Fallujah: Little Stalingrad

According to people who have been there, Fallujah is not a very big city. You can walk across it in half an hour. Yet when the history of this miserable war is written, I suspect it may loom large. Like Stalingrad, it will mark the point where the war turned against the invader.

You may recall that the U.S. Marine commanders on scene declared some weeks ago that the battle was won and Fallujah was ours. It now appears they were Panglissading through reality, in a way that seems universal among American generals. Fighting still continues in Fallujah. Far from fleeing, resistance fighters are now infiltrating back into the city. Sectors we have “pacified” spring back to life in IED attacks and ambushes. There is talk about letting a few civilians return to Fallujah’s ruins, but only under conditions that would make normal civilian life impossible.

Of course, Fallujah itself was largely destroyed in the American assault. The American military did the only thing a Second Generation military can do: it put firepower on targets. 2GW armed services are one-trick ponies: they only have one act, and they perform it regardless of whether it fits the circumstances or not. In Fourth Generation war, the usual result is what has happened in Fallujah: a moral victory for the other side. As Colonel Boyd argued, and as this column has pointed out time and time again, the moral level of war is the most powerful, the physical level the least powerful.

Correspondent Patrick Cockburn, who is in Iraq, reports another result of Fallujah:

“[J]ust at the moment that the US troops were moving into Fallujah, suddenly, most of Mosul – a city in the north, which is at least five or six times the size of Fallujah – fell to the insurgents…. This is far more important in some ways that what’s happened in Fallujah.”

Not only did most of the insurgents leave Fallujah before our assault, they realized that if we had concentrated in Fallujah, we had left openings elsewhere. They took full advantage of those openings. It is perhaps time to ask which side has the better commanders.

Stalingrad is now seen as one of history’s great defeats. But in fact, the Germans had largely won in Stalingrad on the tactical level, before they were outflanked and encircled operationally, then defeated strategically.

If we look at Fallujah through that lens, the parallels become clearer. It is not certain we will ever fully control Fallujah, just as the Germans never took full control of Stalingrad. Nevertheless, we will claim a tactical victory.

Operationally, Fallujah, like Stalingrad, proved to be a trap. It led us to concentrate so many of our few combat troops in one place that the insurgency was able to make major gains in other, more important places. It again drew a glaring contrast between how America fights – by pouring in firepower – and the stated aim of the American invasion of Iraq, liberating the Iraqi people. You cannot liberate people by destroying their homes, their jobs, and their cities. If operational art is the art of linking tactical actions to strategic goals, American generals have once again shown the world that they have no operational skill – a situation that is typical of a Second Generation military. (It may be useful to remember that the American military failed operationally in the first Gulf War as well; Saddam’s Republican Guard escaped 7th Corps’ slow, inept attempt at operational encirclement.)

After the first Marine assault on Fallujah in April – an assault that was wisely abandoned, since it threatened to set off a nationwide uprising against the occupation – Pat Buchanan said that Fallujah will probably mark the high water line of neocon imperialism. I think the outcome of the second battle of Fallujah will confirm that prescient assessment. Just as Stalingrad marked the turning point in Fall Barbarossa, so Fallujah will go down in history as the “tipping point” in America’s Last Crusade.

NB: This will be the last column for this year, though sadly not for this war. Let me close by wishing a hearty “Bah! Humbug” to fellow realists everywhere.


William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation

Author: William S. Lind

William Lind is director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former congressional aide and the author of many books and articles on military strategy and war.