What happened in Fallujah was a barbaric horror show. Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down explains in the Wall Street Journal (free registration required) why it needs to be answered with force.
It is a mistake to conclude that those committing such acts represent a majority of the community. Just the opposite is true. Lynching is most often an effort to frighten and sway a more sensible, decent mainstream. In Marion it was the Ku Klux Klan, in Mogadishu it was Aidid loyalists, in Fallujah it is either diehard Saddamites or Islamo-fascists.
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.
Bowden is right, but this is tricky.
The reason many Sunni Arabs in Iraq are lashing out at the coalition is because their Baath Party gravy train is over forever. The Baathists were nothing if not a minority Sunni tribal outfit that lorded it over the non-Sunni majority. Now they fear they’re at the mercy of those they oppressed for so long. They rightly blame us for their predicament.
They have only experienced politics as brute force. They don’t know any other kind. It’s as hard for them to imagine how a liberal democracy works as it is for us to imagine what it’s actually like to live in a totalitarian state.
These people need to be made to understand two things.
One, if they fight the US they are going to bring a hammer down on their heads.
Two, the US will protect them from the majority if and when they lose the first election. The Shi’ites and the Kurds will not be allowed to elect an anti-Sunni dictatorship. What makes a democracy a liberal democracy is that the rights of the minority are protected from the majority. It’s safe to lose an election. You might not like the results, but you won’t be jailed, beaten, or killed.
How so we strike back at the Sunni mobs while also sending the message that we are ultimately their protectors? I don’t know. This could be our greatest test yet. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was easy. This won’t be.
UPDATE: See Steven Den Beste if you want the optimist’s view.