Jewish World ReviewApril 5, 2004 / 14 Nissan, 5764

Zev Chafets

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Theater of blood | The killing of four U.S. security contract employees in Fallujah on Thursday was an act of guerrilla warfare.

Burning their bodies and hanging them from a bridge was sheer guerrilla theater.

There is now a suspenseful silence throughout the Middle East. The Americans will write the next act, and people are waiting to see what it looks like.

American pro-consul Paul Bremer spoke the first line, denouncing the Fallujah lynch mob as "ghouls" and "jackals."

This was the wrong note. The massacre may have been spontaneous, but it was not mindless. It was a display of uninhibited inhumanity intended to frighten off rational enemies.

Bremer's emotional reaction played right into that. After all, who wants to fight against ghouls and jackals?

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt's response was much better. In a press briefing he announced that the U.S. would unleash an overwhelming but targeted counterattack.

"We will kill them, or we will capture them," Kimmitt said. These are the right words, and, more important, they were delivered in the right tone. The Arabs watch Western movies, too. They know what happens when Clint Eastwood narrows his eyes and lowers his voice.

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Of course Kimmitt is only a deputy. The real sheriff is President Bush. After Fallujah, he reiterated his determination not to cut and run. But after a generation of flight from weak enemies in Saigon, Beirut and Somalia, American Presidents are not necessarily taken at their word. Bush has demonstrated that he is willing to change a regime by force. He has yet to prove that he is willing to maintain one that way.

That can't be shown in a single operation. The Marines will undoubtedly go into Fallujah, find some of the killers and deal with them.

That matters. What matters more is how it is presented.

The right way is with a shrug. Did we get these guys? Sure, what did you expect? Ghouls? Jackals? Naw, they're just a bunch of street thugs. They have no chance up against real soldiers.

This sort of dismissive attitude is intentionally insulting. It is also crucial to winning at guerrilla theater - in Iraq and on every other front in the jihad.

The Muslim world suffers from low self-esteem, and properly so. It is a collection of failed states and unproductive societies that glorify their distant past because they haven't accomplished anything of importance in 1,000 years.

Since contemporary Islamic political science usually rejects the concept of personal responsibility, this state of affairs must be the fault of someone else.

The Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks, the European colonialists, the Zionists, the Americans - any or all are to blame for the poverty, misery and backwardness of the House of Islam.

The jihad, from Fallujah to the Philippines, draws its inspiration from this sense of grievance. The stolen birthright must be restored by the fervor and force of young martyrs. With God on their side, they cannot fail.

The thing is, deep down, most Middle Easterners only half-believe this, or don't believe it at all.

They understand that beyond the bombast and the bravado, they are weak and getting weaker. Shows of ferocity are all they have left to boost their own morale and - if they are sufficiently bloodcurdling - to scare away the enemy.

When America loses its cool over a theatrical spasm of violence, it feeds this strategy, convincing guerrillas and their audience that the U.S. can be fooled and intimidated. That is very much the wrong message. The jihadis must not only be killed and captured, they must be deflated, made to feel - and look - small and silly.

In guerrilla theater, when it is successfully conducted, a calm self-possession can be worth a battalion of Marines.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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