Was Fallujah a Military Defeat?
By Gary MacLennan
Recent events in Iraq have begun to move at a bewildering pace, and it is increasingly difficult to keep up with and to fully understand the significance of the events. In most cases we will have to wait on things to come, but in the case of Fallujah I think we can safely say that this has been a decisive defeat for the Occupation forces. If the retreat from Fallujah is not a military defeat what is it? Some might argue here that it cannot be a military defeat, because the Americans cannot be defeated militarily.
One has only to think of the American armys undoubted capacity to totally destroy Fallujah and Iraq and we could add to their capacity to destroy the entire planet. But war, to coin a cliché, is just politics by another means. The capacity to deploy firepower is always politically circumscribed in any actual context. There are of course instances such as WWII, Korea and Vietnam, when the U.S. army demonstrated its capacity to resolve a Fallujah type situation by reducing a town or a city to ground zero.
But the politics of this war are totally different. The American militarys room for maneuver is curtailed by factors such as the strength of the antiwar movement and the impact on the Arab world of the invasion.
So they could not obliterate Fallujah. That left them with the military option of storming the city. They tried this and they failed. In military parlance, what Fallujah called for was military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) the most dangerous type of warfare. Had they pressed on, American casualties would have been horrific. At the end of three weeks they were still on the outskirts of the city. Moreover they had revealed the old weakness of the American Army. Impressive firepoweryes. Actual fighting capacity on the groundpoor. That was the verdict of the Chinese High Command after Korea, and all the events of the past three weeks have backed it up.
So militarily the Americans have suffered a defeat in Fallujah. But what of the political scenario? I think it is fair to say that many on the Left think that they have put in the Quislings and if they do not do the job required the marines will be back.
However this misses the point that this is the third lot of quislings. The Chalabi forces have been sent packing. Brahimi and the UNs quisling meritocrats may not even get a chance to strut their stuff, which of course means that the entire neo-con strategy is in tatters. Their dream was of a neo-liberal democracy in Iraq, which would be a close ally of Israel and would be a rich source of glittering jewels for American corporations. That is all over now. What we are witnessing is the scramble to keep the ship from sinking.
It is not a question of the Marines saying Hey, you do the job here in Fallujah or else we will be back to kick ass. Of course they have said that in public. But in private they add, Please, for gods sake. No one now knows what will happen.
In fact, I think it would be worth revisiting some of the predictions from right wing Arab leaders. They warned that the war would open the gates of hell and the whole region would burn. That prediction was laughed at after the seemingly swift victory and the capitulation of the Saddam regime. But these have become the blows that strengthened the backs of the Arabs and do not break them. We now have a resistance army, which has real accomplishments behind it and is also growing in confidence. We should note, here, the rejection from inside the mujahadeen of the first deal that Iraqi politicians worked out with the marines.
Events of the last few weeks such as the attack by Jordanian police on American police, the killings of foreigners in Saudi Arabia and what the reaction to the Abu Ghraib photographs are showing, arguably, that the gates of hell scenario is a very real possibility. I think the Americans are beginning to believe that as well. Hence the return of the Republican Guard!
So to sum up; was Fallujah a military defeat? Yes, and yes again. A political defeat? Yes, but even more than that. There is the very real possibility of this defeat morphing into an epochal defeat for imperialism.
Dr. Gary MacLennan is a lecturer associated with Film & Television Discipline Creative Industries Faculty, Gardens Point Campus.