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Lessons from a Quagmire

Fallujah: the Hue of Iraq

by DAVE LINDORFF

It’s amazing how history gets twisted or forgotten.

As the Marines prepare for the brutal fight to capture Fallujah, we read in the Associated Press that Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, the top enlisted Marine in Iraq, has told his massed troops that they are fighting a battle like the one Marines and soldiers fought to recapture Hue, the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam, overrun and captured by the Viet Cong in the Tet Offensive of 1968.

One should certainly hope, for the sake of Marines and the Iraqi people of Fallujah, that Sgt. Maj. Kent is wrong.

Hue was a colossal disaster for the U.S. The retaking of that once beautiful city not only produced some of the highest casualties of the war for the U.S., it also led to the slaughter of thousands of innocent Vietnamese civilians–including many women and children.

It was also the beginning of the end for the US war in Vietnam. Once the American public realized that the Viet Cong had the power to capture one of Vietnam’s largest cities, and that they were actually welcomed by the people when they did so, it was the turning point in terms of public support for the war effort at home.

After that it was all downhill, though it took years for the bloodshed to end.

Unfortunately, Kent may be right in drawing this parallel, though certainly not in the way he intends.

No doubt, the U.S. military will recapture Fallujah–most likely because the bulk of the insurgents will, as in the case of Hue, simply melt away.

Already, the Sunni clerics have told the people of Iraq that they are bound to help the insurgents to escape, and reports suggest that most of them already have done so.

The popular masses of Iraq are rooting for the insurgents.

The U.S. will use the most brutal power at its disposal, as it is already doing–2000 lb. bombs, helicopter gunships and larger turboprop gunships, and massive bombardments by tanks and howitzers.

Most of the city will be leveled.

Already, we read that the U.S. military has attacked hospitals, indeed invaded hospitals. Ambulances are targeted deliberately. Can the mosques be far behind?

In the end, the U.S. will be universally reviled even as it captures the pile of rubble that will be what is left of the City of Mosques.

And what will be gained by this battle the Bush administration cynically postponed until after Election Day (not having the courage to let the electorate see the casualties it would inevitably cause)?

Very little, if anything.

The insurgency will still survive, most of its fighters already having left the city, leaving a martyr contingent willing to stay and fight to the death, inflicting as many casualties on American troops as they can.

The American army will have further alienated itself from Iraqis–those few who may still have wished the occupation well. The government of Ayad Allawi will be further compromised, seen as the puppet regime it is for endorsing an attack that is totally unnecessary, even as offers were being made to resolve the conflict peacefully.

It is as though the insurgents had read Ho Chi Minh’s brilliant playbook, and were working through the chapters, while the Pentagon and Donald Rumsfeld are stuck with General Westmoreland’s stupid plan.

No wonder American troops are holding revival meetings, getting baptized and anointed with holy oil. Led by martinets who do the bidding of a craven regime, they have nowhere else to turn for solace and protection.

Those who die will have achieved nothing.

Those who survive will have little to celebrate.

As Secretary Colin Powell and many of the generals have already said, this war is being lost. As with the battle to recapture Hue, it’s just a delay of the inevitable.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com