You cannot have law and order in any country where armed bands of competing militias can terrorize the population. Instead of confronting these militias at the outset with an ultimatum to disarm or be killed, we let the Iraqi government veto what our military forces could do, leaving Shi'ite militias intact in Baghdad's "Sadr City" neighborhood and elsewhere.
Having pushed the "democracy" vision for Iraq, we could not simply disregard the country's elected government. But democracy arose in western civilization centuries after law and order had been established. We tried to do it in the reverse order in Iraq.
When push comes to shove, people will support tyranny rather than suffer lethal chaos that makes normal everyday life impossible for themselves and their children.
The success or failure of the troop surge in Iraq may depend far more on whether those troops can again be hamstrung by politically restrictive "rules of engagement" than on how many troops there are.
The Maliki government is politically dependent on one of the very Baghdad militias that needs to be disarmed. We can pressure and warn Maliki all we want, but his real choice will be whether he can survive -- either politically or personally -- without militia support.
Our choice may become whether we are prepared to sacrifice more American lives in order to prop up the Maliki government or whether we are prepared to sacrifice the Maliki government in order to restore law and order in Iraq.
That government is a product of our "nation-building" under the banner of a "democracy" for which Iraq may not have been ready.