Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, has the featured editorial in today's Wall Street Journal (registration required). He argues that the lynching of the Americans in Fallujah is an attempt to parley weakness into strength, and that the proper response is to reply in force to the leaders and perpetrators of the attacks.
The worst answer the U.S. can make to such a message--which is precisely what we did in Mogadishu--is back down. By most indications, Aidid's supporters were decimated and demoralized the day after the Battle of Mogadishu. Some, appalled by the indecency of their countrymen, were certain the U.S. would violently respond to such an insult and challenge. They contacted U.N. authorities offering to negotiate, or simply packed their things and fled. These are the ones who miscalculated. Instead the U.S. did nothing, effectively abandoning the field to Aidid and his henchmen. Somalia today remains a nation struggling in anarchy, and the America-haters around the world learned what they thought was a essential truth about the United States: Kill a few Americans and the most powerful nation on Earth will run away. This, in a nutshell, is the strategy of Osama bin Laden.
Many Americans despise the effort under way in Iraq. They opposed overthrowing Saddam Hussein by force, and disbelieved the rationale offered by President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. There may well be a heavy political price to pay for the mistakes and exaggerations; President Bush faces a referendum in just seven months. But however that election turns out, and however imperfectly we have arrived at this point, the facts on the ground in Iraq remain. Saddam is gone and Iraq, thanks to U.S. intervention, is struggling toward a new kind of future. Its successful transformation into a peaceful, democratic state is in everyone's interest except Saddam's extended family and the Islamo-fascists. It's time for opponents of the war to get real. Pictures like those we saw from Fallujah last week should horrify us, but they should also anger us and strengthen our resolve. The response should not be to back away from the task, but to redouble our efforts.
Which means recognizing that the gory carnival on the streets of Fallujah is not evidence of the mission's futility, nor is it something to chalk up to foreign barbarity. It was deliberate and it must be answered deliberately. The lynching of African-Americans would have ended decades earlier if authorities had rounded up and punished those participating in crimes like the one in Marion. Somalia would be a vastly different place today if the U.S. and U.N. had not backed away in horror from the shocking display in Mogadishu.
The rebels in Iraq who ambushed those American security workers in Fallujah ought to be hunted down and brought to justice, but they are not the only ones responsible. The public celebration that followed was licensed and encouraged by whatever leadership exists in Fallujah. Whether religious or secular, its insult, warning, and challenge has been broadcast around the world. It must be answered. The photographic evidence should be used to help round up those who committed these atrocities, and those who tacitly or overtly encouraged it. A suitable punishment might be some weeks of unearthing the victims of Saddam Hussein's mass graves.
Fallujah is an anomaly in Iraq, not the norm. President Bush won't let that become a Mogadishu. Could we say the same of a President Kerry?