It's been said that it is impolite to correct an enemy when he is making a tremendous mistake.
Our primary goal in Iraq is to establish a multi-ethnic tolerant liberal democracy, one which supports free expression. This is quite radical; there's never been anything like that before in an Arabic-speaking nation. And there's a natural tendency for those living in Iraq to wonder whether we're serious or hypocritical. After all, everyone believes in free speech when that speech agrees with them. Even under Saddam, anyone was free to praise him anytime they wanted.
The real test was whether we'd tolerate speech critical of us, and so far we have. Which is in the long run good. But it also meant we had to leave hands-off a lot of people in Iraq which we knew represented a terrible threat in the long run.
If we'd crushed them just for speaking against us, we would have been revealed as hypocrites, and the people of Iraq would not have come to support the process. By leaving them alone, they represented a danger but our tolerance also convinced other Iraqis we really meant what we said, and ultimately that was more important.
Now, however, we now have been given the opportunity to take the worst of them out without damaging broader Iraqi confidence in our commitment to freedom. We have proved that we will tolerate peaceful dissent, but we never promised we'd tolerate armed rebellion.
The thing to keep in mind is that these people are not the ones we believed would be happy and productive citizens of the new, democratic Iraqi society. al-Sadr has been causing trouble since the beginning, agitating for an Islamic republic. The ones in Fallujah, assuming they're Baathist holdovers, are the ones saying that they want Saddam back. As long as they were just talking, there wasn't a whole lot we could do without being hypocritical in our advocacy for free expression. Even when they advocated violence, there were limits to what we could do about them, and nothing we could do about their followers. An armed rebellion is different, however. Now they're out in the open, exposed, and they can be arrested, charged, and sentenced if they surrender. That or commit suicide by US Marine.
It will be spun very negatively in the press and by the Democratic leadership. However, I think it will be all over in a month (maybe as little as a week), and Iraq will be better off when these very dangerous people are gone.
New Post: It's been almost a week. What's the progress? See above.