Falluja and the Propaganda War
A commenter asks if I really believe that Juan Cole is wrong when he says "the razing of Fallujah is precisely the sort of action that may provoke an al-Qaeda response and will in any case aid in al-Qaeda's ability to recruit angry young Muslims."
Well, I can hardly claim to be sure, but I really think there's a good chance that Cole is wrong. As far as the fight against terrorism goes, it seems to me that razing Falluja is actually killing some Al-Qaeda fighters or their equivalents (something we haven't done a lot of in Iraq), and if we win, our victory will probably demoralize Al-Qaeda. That's the upside.
Balanced against that is the possibility that we lose, and Falluja falls back under the control of the insurgents in a few months. But that wouldn't be a big change: Iraq would remain a quagmire, just as it is already. So I don't think it would be a big boost to Al-Qaeda's morale.
Do civilian casualties outweigh these factors? I doubt it, because civilian casualties in Iraq are nothing new. I doubt that killing a few more civilians, or even a few thousand more, is going to anger anybody who isn't already plenty outraged by the previous tens of thousands we've killed.