I don't know of anyone who's thinking much further ahead than Wretchard at The Belmont Club. In the latest of a series of posts in which he's been reading between the lines and into the silences, attending to the broad correlation of economic, political, and military forces, and recalling historical precedents of much more direct relevance than the more frequently invoked Vietnam and World War II, he argues that the fight against the Iraqi insurgents has for all intents and purposes already been won - that the Sunni resistance reached its critical point of futility some time ago. In his view, the psychological futility point may still be a ways off, but the only thing that the Sunnis currently achieve by fighting is to dig themselves more deeply into the mass grave of their former privileges:
By destroying infrastructure in the Baghdad area, retarding their own reconstruction and generally raising hell, the Sunnis are ironically assuring the permanence of the Kurdish and Shi'ite ascendancy in Iraq. They are resource poor, in the minority and worst of all, clueless. In hankering after lost glories, they are cutting themselves out of the loop, out of power and out of the future. But the psychological futility point will be reached only much later, almost imperceptibly, when the Sunnis are jolted into reality by a signal event[...] long after their army has lost the field. Then it will hit with a vengeance.
Better late than never, but better earlier than later: If these communities struck on their own against the insurgents, perhaps if the former merely did a better job of isolating the latter and withdrawing support, the world and their fellow Iraqis might still welcome them back like so many prodigal delinquents, but it's also possible that, to paraphrase Golda Meir, we may soon find it easier to forgive them for what they've done to us than for what they will have made us do to them.
The US response to the recent downing of helicopters and other provocations is said to focus on "precision raids," but it has also already included a major 4th Infantry Division operation, dubbed Ivy Cyclone, that for the first time since major combat concluded has deployed air support from fighter-bombers. In the expectation of such escalation, and more, David Warren (whose views on all matters seem to have become more pessimistic since his conversion from Anglican to Catholic) takes the hard line:
In practice, [the only remaining option] means dramatically increasing the cost of harbouring Saddamite and Islamist terrorists, or of espousing their cause. It means reversing the policy of treating the inhabitants of such towns as Fallujah and Tikrit, and such neighbourhoods as Saddam Hussein once favoured in Baghdad, as "innocent bystanders". Many have sided with the enemy, and the rest are intimidated into doing so. To change this situation, the power of intimidation must be reversed. The U.S. must show that it would rather sacrifice Fallujah and Tikrit, than sacrifice all of Iraq.
This prospect carries with it what Warren sees as the last remaining threat to the mission:
Yet my biggest doubt about American resolve, over the longer term, is not whether they have the stomach to absorb U.S. casualties, but rather the stomach to do the horrific things necessary to win. They lost Vietnam, after all, from their refusal to utterly destroy the enemy.
Is there any purpose in trying to communicate these themes to the residents of Tikrit and Fallujah in so many words, or can only missiles and bullets speak clearly enough? In either case, we may yet save ourselves and our enemy from the worst. If Wretchard is correct, then perhaps it's now only a matter of finally reaching the losers, like the British at the Battle of New Orleans, with the news that their war is over.