The new Fallujah offensive

We’re bombing Fallujah again. What does that mean?

The U.S. military has started a combined air and land offensive against insurgents in Fallujah. Perhaps this is a reaction to the rising rate of insurgent activity throughout Iraq, including yesterday’s attacks in the Green Zone itself. But it might also reflect political developments on the Potomac rather than the Euphrates.

The Baseball Crank cackles about the fact that the new offensive started shortly after the LA Times ran a story about the Bush White House holding back military offensives in Iraq until after the election (earlier post here). The Crank thinks that’s proof of a brilliant White House effort to fake out people like me (or, as he politely calls us, “the usual suckers”).

Perhaps so. But the Crank misses the obvious interpretation of what just happened:

1. The Bush White House was screwing around with military decisions for political reasons.

2. Somene in the Pentagon didn’t like it, and leaked to the LA Times to pressure the White House to back off.

3. It worked.

So the military had to use the press to get the President to do the right thing.

Note, moreover, that the current air and ground attacks are not intended to take the city, but merely to prepare the way for taking the city at some future time.

Wartime President? Feh.

Update: Matt Yglesias thinks using airstrikes shows either an ignorance of how counterinsurgency works or a preference for tactics that avoid current American casaulties at the expense of worse results long term.

Second update: Spencer Ackerman has more at TNR Online. To put his point more bluntly than he does, how do we know that the tactical intelligence guiding our airstrikes in Fallujah is any better than the strategic intelligence that told us of WMDs in Iraq and a population that would greet us as liberators? Updating Ackerman’s citation of John Paul Vann, one might say that guerrilla war isn’t a video-game: the score isn’t now many people you kill, but how many of the people you kill are actually your enemies.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com