If such standoffs are the real alternatives to forceful suppression of the insurgents, then it is feckless to object to such suppression because the insurgents hope to draw America into violence that will alienate the population. The population may detest an America that fights its way to control of cities, but the population will have contempt for an America that is unable or, worse, able but unwilling to wrest cities from insurgents.
Patrick J. McDonnell and Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times report from Fallujah that some Marines criticize the tactics of the 82nd Airborne, which recently turned responsibility for the city over to the Marines: ``From the Marines' standpoint, the paratroopers left Fallujah to the insurgents, carrying out a containment strategy and allowing enemy forces to fester and grow.''
The 82nd tried to avoid a provocative presence, concentrating on targeted raids based on intelligence. Approximately 1,000 houses were searched, hundreds of suspects were arrested and many senior aides to Saddam Hussein were killed or arrested. McDonnell and Perry say the 82nd's tactics ``left a core insurgent element in Fallujah'' but ``also resulted in fewer casualties, both civilian and military.'' The 82nd lost only one paratrooper in its six months in the city, which ``while always restive, never deteriorated into open revolt.''
Marines, report McDonnell and Perry, say ``the veneer of relative calm was deceptive. The city has served as a `center of gravity' for insurgent activity throughout western and central Iraq."
All this will be studied by the services for years to come. Meanwhile, military commanders in Iraq face agonizing choices entailed by those antiseptic political locutions ``regime change" and ``nation building." The commander in chief seems not to fathom the depth of the difficulties when he describes the insurgent cleric Moqtada Sadr as a person who will not ``allow democracy to flourish." ``Allow"? If some bad people would just behave, democracy would sprout like tulips?
At a memorial service this week for Daniel J. Boorstin, the great historian who was Librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987, and who died recently at 89, a eulogist recalled Boorstin's belief that history is ``a cautionary science." It is, but only if you know some. Those who do, will not send Frisbees to combat zones.