Falluja mattered – attacks are down by half, many weapons and explosives were seized, and a key base of operation was denied to the terrorists. There’s other evidence that Falluja mattered, and was a large tactical victory - though the press seems to ignore it now that they don’t have fresh casualties to report:
December 06, 2004
THAT’S CALLED EVIDENCE
The Post reporter doesn’t quite articulate it this way, but the best evidence yet that the assault on Fallujah wasn’t just a success but mattered, mattered a great deal, is the fact that the military now sees a change in the enemy’s strategy – they won’t mass in one place again ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38094-2004Dec5.html ). If it had been as insignificant as some of the press coverage suggested, you wouldn’t have expected to see them change the way they did business.
The article also points to something else about more recent coverage:
[Begin WaPo excerpt] As a sign of the damage done to the insurgency by the Fallujah operation, U.S. officers point to a sharp decline in the number of attacks nationwide, from a high of more than 130 a day at the start of the offensive in early November to about 60 now. But U.S. military intelligence officers expect the number to rise again before the national elections set for Jan. 30. [End WaPo excerpt]
Now, I’ve mentioned before that the figure of over 100 attacks a day was hyped, while the reduction gets barely a mention. But what drives that is that when the figure is high, the focus is on nationwide violence. When the figure goes down, the focus telescopes down into just the individual attacks of the day, and God knows there are enough of those, and the attacks that do occur are brutal enough, that it can make it look as if the whole country is coming apart at the seams.
Again, please don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting the place is Shangri-la by any stretch. But I am saying that each individual attack is bad enough that focusing in on it in detail – much less if there are several in a single day – can easily create the impression of nationwide chaos, even if the attacks are occuring in a limited area and even if the overall number of attacks are going down.
The other thing about the coverage that prevents us, still, from getting a good grasp of the big picture is that there’s virtually no follow-up coverage. They ignored Fallujah during the period when they were all covering Najaf; once the fighting ended in Najaf, they lost all interest.
When was the last time you saw a story on how things were going down in that city?
It’s alluded to in this story, but not really covered.
[Begin WaPo excerpt] Reconstruction of the badly battered city of Fallujah now poses a major test of the Baghdad government’s ability to deliver people and resources. But last week, senior U.S. Marine officers overseeing the rebuilding effort privately voiced frustration over the absence of officials from Baghdad and public works technicians to help restore power and water, assist in food and fuel distribution and set up a new police force.
Senior U.S. officers point to Najaf as a model for reconstituting cities that have been the target of U.S. military offensives against insurgents. Since the battle freeing it of Sadr’s forces, the city has remained calm and shown both political leadership and economic development.
None of this means things are going really well, it means they may be going better than the press coverage suggests. If they were going well, the Army would not have made this critical strategic adjustment:
In Baghdad, Sunni support for “armed national opposition” was 40 percent in a November poll taken for the U.S. military, up from 35 percent in September. More Sunnis expressed support for the insurgents than confidence in the Iraqi government, which drew only 35 percent support in November. Approval of attacks on U.S. forces was also up, from 46 percent in September to 51 percent in November.
Under the circumstances, the internal assessment done for Casey has recommended changing one of the U.S. military’s original aims, which was to bring Iraqis around to a more “positive” perception of U.S. troops. With hindsight, that objective now appears too ambitious, the assessment concluded, adding that “popular tolerance” would be a more “realistic aim.”
“It’s not about winning the hearts and minds,” Casey said. “It’s about giving the Iraqis an opportunity that they can pick up.” [End WaPo excerpt]
Do read the whole article: I’ve pulled out a few points that shed some light on the coverage, but the article is full of material that’s useful on a substantive level.
Update: Take this article as an example. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/06/international/middleeast/06iraq.html?oref=login&oref=login ) It makes clear that it isn’t so much the number of attacks as who is being attacked that may matter at some level.
But is that the entire story? We were told previously that the number of attacks was one metric. So – is it or isn’t it? Certainly the targets matter, that’s a central way of determining what the strategy is and therefore whether it’s working. But why, when the number was high, was that presented as one way of evaluating how things were going also?