The atrocity in Fallujah angered me deeply. Not just that Americans were killed--we knew going in that this was going to be a tough and bloody--but what came after. But the desecration of the bodies was not just a display of hate, it was a display of power. "We can do this, and you can't stop us." No American troops stopped the celebration. No Iraqi police stopped it or even recovered the bodies. Were the murderers in charge of the town? They certainly wanted to convince everyone of that, bringing in reporters specifically to cover the attack.
Maybe for that moment. Not for long. The Marines are moving in. My prayers are with them.
Some people have been suggesting a quicker, fiercer response. One wants to raze Fallujah. She laid out the case for taking strong action against the enemy, but left "raze" undefined. Are we talking 200,000 people living in tents? 200,000 scattered across all the villages of Iraq, forbidden to rejoin? 200,000 people in a mass grave?
One of Bujold's characters dealt with a difficult decision by deciding "I am not here to vent my feelings. I am here to achieve my goals." The Marines are trying to achieve our goals--bringing freedom to a people who haven't known it before. Moving slowly has a price. Letting the atrocity go unrevenged for days may have encouraged al-Sadr to launch his insurrection. (Then again, the generals may have held off on retaliation to bait them into attacking. It's a lot easier to kill enemies who are attacking you then ones who are hiding. Cold-blooded, but that's what we pay them for.)
Maintaining control in Iraq requires making the Baathists and Islamofascists fear us. But if we want to create a bastion of freedom we want the citizens to not fear us. It's a much trickier balancing act than Machiavelli ever tried. It's tempting--and I've felt the temptation--to say "punish them all, then the bystanders will step in during the next attack and stop it." But that only works if the bystanders think they can stop the attack. If they can't they wind up switching from by-standers to supporters of the enemy, hoping they can be protected by victory instead of innocence. Collective punishment isn't just illegal, it's unwise.
Now we're trying to sort the innocent from the guilty in Fallujah. And we may shortly be doing the same in Sadr City, made a bit easier by the Sadr militia coming out to face the tanks. But we have to do it the hard way. Victory in this war is an 8 year old boy growing up and casting a vote for his own benefit without any fear of being punished for making the wrong choice. Defeat is a downward spiral of steadily bigger explosions until some terrorist angers American enough to wage a war of extermination.
Another Bujold quote fits this situation: "Between justice and genocide there is, in the long run, no middle ground." Fortunately the President seems to agree.