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Posted: 5/13/2004 12:21:28 PM EST
May 13, 2004



QUIET isn't the same thing as peace. As a column of Marines paraded through Fallujah this week, it was done at the sufferance of our enemies. We lost the battle of Fallujah. By surrendering.
The Coalition Provisional Authority insists that quiet streets are what matter. But the streets were quiet under Saddam. As they may one day be quiet under religious fanatics. Is that our sole remaining goal in Iraq? A phony calm that leaves terrorists in power?

We bragged publicly that we would avenge the mutilation of those four contractors at the hands of Fallujah's thugs. We told the world we would not stop until the city was cleansed of insurgents. And, of course, we swore we would never negotiate with terrorists.

What did we actually do? We negotiated with terrorists, re-empowered Saddam's thugs in uniform and ran away as quickly as we could go. The Marines insist they could have won, had they been allowed to fight. That's unquestionably true, but, as North Vietnam's senior general once pointed out about a different war, it's also irrelevant.

The diplomats claim we backed down to spare the innocent people of Fallujah. But they didn't lift a finger as the city's Arab fanatics drove out Fallujah's Kurdish population. And how does it benefit the average citizen to leave gunmen in control - protected now by Ba'athist thugs who tell us mockingly that there "aren't any foreign fighters in the city"? Right. And there are no politicians in Washington.

Our threats have begun to sound as hollow as those made by Khadafy in his prime. Our power means nothing unless we are willing to use it decisively. The truth is that those heroic young Marines who died in the initial combat encounters in Fallujah lost their lives for nothing. Frightened, politicized leaders squandered the advantages gained by their sacrifice.

And our enemies are telling the Muslim world that they fought the U.S. military to a standstill. For once, they're telling the truth. It doesn't matter that they won politically, not militarily. They won.

We'll pay for our failure in Fallujah for years to come. The message our enemies took from their success was that Americans don't have the stomach it takes to win. Far from fostering peace in our time, our cowardice in Fallujah will encourage no end of attacks on Americans.

Oh, yes. Fallujah's quiet this week. But the triumph of the Sunni-Arab thugs reinvigorated the rising by Muqtada Sadr's Mehdi Army. The Shias now have to prove that they can defeat the Americans, too.

And just by the way: It's now perfectly acceptable to saw the heads off living American captives. The Americans will squawk and call the perpetrators names (sticks and stones . . .). But if only you murder enough Americans, we'll build you new power plants, sewage systems, factories, hospitals . . . and guarantee you an honored place at the bargaining table.

At present, U.S. Army troops are engaged with the fanatics led by Babyface Sadr, a gangster in religious robes whom even the Iraqis despise. We're winning. But the danger is looming yet again that the failed civilian leadership in Baghdad will step in and call off our troops before the job is finished.

If, having lost Fallujah through timidity, we back down on our promise to bring one murderous renegade cleric to justice, our credibility will collapse entirely.

Cowardice isn't a strategy. Weakness isn't a virtue. Caving in to killers isn't a demonstration of humanity. When fighting monsters who decapitate living prisoners in front of video cameras, you are, literally, in a knife fight to the bone. If we aren't willing to fight such enemies to the death, we might as well stay home and hide in a corner. Waiting for them to come after us, which they will.

A fundamental problem is that our military is fighting 21st-century conflicts, while our diplomats and bureaucrats are still mired in 20th-century models of how the world should work (but doesn't and won't). In an age of deadly terror and mass murder, we seek compromise, minimal enemy casualties and happy faces all around.

For two years after 9/11, President Bush provided us with courageous, decisive, visionary leadership. Then the election approached and he lost his nerve.

Make no mistake: Short-term compromises with murderers to gain a brief stretch of pre-election quiet will return to haunt us - soaked with the blood of our soldiers and our citizens.

The president likes to stress that we are in a war, but he's the one who seems to have forgotten it. He needs to take charge of his subordinates, in Washington and Baghdad, and remind them that some things are worth fighting for.
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