “freedom,” doesn’t it? And I wonder if paying townspeople off to rat each other would yield any desirable results. Whereas before I would have suspected that Iraqis would indiscriminately point fingers at each other based on their long standing rivalries, it now looks like the Unites States has had unpredictable success at uniting disparate Iraqi groups in a common cause – that is, resisting U.S. occupation.

Kristol concludes that America needs a “sharpening of the Bush administration’s sword in the war on terror, then we will have properly honored the sacrifice of those who died March 31 in Fallujah – and a decade earlier in Mogadishu as well.”

Oh that’s what this is about! It’s not about weapons of mass destruction or Iraqi freedom. It’s about restoring the honor of America, which has been compromised by failed U.S. interventions of the past. If only the United States comes down hard enough now on its enemies, the deaths of Americans in past quagmires will be vindicated. I wonder how many Arabs will have to die to restore the honor to the 57,000 Americans who lost their lives in the futile attempt to defeat communism in Vietnam.

Of course, not all members of the War Party have advocated as restrained a response to the horrors of Fallujah as Kristol’s modest suggestion. On such hawkish message boards as Free Republic, the most common suggestion seems to be to level the entire town, perhaps giving the townspeople time to leave. Perhaps not.

Among the more prominent hawks proposing the town-leveling solution is Joseph Farah, who runs WorldNetDaily and says: “There are 250,000 people living in Fallujah. My guess is that the population is going to be reduced shortly.” Farah does recognize that “not all of the Iraqi city’s population, or even most of them, bear responsibility for the despicable, cowardly attacks.” And yet:

“Fallujah is going to pay a price for the blood it has spilled.

“The U.S. should give the leaders of Fallujah a chance to turn over all those who participated in the bloodletting.”

How merciful. Farah wants to give them a chance to turn over the sinners before they all feel the full wrath of U.S. retaliation. Of course, he has “no expectations that Fallujah’s elders will make the right call, do the right thing. And when they fail to do so – say, in the next few days – the U.S. should pound Fallujah like it has never been pounded before.” He continues:

“…[W]e may need to flatten Fallujah. We may need to destroy it. We may need to grind it, pulverize it and salt the soil, as the Romans did with troublesome enemies.”

Now those Romans – they knew how to show tough love when the non-democratized people of the world really needed it.

“It’s time to take off the velvet gloves.

“It’s time to stop being Mr. Nice Guy.

“It’s time to cease worrying about collateral damage.

Amen! The U.S. government has been far too concerned with civilian casualties.

“It’s time to show all Iraqis and their brothers and sisters throughout the Middle East that it doesn’t pay to mess with Americans…. They need to accept things will never be the same in Iraq.”

That’s right. Things will never be the same. The U.S. government did not bomb and occupy Iraq, killing ten thousand civilians and wounding countless others, just so the country could become a hotbed for violence! And once the U.S. troops really show who’s boss, then the Iraqis will be civil enough for self governance.

Last March when the bombs began falling, Farah told his readers that “Iraqi people can smell freedom,” and that he expected to see “the people of Iraq celebrate liberation in a few days or weeks.” He probably didn’t expect the U.S. military would need to rub the noses of the Iraqi people in freedom until they really smelled it, even if it meant leveling the homes of a quarter million people, and killing those that failed to get out of the way.

The worst symptom of the war disease lately, typified by the rabid reactions to the Fallujah massacre, has been the propensity of far too many Americans to believe that the Iraqi people have simply not appreciated the freedom the United States has brought them, and must be punished collectively for their lack of appreciation. The hawks who refuse to admit the folly of Gulf War II respond to the war’s continuing failures by increasingly embracing outright the un-American notion that entire groups of people should be punished for the actions of a few. In their minds, the Iraqi people are guilty, for not stopping the violence committed in their name.

The targeting of innocents because they fail to stop violence done in their name is the modus operandi of terrorists, such as the ones who kill innocent Israelis and the ones that murdered thousands of Americans on September 11, all in reaction to the actions of the Israeli and U.S. governments. Such a strategy is not the proper foreign policy of a free society.

Aside from compromising America’s founding principles, this sickness has undermined basic reasoning. On the one hand, war advocates would have us believe that the majority of Iraqis still welcome the U.S. occupation, and it is only Saddamites and terrorists who are lashing out at U.S. forces. If this is so, how can retaliating against an entire town of mostly innocent pro-American Iraqis have anything but negative effects on the attempt to instill an ethos of individual liberty over there? On the other hand, if the Iraqis do share collective guilt for the brutality against benevolent American forces, doesn’t that mean they in large part do not appreciate the U.S. occupation? This is becoming exactly the situation many of us warned against more than a year ago: the United States is paradoxically attempting to force democracy on an unwilling population that does not want such “assistance.”

The U.S. government has not had a clear success in its foreign interventions in more than half a century, but the failures in Iraq and the delusional persistence of America’s Iraq War hawks are in a class of their own. Before the war kills more Americans and Iraqis, and further diseases the minds and judgment of Americans who cannot realize when enough is enough, the United States needs to pull out of Iraq so we can put this terrible, terrible episode in American history behind us.

Author: Anthony Gregory

Anthony Gregory is a former research fellow at the Independent Institute.