Unfit For Command
When Iraqi insurgents killed four security contractors and dragged their bodies through the streets of Fallujah last March, President Bush unleashed a punitive Marine raid sparking a city-wide rebellion.
As the siege of Fallujah dragged on and media coverage, casualties, and public opinion threatened to destroy President Bush's poll numbers, he decided to call off the attack. In its place, the "Fallujah Brigade", consisting of former local insurgents under a Ba'ath Party General, was raised and deployed into the city.
The Marine commander, Lt. General James Conway, recently let reporters know how disgusted he was with the whole operation. Starting with the initial attack, Conway groused that rather than let the commander on the ground plan the Marine's attack, President Bush let political issues dictate the timing and circumstances,
"We felt like we had a method that we wanted to apply to Fallujah: that we ought to probably let the situation settle before we appeared to be attacking out of revenge." But, Conway said, "We follow our orders. We had our say, and we understood the rationale, and we saluted smartly, and we went about the attack." An attack that Conway says, "certainly increased the level of animosity that existed."
As the "siege of Fallujah" continued and American opinion of President Bush's occupation of Iraq turned south, the President decided to withdraw the Marines. General Conway took a swing at Bush's waffling in the face of opinion poll pressure by saying, "When you order elements of a Marine division to attack a city, you really need to understand what the consequences of that are going to be and not perhaps vacillate in the middle of something like that," he said. "Once you commit, you got to stay committed."
"No one wants to give up territory that they paid for with blood," said one junior Marine officer during the withdrawal. "I think [the Marines] are frustrated," says another. "If this fails, they're going to have to go right back in there."
Well guess what. They're going to have to go right back in there. I wrote at the time that forcing the Marines to retreat for political reasons was a bad idea that would only aid the insurgents. As it turned out, President Bush gave the defenders of the "Arab Alamo" 800 AK-47 assault rifles, 27 pickup trucks, and 50 Marine radios as well as a propaganda victory.
The same day General Conway slammed his Commander in Chief for "vacillating", President Bush was on the campaign trail telling National Guard members, "What's critical is that the president of the United States speak clearly and consistently at this time of great threat in our world, and not change positions because of expediency or pressure."
If those young Marine officers are still alive, I'm sure they're not amused by the irony or the hypocracy.