MARGARET WARNER: Is the kind of deal the marines seem to be pursuing the right way to deal with Fallujah? For that, we turn to retired army Colonel W. Patrick Lang, a former special forces officer and Middle East analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency. John Mearsheimer, a former air force officer and now co-director of the program on international security policy at the University of Chicago. And retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who teaches military operations and planning and is a long-time consultant to the Defense Department.
Well, gentlemen, as we heard, there is a lot of murkiness about what is actually going on and whether there is a deal, but it seems pretty clear from the quotes in the newspapers and in the wires today that the marines are at least pursuing this idea that they wouldn't go into Fallujah, that instead they would deputize or turn it over to a force of former Iraqi army officers. Why would they do that, Sam Gardiner, and do you think it's a smart way to go?
COL. SAM GARDINER: I think it's absolutely brilliant, Margaret. We have gotten ourselves into what I would call a wicked problem in Fallujah.
In strategy, a wicked problem is one for which there is no good answer. So what you search for are the least bad answers, and I think we've found one.
Compare this solution to an all-out fight for the city in which there are mosques destroyed, doesn't make any difference that the soldiers were in them, they were destroyed.
Civilians, doesn't make any difference they were shields, they were killed. Very bad impact on Iraq, the Middle East and probably even in the United States. So what the marines have found is a strategic way out, an answer to give time to achieve stability.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see it that way, John Mearsheimer, a brilliant way out of a box?
JOHN MEARSHEIMER: I wouldn't use exactly those words, but I do agree with the colonel that it is the least bad alternative. It would be a disaster if we went into Fallujah.
Nevertheless, we do want to emphasize that it is a bad alternative, and it's a bad alternative for two reasons. The first reason is that, in fact, the bad guys have faced us down, and we've pulled back.
We have been promising, indeed President Bush said yesterday that we would go in and deal with the bad guys in Fallujah. In fact, we're not going to go into Fallujah, at least according to this plan.We're going to pull back. And that's going to be seen widely, especially in Iraq, as a victory for bad guys.
The second point I would make is that this so-called Iraqi army for Fallujah that we're in the process of developing is not in existence now, and it's hard to believe that they're going to put a viable military force together in the next couple days that could go into Fallujah and do the dirty work that we couldn't do ourselves -- just very hard to imagine.
So I think this looks like a real mess for us, although I do agree again with the colonel that's that it's the least bad alternative.
MARGARET WARNER: Let's save on the practical questions for a minute, but Pat Lang, just about whether it's a good idea, do you think, as Sam Gardiner does, that it's a brilliant way out of this problem, and/or do you also agree with John Mearsheimer that it will be seen as a defeat for the United States and a victory for the insurgents?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, I think it will be seen across the Arab world and in Iraq as a defeat, not for the marines but for the United States . Everybody knows the marines could level Fallujah and kill everybody in the town if they put their mind to it, but I do think it's not a bad outcome from this.
I've thought for quite a while we needed to do something sensible politically for the Sunni Arab population of Iraq, and we needed to show firmness, well, we made it clear if a solution wasn't found, we would have leveled Fallujah.
I think you have to see this outcome not in terms of these general officers putting together a military force to fight insurgents but rather an ethnic graphic, in political terms, that they're from this region, these people, and they're going to go in and essentially see if they can be accepted in this place by the leaders of the community in such a way that they can control this situation. I don't think it's a question of them fighting their way into the town.
MARGARET WARNER: But essentially the U.S. would be pulling out without, as John Mearsheimer pointed out, achieving some of the aims it said it would, either to defeat the insurgents or get-to-them to agree to a truce and to get whoever killed and then mutilated the bodies of the four security contractors.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, I have thought for a long time that it's an illusory idea to think we'll go into this Sunni Arab city and find these particular people who committed this crime. I don't think that's in the cards. That's not going to happen.
The real issue for the United States is to regain control of that part of the Sunni Triangle and maybe other places later in such a way that this area will not cause us the kind of difficulty it has in the past. The idea of using Sunni Arab officers and men of the former Iraqi army to try to do that essentially as a liaison with the community I think is a very interesting idea.
MARGARET WARNER: Would you say, Sam Gardiner, it's also an admission that the former strategy, which was that somehow the U.S. could create and train a brand-new Iraqi security force out of whole cloth without using the army just did not work?
COL. SAM GARDINER: Sure. Well, that was clear in the last three weeks it didn't work, but I, and I guess what I would do is now make a bridge in something that Scott said and also something Pat said, which I would a little bit disagree with, which is I don't think the notion, and you didn't hear this from the marines today, is to control Fallujah. The notion is to provide stability to Fallujah.
MARGARET WARNER: What's the difference?
COL. SAM GARDINER: The difference is that you go in and occupy and have a U.S. Marine presence. What they say the new objective is is to have a city in which you can have the relief organizations, the contractors to come in and rebuild the electricity and the water system, and that's a very subtle difference but it also is one which moves away from the destruction to finding a way to cut down on violence in the city.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But who is this Fallujah protective force from which you're able to discern?
COL. SAM GARDINER: Well, it apparently has a couple of parts. One part is some sort of skimming off from the security services, the civil defense corps and the police, and then some form of new people that have come from the old Iraqi army, from the Iraqi army that existed under Saddam Hussein.
MARGARET WARNER: So John Mearsheimer, that gets to the point you raised earlier, is -- Why would these former generals of Saddam Hussein's army, one, are they capable of doing what they say they can do, and two, why would they do it?
JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, I'm not sure why they would do it. They may have all sorts of incentives we don't know about. The more important question is whether they can do it. Does it seem plausible that a handful of generals can come out of nowhere and create a military force of Iraqis that can deal with this situation in Fallujah overnight? I find this hard to believe.
There is no existing military force there now. You just don't create military forces overnight to deal with problems of this magnitude. The fact of the matter is that the bad guys inside of Fallujah are large in number.
They've been behaving very aggressively towards us. These are not a bunch of pussycats by any means. And they're going to be emboldened by what's happened or what appears to be happening at the moment.
Their numbers are going to grow because it's going to look like they're the winners inside of Iraq , and the problem is going to be more difficult than ever and the marines are pulling back and we're putting in place of the marines a force that doesn't even exist now that we're creating overnight.
This is all evidence to me of just how much trouble we're in and the fact that the people running this operation for the United States , both in Washington and in Baghdad , appear to look like the gang that can't shoot straight.
MARGARET WARNER: But would you agree this would be a major strategic shift for the U.S. - I mean, it's not just a new tactic. The U.S. is now turning to the very Iraqi army officers that essentially were fired en masse a year ago when the United States took over.
JOHN MEARSHEIMER: There's no question. That's just evidence of how desperate we are, number one, but number two, the $64,000 question is whether or not they can pull our chestnuts out of the fire. And it's just very hard for me to see how these generals will put together a force overnight that's going to solve the problem that the marines couldn't solve.
MARGARET WARNER: Can you answer that question?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, I think there is a basic misunderstanding of what the position of the Iraqi army was in Iraqi society, especially with regard to these Sunni Arabs in this part of Iraq before the war.
In fact, this was in contrast to a lot of the things that have been said about it, this was a well-thought-of national institution in many ways. These people are people of great substance in terms of Sunni Arab society. I don't think there's any question of their putting together some battalion-sized force of former sergeants to go in and fight the insurgents. That's just nonsense.
In fact, what they're going to do is try to make a deal with all of the Sheiks and the Jumeiri tribe in the area, the Imams and tell them, look, you want the Americans or us? If the answer is us, we'll keep the marines out of the town, everything will be quiet, everything will be nice, I think that's the kind of deal they're talking about. Can they do it? Maybe. Who knows?
MARGARET WARNER: There was one story that compared this to the Afghan model. If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. Essentially, the U.S. pays off and lets local militias run things. Are there downsides to that?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, I don't think it's exactly the same thing because as one of the local newspapers in town said here, they thought recently that the program should be suppress the Sunnis, empower the Shia and protect the Kurds.
Well you know, these people understand they've been in that position, the Sunni Arabs, ever since the occupation began, and there is a certain deal of cohesion amongst these people – and the idea they can protect their people from the onslaught of of one of the most fearsome armies on earth is a considerable payment in itself. We'll have to see if they can do it.
COL. SAM GARDINER: I think just to build on your point about major change in strategy, I think that may be why we've heard reluctance from Washington. You recall where we've come in a week.
An announcement that we're going to allow Baathists into the new government, which was just sort of to settle, and now all of a sudden we're reconstituting the Iraqi army.
I think maybe the soldiers in the field have a sense that we need to do, this but I don't think Washington has adjusted to that idea. I think that's what we saw from Wolfowitz -- his comment.
MARGARET WARNER: A brief final point from you, Mr. Mearsheimer. A briefly quote from a marine general, let me see if I can find this, "We're not here to kill you, we're here to help," words to that effect. We're going to work closely with you. What do you make of that?
JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, the fact of the matter is that the bad guys inside of Fallujah are not interested in working with us. They're interested in driving us out of Iraq.
When the two colonels talked about reaching some sort of agreement with the bad guys in Iraq, excuse me, inside Fallujah, as if we can reach some sort of modus operandi, I think that's not correct because what they're interested in doing is driving us out, and they're going to be emboldened by what's happening today and make our problem worse over time, not better.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: They know we're going to leave. They don't have to - they don't have to see us leave in the context of every city in the Sunni Arab area of Iraq being destroyed. On that basis, I think probably some accommodation is possible.
MARGARET WARNER: Patrick Lang, John Mearsheimer, Sam Gardiner, thank you all.