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It Ain't Over But It's Lost
May 6, 2004
By Michael Shannon

Oh what a difference a year makes. On May 1, 2003 George Bush pulled off one of the most audacious, over-the-top stunts in the sordid history of political grandstanding. Using the martial splendor of the USS Abraham Lincoln, a borrowed flight suit and a swell looking red, white and blue banner Mr Bush announced to the world that we "had prevailed."

On May 1, 2004 sitting in some undisclosed location, wearing who knows what and with no visual accompaniment at all, Mr Bush announced to a decidedly less receptive audience that the United States and its coalition allies are "implementing a clear strategy in Iraq."

Unfortunately for Mr Bush, only those true believers who still accept as dogma anything that comes out of his mouth, regardless of how inane, pay any heed to such idiocy. For the rest of us, it is increasingly obvious that this May 1st just passed will come to mark the end of the United States' always tenuous opportunity to win a military/political victory in Iraq.

This does not mean for a moment that I contend the fighting will soon end; on the contrary, it will most likely continue well into the foreseeable future. However, short of a massive escalation in American military manpower and firepower, which would invariably lead to a diplomatic Chernobyl, the war is already lost.

For the past several months as the insurgency became an indisputable fact - remember those idyllic day when we could kid ourselves that the killing of Saddam's sons was going to end it? - the American military commanders and their political bosses have been walking on razor wire trying to strike a balance in their tactics. They have been faced with two vexing and daunting questions: do we use all means necessary to quash the insurrection and thereby run the risk of enraging the populace at large, or do we use minimal force and only as needed which will only serve to embolden those who would do us harm?

As hard as it may be to believe, they have managed to do both simultaneously; with predictably disastrous results.

It makes absolutely no difference what the White House and the Pentagon call the change in strategy regarding the Marines in Falluja. They can refer to it as a repositioning, redeployment, a strategic withdrawal, a successful example of Iraqification, a combination of all of the above or anything else that suits their fancy and it doesn't make a damn bit a difference because the only thing the bad guys are calling it is a victory.

The Marines were sent to Falluja to accomplish three very specific, clear and measurable military objectives: the capture or elimination of the people responsible for the deaths and subsequent mutilations of four American mercenaries, the disarmament of the insurrectionists, and the pacification of the city. Through absolutely no fault of the young men who put their lives on the line to achieve these ends, they accomplished none of them.

When it became apparent to the higher-ups that in order for these objectives to be reached they would have to employ a level of destruction - think Grozny only with satellite coverage - that would lead to worldwide condemnation, and still incur dozens if not hundreds of American casualties, they panicked.

But even in their hour of desperation who could have possibly imagined that they would chose as a solution to order the Marines to pull back to positions outside of the city and put an ex-Saddam general in charge of a hastily assembled force of former Iraqi soldiers with little or no equipment or heavy armaments? In light of this thoroughly bewildering turnaround, it is not hard to imagine that Sheik Sadr is sleeping a little easier these days.

As bad as this is from a military credibility perspective, with the release of the pictures of smiling American soldiers forcing Iraqi prisoners into acts of sexual and physical humiliation, we have suffered an even more debilitating defeat in the all important battle for the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqis.

As ashamed, repulsed and horrified as all rational people feel when they see such depravity, how Americans feel about this is entirely irrelevant. As with the "repositioning" of the Marines outside Fallujah, it is only how our enemies react to it, both those who have already taken up arms against us as well as those who will do so because of it, that is important.

And while it is undoubtably true that the torture chambers of Hussein's regime were far, far worse in scope and effect than we what see in these pictures, try telling that to the 19 year old Iraqi who recognizes his brother at the bottom of one of the piles of naked bodies

With the release of these picture, coupled with the ongoing visages of Iraqi civilian deaths and dismemberment that are a staple of Arabic television, the United States has lost whatever claim it had to the moral high ground. No longer can anyone argue with a straight face that we are there as liberators. From this moment on we are fighting a war of occupation and attrition.

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