. . . Monday September 13, 2004

Rolling Uphill

Back in May, I wrote a post on how the U.S. military reacted to the brutal and public killings of four private contractors who had been working in Iraq.

Here is an excerpt of the post I called The Currency of Terror.

When the world first saw the images of the contractors whose burned bodies dangled from a bridge in Fallujah, our reaction was one of disgust and anger. The actions of the perpetrators were evidence of a segment of a society gone mad and called, loudly, for retribution.

That’s certainly how we saw it in America. And according to a friend who was covering the war on the ground in Iraq, that’s pretty much how most Iraqis saw it. Many Iraqis were embarrassed and sickened by the images being broadcast throughout the world.

Then, following the President’s comment that “I want heads to roll,” U.S. troops retaliated and looked to control Fallujah. In the process, hundreds of civilians were killed. The insurgents had to like that. Why? More support for them, more anger at the Americans. And in the terror business, anger is the leading form of currency.

The tough part about dealing with terrorism is that the aggressive, quick and emotional reaction is not always the best one. In fact, it’s often precisely the response that those who committed the terrorist act were counting on.

Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, an outgoing commander of forces in western Iraq echoes a similar theme:

“We felt like we had a method that we wanted to apply to Falluja and thought we ought to let the situation settle before we appeared to be attacking out of revenge … Would our system have been better, would we have been able to bring over the people of Falluja with our methods? You’ll never know that for sure.”

In fact, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez ordered the attack on Fallujah to end after three days. It was just long enough to stir up anti-Americanism to a fevered pitch (easing recruitment for the insurgents/terrorists) and much too abbreviated to accomplish any longterm military goals.

It was pretty obvious, even at the time and even to someone who only has tangential knowledge of the basic logic of these scenarios, that this was a worst case reaction at an incredibly vital moment.

Concentration is important!