TCS Daily


Coalition of the ...?

By James Pinkerton - November 18, 2004 12:00 AM

NOVEMBER, 17 2024 -- Now that our radical response to the "Arab Question" has been completed, we might pause and look back 20 years, to November 2004, to the moment when the "The Coalition of the Willing" evolved into the "Coalition of the Just" -- or, as some have called it, "The Coalition of the Vengeful."

On November 2, 2004, President George W. Bush carried 31 states in his re-election effort; the self-proclaimed "war president" received a clear mandate from the voters to carry on with the Bush Doctrine.

Within hours of Bush's victory, many leading American hawks raised the issue of Fallujah, Iraq, which had come to symbolize American frustration over with the handling of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the previous 20 months. Retired Army Colonel Ralph Peters called the American failure to destroy the city in April 2004-in the wake of the orgiastic murder of four American contractors-a "fateful mistake"; but then, with the election done with, Peters declared that the time had come for bold action:

"We must not be afraid to make an example of Fallujah . . . We need to demonstrate that the United States military cannot be deterred or defeated. If that means widespread destruction, we must accept the price . . . Even if Fallujah has to go the way of Carthage, reduced to shards, the price will be worth it. We need to demonstrate our strength of will to the world, to show that there is only one possible result when madmen take on America."

Peters' clarion call was summarized as "Fallujah delenda est," a play on the phrase used by Cato the Elder, who told his fellow Romans for decades that the enemy city of Carthage had to be destroyed.

Peters was ahead of his time, but opinion soon caught up with him. The tectonic shift between the optimistic and indecisive era of "The Willing" and the realistic and but stern era of "The Just" came in the weeks that followed, as the disappointments of Operation al-Fajr ("dawn") sank into public consciousness. That military operation against Fallujah, launched on November 8, had been planned for months; it was widely touted as the moment in which Uncle Sam would "clean out" the rebels, allegedly led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "The Second Desert Fox."

But while the kill ratio for al-Fajr proved to be highly favorable to American arms, the operation failed -- not only to catch Zarqawi, but also to engage the bulk of insurgent forces. Indeed, even the enemy "body count" proved difficult to ascertain, since women and children had joined in the anti-American fighting. Did a dead ten-year-old count as "collateral damage" or as a "dead terrorist"? So in the battle of world public opinion, the US lost. Once "Willing" allies faded away from the Coalition; meanwhile, across the rest of Iraq, guerilla attacks intensified.

"We kicked over a hornets' nest," declared Sen. John Breaux, a pro-war Democrat from Louisiana as it became apparent that the bulk of the enemy had faded away prior to the offensive. Thus the gap between the promised bright success of Operation al-Fajr and its murky outcome; the mission, critics concluded, was a "false dawn." Why? For five reasons.

First, for all the talk of "military transformation," aimed at making our fighting forces lighter and faster, the fact remained that the Pentagon simply could not conceive of an attack that didn't include artillery barrages and aerial bombardment, followed by armored assault. Such a set-up required hulking logistical movement -- so much for striking in the night, ninja-like.

Second, the US wished to minimize civilian casualties; in talking up the forthcoming mission, the Americans persuaded most of the population to leave -- but also, most of the guerrillas. A different approach would have been to apply Peters' "Carthaginian" solution to Fallujah. That is, take the city surprise, from the air, in the same way that the US destroyed Dresden or Tokyo -- or Hiroshima -- in 1945. That approach, with B-52s and B-1s doing the work of B-17s and B-29s, would have increased civilian casualties, of course, but it might have led to the death of Zarqawi and also would have reduced American fatalities to near zero.

Third, and closely related, America, despite its efforts to minimize civilian losses, lacked the popular support needed for "ground truths," and so lacked the ability to track enemy leadership as it scattered, like hornets flying from a nest. So in effect, the Fallujah operation was undertaken to eliminate the possibility that Zarqawi was in that city; military intelligence officers, we later learned, had long predicted that Zarqawi would be long gone. If the element of surprise is the key to success in a battle, the US was keyless. But the operation went ahead anyway, more as a momentum than as an actual mission to mow down the enemy. Some even called it a kind of "blood theater," in which the Americans and Iraqis played their seemingly assigned roles, as lumbering cat and wily mouse.

But in addition, as a fourth factor, the Iraqi forces proved to be dubious allies. "These people," a Marine sergeant said to Newsweek on the eve of the mission, "will let us walk right to our death." One Iraqi officer deserted, taking with him the war plans; even during the fighting, perhaps a third of the Iraqis fled their battle stations.

Fifth and finally, for political reasons, US forces operated under a strangely twisted chain of command, in which Iraq's short-lived prime minister, Iyad Allawi, had the final say on the "go" decision, at least in theory. Those with long memories recalled the mistakes of Vietnam, when President Lyndon Johnson picked bombing targets from the White House. If civilian interference from an American president was bad, then surely giving power to foreign civilians was worse.

The Fallujah fighting, to be sure, did not lack for intensity. One embedded reporter quoted an Army lieutenant colonel, Jim Rainey, telling his men, "Destroy everything you can destroy." Continuing, Col. Rainey reminded his men of the rules of engagement: "We're not murderers." But, he added, "Given those constraints, kill everything you can kill." In fact, at least one murder, by an American, of an Iraqi, did occur in Fallujah. But the reaction to that killing -- which most of the world regarded as a war crime, pure and simple -- was instructive: the bulk of the American population rallied around the Marine. And of course, the videotaped murder of Margaret Hassan, the saintly aid worker, only confirmed the feeling in the minds of many that the Iraqis were barbarians.

Still, those with long military memories suggested that whereas al-Fajr was touted as an entscheidender Schlag, a "decisive blow," it ended up being more akin to a Vietnam-era "search and destroy" mission, in which the minimal gain on the battlefield was outweighed by the loss of popular support among the local population. Indeed, it wasn't long after the US "cleaned out" Fallujah that the city grew "dirty" again, necessitating the second and third al-Fajr operations. (Soon thereafter the Pentagon abandoned the use of Arabic names for American operations.)

Among some Americans, especially in the pundit class, disillusion set in. Thomas Friedman had supported the Iraq war, but nonetheless he wrote in The New York Times just days into the first al-Fajr attack:

"I couldn't help but rub my eyes for a moment and wonder aloud whether I had been transported back in time to some 20 months ago, when the war for Iraq had just started. Watching CNN, I saw the same Rummy joking with the Pentagon press corps, the same scratchy reports from the front by "embedded reporters," the same footage of U.S. generals who briefed the soldiers preparing for battle about how they were liberating Iraq. There was only one difference that no one seemed to want to mention. It wasn't 20 months ago. It was now. And Iraq has still not been fully liberated. In fact, as the fight for Falluja shows, it hasn't even been fully occupied."

Others were even more skeptical. General William Odom, director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan, was another cautionary voice, telling an interviewer in that same critical month, November 2004: "The idea of creating a constitutional state in a short amount of time is a joke. It will take ten to fifteen years, and that is if we want to kill ten percent of the population."

Friedman and Odom, in their different ways, made the same point: the US was not being tough enough to win. As every American knows, misdirected idealism and humanitarianism delayed American triumph in the region for a long time. Until the final annihilation of Fallujah and other cities in the Sunni Triangle and the Shia Rectangle, the US faced continued steady resistance. And of course, until the larger solution was imposed, Americans suffered steady attacks elsewhere in the world, and on the homefront.

Which is why the departure of John Ashcroft, Bush's first-term attorney general, was so critical to the ultimate success of Operation Iraqi Finish. Ashcroft's resignation letter, dated, November 2, 2004 declared that "the objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved." Obviously Ashcroft did not understand that the real key to American security was to found in the Middle East, not on the homefront. Ashcroft's valedictory credit-taking for the USA Patriot Act and other homeland security measures missed the point: the battle needed to be won abroad, not at home.

So it was fitting that Ashcroft's resignation came on the same day as the 2004 election. On that fateful Tuesday, more than 60 million voters offered their endorsement of what Vice President Dick Cheney called a "tough, forward-leaning, aggressive policy" toward terrorism. And if the American people gave the Bush-Cheney team a substantial mandate for its "stay the course" policy in November of that year.

And so Condi Rice's vision of a "generational commitment" to the Middle East was embraced, back, 20 years ago, when she was merely national security adviser. And of course, her elevation to become secretary of state, announced on November 15, 2004, cemented the shift toward a more unyielding line, not only toward Iraq, but also toward the rest of the world.

Yet while President Bush continued to insist that US forces were leading the "march of freedom," taking the Arabs toward "liberty century," others, lacking his faith in government-driven uplift, settled on a darker consensus in the wake of the Operation al-Fajr, at the end of 2004.

Building on scholarship that had been accumulating for decades, many experts came to the conclusion that Arabs were not ready for freedom and democracy. Moreover, Arab culture seemed so hopelessly maladaptive that some began to question whether or not it was possible for the West and Islam to co-exist. Going even further, some wondered if Islam was fit for existence at all. True justice, some concluded required the permanent elimination of dire threats to freedom and democracy.


This bleak view received two substantial boosts at the turn of the last century. In 1996, Samuel Huntington published The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, which clearly -- and, in the minds of many, correctly -- delineated Arab civilization as an "Other." Thus Huntington's vision of a "clash" became a prophecy, partially self-fulfilling. Six years later, in 2002, Bernard Lewis, the esteemed Princeton Arabist, released What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East. Lewis's assessment of Islam itself as tragically dysfunctional was a major intellectual influence in the launching of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" in 2003; many liberals and self-declared do-gooders supported the war, at least at first, because they felt the need to set Islam aright. But after two difficult years in Iraq, the revised feeling was that Islam was hopeless, that it was perhaps better set aflame.

The more-war argument about Islam was reinforced in the streets. Substantial and even violent protests against the war were common during Bush's second term, but the protests for the war, for winning the war -- were much larger and more common. The rise of such counter-protesting -- protesting in favor of government policy -- were flummoxing to those who remembered the 60s, when anti-Vietnam protests dominated campus life. Forty years after anti-war protests paralyzed campuses from New Haven to Berkeley later, the new pro-war faction held its own in traditionally dovish "Blue" campuses; while on "Red" campuses, including some schools that didn't even exist in the 60s, hawkish feeling was strong and loud.

The larger reality of November 2004 was that the population of the Red States, radicalized by their own new media and emboldened by their swelling populations, proved dominant in American politics. These folks, sometimes called "Jacksonians" were angry about the Iraq war -- angry that the US wasn't winning. The Jacksonians may not have been overly educated, but they knew in their bones that Vietnam had been lost because of political restraint on the warfighters. Far better, they declared to go all-out to win this time, in World War Two. So, the Jacksonians demanded, bring on the big bombers, and the even bigger bombs, the Jacksonians demanded -- indeed, no kind of bomb was too big.

Meanwhile, overseas, other events during that hinge November month proved critical to the shift from Coalitional Willingness to Coalitional Justness -- or, as some insistently called it, Vengefulness. So while the old Coalition of the Willing waned away -- Britain, for example, finally saw an end to the Blair Dynasty when Prime Minister Gordon Sumner won election, thus shifting Britain into the Eurasian Alliance -- the new Coalition of the Just waxed larger. In addition to the US, the key countries in this new coalition were Israel, Russia, and India.

The November 10 death of Yasser Arafat raised a few hopes that new peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians might prove productive. Yet almost immediately, those hopes were dashed by new violence. Worldly observers pointed out that if the French were still fighting in the Ivory Coast during that same month, 46 years after that country's independence, then it was no surprise that the Israelis would have so much trouble disentangling from their Palestinian subjects.

Meanwhile, just days before Arafat's passing, Hizbollah succeeded in flying a drone aircraft over Israel, an event which proved fateful in two ways. First, it was an indicator that Israel's anti-terror defenses were not nearly as effective as many thought. Second, when it was learned that the drone-flight was actively aided by Iran, the repeated Israeli airstrikes on Iranian weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities became inevitable. Tragically for Israel, the Iranians proved to be cannier about hiding their WMD assets than analysts had foreseen.

Another stalwart in the Coalition of the Vengeful has been Russia. The Russians hung back from the Iraq war, but Islamic nationalists took the war to them anyway. Chechen insurgents, mindful of their own two-century conflict with Russia, launched a series of spectacular attacks against schools, starting with the terrible 2004 terror in the town of Beslan. After that attack, the Russians embraced what future UN Secretary General Naomi Klein -- then still working as a journalist -- dubbed the "Likud Doctrine".

As Klein put it, the Likud Doctrine held that "Russia and Israel are engaged in the very same war, one not against Palestinians demanding their right to statehood, or against Chechens demanding their independence, but against 'the global Islamic terror threat.'" Which is to say, the Russians were eagerly on board for the Coalition of the Vengeful.

This point was then captured by The New York Post -- the paper which has proved to be the most influential American newspaper of the new millennium -- in an October 2004 article headlined, "Ariel [Sharon] defends his Axis of Good." The piece, by Uri Dan, quoted the Israeli prime minister saying, "The war against terrorism should be carried out by those who know how to do it." Which meant that the carriers of the anti-terror war would be, Dan reported, the "Bush-Putin-Sharon axis." But of course, "axis" was a term in ill favor; coalition was much to be preferred.

In addition, the escalation of nuclear hostilities between India and Pakistan brought yet another ally to the American-Russian-Israeli alliance; the Indian government concluded that it could never make enduring peace with the Muslim Pakistanis. And so it eagerly fell into the Coalition, which was, after all, an alliance of actors, not talkers.

At the same time, attacks by Muslims in Europe inflamed even "Old European" opinion against Islam. Once again, the events of 20 Novembers ago proved decisive. On November 2, 2004 a Muslim immigrant to the Netherlands killed the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in retaliation for Van Gogh's criticism of Islamic culture. Even the notoriously tolerant Dutch felt that they had been pushed too far; the new consensus held that immigrant Muslims were "new Nazis". One result of this shift in opinion was the thwarting of Turkey's entry into the European Union, an event that proved to be a watershed in Western-Muslim relations, further severing any prospect of intercultural rapprochement.

Instead, the emerging Western view conformed to what Bernard Lewis had been saying: Islam was so maladaptive in its inhumanity, so Orc-like in its misogynistic horror, that it could not be allowed to be fruitful, demographically, even if it was not flourishing culturally or economically. And so the words "Arabia delenda est" were heard, at first softly, and then loudly.

It's an irony of history that America's first female president was the loudest advocate for serious measures -- what she called, "not kinder, not gentler" action against the Arab zone. Long before she won the White House, Ann Coulter had been blunt in her advocacy of a Fight to the Finish with Islam. As she wrote on September 12, 2001, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war." Those words seemed so extreme at the time that she was fired from National Review. And after the passing of a few years, and the penning of many more best-sellers, Coulter's "Extreme Makeover" approach to the Middle East gained in popularity. She traversed, as one observer put it, "from being a voice calling in the wilderness of American opinion to a voice calling for a wilderness in the Middle East."

During the two decades since the costly initial fighting in Iraq America has made remarkable strides toward a new generation of wonderweapons. We proudly deploy unmanned planes, autonomous tracked vehicles, even robot storm troopers. But the Muslim foe -- fighting from Khartoum to Gaza City, through Damascus, through Baghdad, through much of the Gulf, through Tehran, through Kabul, and into Islamabad -- has been resourceful, too, taking suicide-jihad to new heights of effectiveness, on a even wider geopolitical front, including asymmetrical attacks on the American homefront.

Americans came to conclude that Winston Churchill had been right: fighting a land war in Asia was like jumping into the ocean to attack the shark. Far better, the Coulter administration argued, to simply dry up the ocean -- with fire. "Our first priority," she proclaimed, "is first use."

After decades of indecisive fighting against Muslims, the time had come for an entscheidender Schlag -- a decisive blow, in which the moral clarity of our leadership would be joined by the technical clarity of our weaponry. In the prescient words of Barry Goldwater -- the 1964 Republican candidate for president, and an early advocate of pre-emptive nuclear strikes -- "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Or, as President Coulter said in her speech announcing the completion of Operation Clean Break, "We have carried out this most difficult task for the love of our people." Hearkening back to an earlier period of American continent-clearing, when the colonists and pioneers ethnically cleansed the Native Americans, Coulter declared, wielding, once again, her characteristic sense of humor, "Maybe we'll give casino licenses to the surviving Arabs. They'll be fewer in number than they once were, but they'll be rich, even if we do own the usable oil fields now."

To be sure, anything as massive as Clean Break was sure to cause enormous repercussions. The neoconservatives, the Christian apocalypticists, and the Jacksonians -- some 80 percent of the country -- were delighted. Similar strong support is still seen in the other Coalition of the Just countries. As for the minority of Americans who didn't like the idea of total war, as well as for the rest of the world, well, the Coalition has a new slogan: "No whining!"

Indeed, that's a good summary of the last 20 years. A new dawn is upon us. The long night of whining is over, the new day of winning is here. At long last, Justice will prevail. But if some want to call it Vengeance, that's OK.


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