As pundits decry war crimes committed by the Assad regime in Eastern Ghouta, a look to how the punditry viewed the US' 2004 assault on Fallujah
The US punditry has responded with righteous outrage as civilian casualties continue to mount in the Syrian government's latest assault on the Eastern Ghouta district outside of Damascus. “Imagine being a parent in Eastern Ghouta and praying to God that the regime uses sarin gas so that someone will be inspired to do something beyond talking about the horror of it all,” writes Frederic Hof in The Atlantic. Assad should be tried for war crimes along with Russian and Iranian leaders argues the New York Times Editorial Board in their op-ed “Who Has Innocent Syrians’ Blood on Their Hands?” “Protections for civilians in wartime, long a central tenet of international law, are being rapidly eroded,” they warn. Comparing the slaughter to the Holocaust, Roy Gutman in the Daily Beast solemnly intones, “When the smoke finally clears amid the rubble and the bodies, we will hear, no doubt, the phrase ‘never again.’”
Powerful words, and yet where were the pleas for morality during the US onsalught on Fallujah in 2004? When the US lost control over the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, the US responded by putting Fallujah under a, “medieval siege, one in which they initially refused to allow ambulances in or out.” By the time the US managed to retake Fallujah it had become, in the words of correspondent Patrick Cockburn, “a flattened city”, one in which
no one knows the civilian casualty toll—this in a city which once numbered 300,000. Indeed there are no estimates of how many people are still there. A Red Cross team—which entered without escort and left before curfew—met no residents, apart from engineers and technicians. The Red Cross reported that hundreds of dead bodies remain stacked inside a potato chip warehouse on the outskirts. Some of the bodies were too badly decomposed to be identified. Raw sewage runs through the streets. All this, and there are no humanitarian workers inside the city.1
When marines came to repair the main hospital in Fallujah they found it empty, US attacks had caused the staff to evacuate all of the patients.2
The conditions in Fallujah in 2004 sound quite like the conditions in East Ghouta, where some 800 civilians are thought to have died. However, the reaction of the US punditry is drastically different. For example, after Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN high commissioner for human rights called for an investigation into possible war crimes committed by the US in Fallujah, a The Washington Post op-ed by Jackson Diehl denounced the “vicious anti-Americanism” of the US' critics saying that they should have a, “greater willingness to accept, and adjust to...realities about fighting insurgents and terrorists that the British, Israelis and others have understood for a long time.” On a similar note, Robert Kaplan an embedded reporter for The Atlantic wrote that preparations for the assault on Fallujah were “like writing and performing a symphony”. Preparations for the attack were so impressive that they were, “disturbing reminders that democratic processes are not always the best.” Later, during the assault, Kaplan comes across a soldier who has just killed an Iraqi civilian who, “was suspiciously running away”. Rather than express remorse for the civilian, Kaplan merely says he, “felt bad for the Marine who had fired the shot.” In fact, US publications were replete with stories about the sacrifices3 of US soldiers who took part in the attack, but contained almost no mention of the suffering endured by the residents.
The crimes the US committed in Fallujah lived on after the US retook the city through, “dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia,” almost certainly caused by the munitions used by US troops during the attack. Fallujah was subjected to even more violence in 2016, when the Iraqi army, backed by US air strikes, retook the city. The violence used against Fallujah became so extreme that it led the Geneva International Center for Justice to state that it, “may amount to genocide.”
The violence inflicted on this one city in Iraq is staggering, and yet the punditry is totally silent in the face of such a crime. How can the New York Times still claim to care about “protections for civilians” in the face of these crimes? It is too apparent that when it comes to US the whole society becomes apologists for the military, who only slaughter “suspicious” civilians, or are driven to using unrestrained violence by the “realities” of war inflicted on them by “terrorists”. We can see this sentiment expressed frequently in popular media. Iconic scenes from Oscar-winning films such as American Sniper and Blackhawk Down draw on it and help spread this grotesque message. There can be no progress in stopping violence globally until we as a society recognize our role in perpetuating it.