In No True Glory, former Marine and assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Regan, Bing West set out to accomplish two seemingly contradictory goals: to tell the strategic and political story of the battle for Fallujah, while at the same time telling the stories of the individual soldiers who fought it. You would think that it would be difficult to tell a story both on the strategic level and the tactical level, and it is. But Mr West pulls it off.
The title makes reference to the Iliad, Homer's enduring tale of the Siege of Troy where a Greek soldier on the front line says "Let us win glory for ourselves, or yield it to others." Bing West opines
For Greek warriors, there was no true glory if they were not remembered afterward in poem or in song. There will be no true glory for our soldiers in Iraq unless they are recognized not as victims, but as aggressive warriors. Stories of their bravery deserved to be recorded and read by the next generation. Unsung, the noblest deed will die.
So he meticulously tells the stories of the heroic acts Marines performed on the ground not only in Fallujah, but in Ramadi as well.
Stories like that of 1st Sgt Bradley Kasal who went into the House From Hell during the final battle in November to help save Marines who were trapped inside and under fire from terrorists.
Stories like that of Cpl. Timothy Connors, of the First Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, who engaged in 12 gunfights inside houses; and survived.
Bing also tells the stories of soldiers who were killed in action like Cpl Daniel Amaya, a squad leader who took point during an assault on a building where the terrorists had laid a trap.
Aside from these stories of individual courage and bravery, and there are scores of them in this book, Bing West takes us inside the political drama that first had the Marines take on the city in May after the four Blackwell employees were mutilated and hung from the "Brooklyn Bridge", to the decision to stand down and let an Iraqi force govern the city, to the realization that the most of the Iraqi military leaders appointed were aligned with the enemy and the Marines were once again called upon to take the city. This time for good.
Bing points to the problems in the command structure at the time, and the political dilemmas faced not only by the US administration, but the Iraqi political structure as he details the reasons why the Marines were not able to press, and win the battle in May and instead fought a much tougher battle in November.
Here is what I took away from the facts presented by the book, an interpretation with which the author may or may not agree.
It was clear from the beginning that Fallujah was a problem. It was a place loaded with everything from thieves and hooligans to terrorists and former Ba'athists. It was almost exclusively a Sunni city. And it had a bad rep throughout Iraq as a place of liars, theives and thugs.
When the Blackwell employees were massacred, the chain of command from the President to the CentCom commander General Abazaid overreacted, or more precisely, reacted emotionally. With echoes of Mogadishu playing in their heads, they wanted the terrorists to pay an immediate price. As a result, the Marines were ordered in, without a plan. But more importantly, without the political backing of the Iraqi leadership. Prime Minister Allawi was a Shi'ite, and although he understood that Fallujah was a problem, the Marines attack presented him with a number of political problems.
First, was the media. They were wrongly reporting that thousands of civilians were being killed and wounded. And almost all of this reporting was coming from al Jazeera and picked up by the Western media. As a result, several Sunni leaders involved with the CPA threatened to quit if the attack continued. This was a political problem for the CPA and the Administration especially during the Presidential Campaign where John Kerry was accusing the President of vacillating on Fallujah. All of the major political and religious leaders in the city were either criminals or terrorists, often both. But it was very difficult for Allawi to justify pressing the attack in the largely Sunni city while the Shi'ite terrorist leader, al Sadr was not similarly being oppressed.
As a result of all of this, the compromise that was reached was the creation of the so-called Fallujah Brigade which would replace the Marines within the city. When at first a joint Marine-Iraqi security operation was floated, the city leaders, the Sunni leaders within the CPA and the Fallujah Brigade itself all rejected the idea. The Marines were told to withdraw to the perimeter of the city.
The turn-around came only after a number of things happened:
- it became clear the Fallujah Brigade was supporting terrorists, not rounding them up
- it became apparent to everyone, including the Sunni CPA leaders that Fallujah was the center of Zarqawi's murderous group
- al Sadr was taken down in Najaf
This last gave Allawi standing to go after a Sunni city without looking like he was pursuing a vendetta against Sunnis
There is little doubt the Marines could have finished the job in May despite the lack of preparation. There is also little doubt that the fight in November was tougher than it needed to be had the "feint" in May not occurred and both the Military and Political preparations had been done prior to the assault.
It is yet another reminder that emotional responses to war, and peace, often don't turn out well, but as humans, we are all subject to mistakes of this sort.
It also is a reminder that politics plays as big a role in any military operation but especially in those where you are not simply tasked with destroying the enemy, as was the case during the Major Military Operations phase, but also when the military must simultaneous preserve the peace as is the case now.
I recommend you read Bing's book so the fighters whose tales he tells will have the true glory they deserve and for the insight it gives to the difficulty involved in birthing a new nation when there are those who are bitterly opposed the very idea that people should breathe free.