Lessons of Fallujah

In a scene that conjures memories of Mogadishu, Somalia, where Americans were murdered and dragged through the streets, the grisly killing of 4 American private security guards in Fallujah has reverberated throughout the Western media, giving rise to two reactions: plain horror and self-righteous rage. The former emanates from ordinary Americans and their European counterparts, who wonder if this is how a “liberated” people is supposed to act. The latter is being generated by the administration and its media amen corner: while the President declared that we’d “stay the course,” Imperial Viceroy Paul Bremer promised reprisals, and Peggy Noonan averred in the Wall Street Journal that what happened in Fallujah was

“So brutal, so outside the normal limits of what used to be called man’s inhumanity to man, that you have to look away. Then you force yourself to look and see and only one thought is possible: This must stop now. You wonder, how can we do it? And your mind says, immediately: Whatever it takes.”

Go in there and mow ’em down, eh Peggy? You used to be such a nice Catholic girl. Pro-life, and all that. I wonder what happened.

Whatever it takes? We could empty Fallujah, or flatten it. We could get out the bulldozers, and do it Israeli-style. We could kill every male in the town over the age of 15. We could do what the Nazis did during their occupation of Europe, and announce that for every American they take out we’ll take down ten of theirs.

Poor little Peggy is all upset about “the terrible glee” and “the sadism” of the young men who tore those Americans limb from limb and hung their bodies up like so much butchered meat. After all, that’s not how you treat your liberators. Ah, but maybe these people don’t think of us as liberators – after a year of occupying Iraq, and having nearly 600 killed and many thousands wounded, you would think that the Americans would have gotten the message. But, oh no: it takes something like what happened in Fallujah to dramatize to the ordinary American what has been readily apparent to his Iraqi counterpart since Day One: this isn’t working.

But Noonan just doesn’t get it. To her, the whole scene was

“Reminiscent of the first still pictures of the Trade Center victims of 9/11. It was like seeing people in business suits falling through the air again. It was as if someone pointed a camera at evil and actually caught it in the act.”

Never mind that 4 people is not even close to some 3,000-plus. Forget it happened in Iraq, not Manhattan, and put out of your mind the fact that the 4 were not “civilians,” as she describes them, but employees of a security firm contracted by the U.S. government to guard convoys: i.e., private military personnel who might fairly be termed mercenaries. These are mere details of the sort that a legendary story-teller like Noonan can easily dispense with in the interests of constructing her narrative. What happened in Fallujah, as far as she’s concerned, wasn’t about Iraq, it was all about us: our goodness – the convoy, she points out, was bringing food to Fallujah – our altruism, our violated innocence.

The Iraqis, for their part, are exemplars of unmitigated “evil,” embodiments of a “nihilism” that must be either punished – and quite severely – or else it will be encouraged. In Noonan’s book, there’s only one solution:

“It would be good not only for elemental justice but for Iraq and its future if a large force of coalition troops led by U.S. Marines would go into Fallujah, find the young men, arrest them or kill them, and, to make sure the point isn’t lost on them, blow up the bridge.”

But why stop with blowing up just the bridge, one wonders: why not obliterate the whole village, plough it under, and sow salt in the furrows so that nothing will ever grow there again?

It is the Iraqis, you see, who are “arrogant.” According to Noonan, “they think barbarity is their right” – when it is really our right! And we must take it back from them: we cannot leave their defiance “unchecked.” We must make an example of these “terrorists” – and here is where the suspension of disbelief, essential to any sort of fiction (including war propaganda), is itself suspended, and Noonan’s story comes completely unglued.

Why wasn’t it terrorism when the U.S. bombed civilian targets, as occurred during the war? When American soldiers shot 15 people dead at a demonstration in Fallujah 11 months ago almost to the day, were they “nihilists” – or noble altruists?

That some of those young Iraqi “nihilists” had relatives who were killed in that demonstration, or were among the 65 injured, would never even occur to Noonan, who ignores anything that doesn’t fit into her simplistic story-line and pat characterizations. That’s why she immediately took the incident out of its Iraqi context, and conjured images of “people in business suits falling through the air.” But there weren’t a whole lot of business suits in the dusty streets of dirt-poor Fallujah that day, or any day. We are supposed to forget where this happened, so we don’t ask too many uncomfortable questions about how and why it happened. E.g., How can a man be a terrorist when he is defending his own country, his own village, against foreign occupiers?

Oh, sure, he can employ the methods of terror – targeting innocent civilians, including his own countrymen, as the suicide bombers have done. But that is not a very effective tactic, and it is not what happened in Fallujah.

The sheer nuttiness of Noonan’s narrative comes out in the part where she imagines the Fallujah incident as a kind of morality play, albeit one acted out by devil-worshippers, Satanic “nihilists” whose aim, incredibly, is not vengeance, or simple sadism, but blatantly political:

“The brutalizing of the bodies was done in a way that seemed imitative, as all have noted, of the incident in Mogadishu, Somalia, where in 1993 a frenzied mob dragged the dead body of a U.S. Army Ranger through the streets. The civilized world was horrified, and everyone knows what followed: a quick American retreat. It is not a stretch to imagine the young murderers of Fallujah had this on their minds: Do it again to America, kill them and string up their corpses, because when you do this America leaves. And so this time the response must be the opposite of the response in Mogadishu.”

In Noonan’s reality, it’s always about us.

Oh, those clever little devils! She quotes one 12-year-old, who said of the incident "I’m happy to see this." Clearly, he and his cohorts weren’t reacting spontaneously to whatever provocation is represented by the conquerors riding openly and relatively unprotected down a crowded street swarming with the conquered. Of course not. It was all “well-planned,” like an antiwar demonstration or Richard Clarke testifying before the 9/11 Commission, meant to undermine the war effort and sap our morale!

One can only admire an author brave enough to stand next to such an elaborate conspiracy theory, so top-heavy with speculation and entirely unsupported by any facts.

When Noonan vows “whatever it takes,” she means whatever lies need to be told, whatever facts need to be overlooked, whatever lives need to be uselessly and profligately expended in pursuit of America’s imperial project. Her job is to spin a story, to mythologize events and reinterpret them to mean that America is always right, always good, always a shining city on a hill, and not the vulgar empire it has become. She’s a good storyteller, but she can only work with the material at hand, and that, at best, is more than a little threadbare.

But some people don’t require much in the way of inspiration. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt is already taking up Noonan’s cry for vengeance, vowing to hunt down those responsible for the Fallujah ambush and “retake” the city. Not that they ever had the city to begin with.

“‘We wish that they would try to enter Fallujah so we’d let hell break loose,’ resident Ahmed al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.

“The man will get his wish, Kimmitt promised. Only the when and how had yet to be decided.

“‘We are not going to do a pell-mell rush into the city,’ Kimmitt said. ‘It will be at a time and a place of our choosing. It will be methodical. It will be precise and it will be overwhelming.’

“Kimmitt, the deputy director of U.S. military operations in Iraq, urged Iraqi authorities in Fallujah to “come out from behind their desks, tell us who these people are … and even better, perhaps imprison these people themselves.

“‘If they were to deliver these people to the criminal justice system, we will come back in and start the rebuilding of Fallujah,’ the Army general said. ‘That is their choice. But we will be back in Fallujah. Fallujah will be pacified.'”

The occupation of Iraq could last 20 to 30 years. Some areas, like Fallujah, may never be “pacified.” Are Americans willing to spend what it takes in lives as well as treasure to hunt down all the young “nihilists” of Iraq and either kill or jail them – and turn the rest into model citizens?

“Whatever it takes….”

They lied us into war, and now we’re supposed to pay whatever it takes to save their honor and their political necks. Yeah, well, it’s nice work if you can get it, but, from what I hear, not many people are hiring these days – and certainly not on those terms.

Noonan and her neocon friends echoed every lie dished out by this administration: the “weapons of mass destruction” long since destroyed, the links to Al Qaeda and 9/11 that existed only in Laurie Mylroie’s single-tracked imagination, the alleged military “threat” posed by Saddam that was merely a projection of our own relentlessly aggressive intentions. They have no right to turn away from the horror of Fallujah, to cavil about it, or wax indignant over it, or otherwise get on their high horses and moralize over it. They wanted this war, and now they have it. Let them look at the sight of their own handiwork – without retching, if they can help it.

And if they can’t help it, then who is to blame for that?

The lessons of Fallujah are plain as day: Iraq isn’t conquered, and can’t be governed, at least not by us. If we want to avoid ugly incidents such as this one, we can make the rational choice and get out – while the going is good.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].