Bush's Bloody Flip-Flop
By Robert Parry
September 14, 2004
flip-flop by George W. Bush worsened the military-political debacle in
Fallujah last April when the Bush administration overruled the Marine
commanding general twice, first ordering him to undertake a retaliatory
assault against the rebellious Iraqi city and then abruptly reversing
direction three days later.
Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, who commanded U.S.
forces in western Iraq, told reporters that he opposed the decision to
attack Fallujah in April and then – after committing Marines to the
battle – he objected to the follow-up order to cease offensive
operations and pull back, a decision that effectively ceded the city to
insurgents as a “no-go” zone for American troops.
“We follow our orders,” Conway said in the
interview on Sept. 12 after relinquishing his command.
The order to attack Fallujah in early April
followed tough talk in Washington about punishing those responsible for
the gruesome deaths of four armed U.S. contractors whose vehicles were
ambushed in Fallujah on March 31.
Senior U.S. officials in Iraq say the order
overruling the Marine commander, who favored a more measured response,
originated from Bush's White House, the Washington Post reported. Conway
said he and other Marine officers had a more deliberative plan for
bringing the city under control.
“We felt 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,” Conway said in the interview.
Conway said he favored using targeted operations against armed enemy
forces while collaborating with local officials to rebuild the city and
Instead, Bush administration officials in
Washington second-guessed the commander and demanded a full-scale
assault on Fallujah. “We had our say, and we understood the rationale,
and we saluted smartly, and we went about the attack,” Conway said.
The assault proved disastrous, however. Six Marines
were killed along with hundreds of people in Fallujah, many of them
civilians who died under a U.S. bombardment including 500-pound bombs
dropped on the city and cannon fire that raked the
city's streets. There were so many dead that the soccer field was
turned into a mass grave.
The Fallujah attack enflamed anti-Americanism
throughout the Middle East and made the city’s name a rallying cry for
Iraqi insurgents. Though Fallujah is located in the Sunni Triangle,
rival Shiite communities to the south joined in collecting and
delivering relief supplies.
The civilian deaths in Fallujah also brought a new
round of international condemnation of the United States for allegedly
engaging in a collective punishment of a population, a violation of
international law. The negative publicity appears to have given Bush’s
White House second thoughts.
Three days into the attack, the Marines were
suddenly ordered to cease offensive operations and to negotiate a
withdrawal of U.S. forces. Gen. Conway said he opposed this reversal but
was overruled again.
“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,” Conway said. “Once you commit, you got to stay
committed.” [Washington Post, Sept. 13, 2004]
The embarrassment of the Marines' sudden withdrawal
was covered by a public relations fig leaf called the Fallujah Brigade,
a new Iraqi force that was supposed to police the city. It was touted as
a model for how the Bush administration planned to pacify other
rebellious cities in Iraq.
But the Fallujah Brigade turned out to be another
failure. The U.S. military later discovered that the brigade was
collaborating with the insurgents, even supplying them with U.S. weapons
and joining in attacks on U.S. forces outside the city. The Fallujah
Brigade was quietly disbanded in early September.
In April, however, Bush’s bloody flip-flopping
escaped much critical attention. At a nationally televised news
conference on April 13, Bush tried to spin the situation as a success.
“In Fallujah, coalition forces have suspended
offensive operations, allowing members of the Iraqi Governing Council
and local leaders to work on the restoration of central authority in
that city,” Bush said. “These leaders are communicating with the
insurgents to ensure an orderly turnover of that city to Iraqi forces,
so that the resumption of military action does not become necessary.
They’re also insisting that those who killed and mutilated four American
contract workers be handed over for trial and punishment.”
Two weeks later on April 28, Bush declared that
“our military commanders will take whatever action is necessary to
secure Fallujah on behalf of the Iraqi people.” Bush added, “There are
pockets of resistance and our military along with Iraqis will make sure
it’s secure.” Neither promise has been fulfilled. The killers of the
four contractors have not been caught nor has Fallujah been secured by
Four months after the April assault, Fallujah has
been joined by a growing number of Iraqi cities effectively under the
control of insurgents, where American ground forces stay away and U.S.
attacks are largely limited to air operations. Inside those cities,
Iraqi officials have been executed for collaborating with U.S. forces.
While a military-political catastrophe on one
level, the aborted assault on Fallujah also represents another case of
politicians in the White House second-guessing military commanders on
the ground, a violation of a repeated Bush campaign pledge from Election
2000 that he would not micromanage military operations.
Overruling military judgments occurred, too, in the
days before the Iraq invasion when Bush’s civilian advisers denigrated
warnings from uniformed officers that a larger U.S. force would be
needed for both the invasion and the occupation. Army Gen. Eric Shinseki
foresaw the need for several hundred thousand soldiers.
Instead, Bush’s civilian officials predicted
flower-strewn welcomes for U.S. troops and trimming their numbers back
to 30,000 within months. Since the invasion, U.S. troop levels of about
135,000 have proven inadequate to maintain security around the
California-sized country where more than 1,000 American soldiers have
Fallujah was another example of Bush and his
civilian advisers thinking they knew better than the military commanders
on the ground. By overruling the Marine commander in Fallujah twice in
April, Bush managed to make the United States look first reckless and
then feckless, as U.S. Marines and Iraqi civilians died in a hasty
assault that was then abruptly abandoned.
Still, Bush continues to succeed in presenting his
Democratic opponent, John Kerry, as a flip-flopper who lacks the
requisite decisiveness to be commander-in-chief.
Robert Parry's new book, Secrecy &
Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, is now
available for purchase from the publisher by going to
Consortiumnews.com's Home Page and clicking on the new book.
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