Admittedly, Fallujah is a "Darned if you do, darned if you don't" problem for U.S. forces. If the Marines rout the thugs and dead-enders who are holed up in the city's sacred shrines and civilian neighborhoods, the "collateral damage" could generate more uprisings in Iraq, stir anger throughout the Arab world and increase the resistance and recruitment of terrorists.
On the other hand, not moving in to take control of Fallujah could be seen by the terrorists as a sign of weakness by the "occupying" forces. The U.S. military had been warning for a week that if the terrorists didn't honor the cease-fire and surrender their weapons, the Marines would use whatever force necessary to take control of the city.
Well, the terrorists have not turned over their arms. Indeed, they seem to have used the extra time to fortify their strongholds and strengthen their resistance. In short, they've called the U.S. military's bluff. And the military has, instead of following through on its threat, folded its hand.
The decision is to have the Marines conduct joint patrols with the U.S.-trained Iraqi forces around the perimeters of the city. There'll be no attack. Maybe sealing the city off will eventually starve the terrorists into submission - but the U.S. backdown is just as likely to be seen as a sign of weakness and generate more resistance around the country.
Moreover, empty threats undermine credibility. Why should they believe our next warning?
What's particularly troubling about the U.S. decision not to attack is that it wasn't made in the field by commanders, but in the White House by President Bush. Vietnam went off track when politicians started making military decisions. Let's not make that mistake again.