It would have been extremely messy to have shot the first 400 looters who began a cascading riot that ruined $13 billion in Iraqi infrastructure. Storming rather than pulling back from Fallujah in April 2004 would have offended the press, the professors, and the Europeans. Arresting or killing Moqtada al-Sadr in June 2003 might have angered the Arab world and invited parlor debate among the mandarins back home, but such measures also would have shown ironclad American resolve and eventually would have impressed even our enemies.
There is currently a good deal of nashing of teeth about Iraq. Andrew Sullivan is quoting Stratfor as saying the post-invasion fight is already lost. I rather doubt this, but, as Victor Davis Hanson writes in this issue of City Journal, mistakes were made early on.
Interestingly, those mistakes were about not being tough enough. Indeed, shooting 400 looters would have been the right call shortly after the invasion. And as I wrote at the time, storming Fallujah in April could have cut the terrorists off at the knees.
Stratfor is, apparently, suggesting that the American forces pull back to the periphery of Iraq and let what it sees as the inevidable civil war take place. This strikes me as ill advised.
At the moment the number of attacks is diminishing and the size of the car bombs is getting larger. Bigger bombs suggest that the terrorists are running out of suicide bombers faster than they are running out of explosives.
A sustained, ruthless, counter insurgency campaign, focussed tightly in the Sunni areas where the rejection of the democratic option for Iraq is most intense, is likely to bear results. Similarily, the legitimizing effect of the elections will pump new energy into the Kurds and Shi'ite who see Iraq as, finally, being ruled by the majority population.
Perhaps more to the point, once the elections have occured, the Shi'ite dominated new government of Iraq is not going to play nice with the Sunni/Al Qaeda terrorists. After all, their community was targetted by the Sunnis under Saddam and by the current crop of terrorists.
It is not so much that the US need pull back to the periphery; rather it is that the US needs to remain in place to prevent the possibility of untargetted, wholesale, slaughters with the government's eyes firmly averted.