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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

There's been a lot of ink spilled on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, and the damage done to the "hearts and minds" campaign. I have not seen any commentary dealing with what I consider to be by far the most important point.

The US is perfectly capable of imposing a military solution to the problems in Iraq. If we wanted to, we could turn Iraq, or indeed, the entire Middle East, into radioactive craters. That's one military solution. Not a good one. Not one that I advocate. But it is a solution. Short of reducing the region to its consituent atoms, however, we can also, with persistence, blood and money, impose a conventional military solution. And once that happens, political progress for the Iraqi people is possible. Prior to that time, political progress is much harder and therefore more likely to come in much smaller increments. Additionally, it prior to a military victory, most political progress will be designed to support a military victory, and therefore can be dismissed as American imperialism by our enemies.

The question in Iraq is not whether a military victory can be achieved, but whether it will be. The answer to that question lies in hearts and minds, but not in the hearts and minds of Arabs or Moslems in general, or even Iraqis. Sure, having the wholehearted support of the Iraqi populace would help. And having a significant fraction of that populace opposed to us would delay any victory. But it would not prevent it.

Frankly, I couldn't care less whether the average guy in Cairo or Amman supports us. They are powerless to stop us. Move that average guy to the streets of Baghdad and the answer changes somewhat. The average guy in Baghdad is powerless to stop us, but he can delay us and raise the cost of victory. So he matters, but he is not critical.

The hearts and minds of only one group is absolutely critical to this war: Americans. That, and that alone, is why the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was so damaging. The incidents gave those who oppose the war the opportunity to bombard the American people with images evoking Vietnam and My Lai, despite the near total absence of any historical correlation. Indeed, the very phrase "hearts and minds" comes from the Vietnam War. The PR offensive has had an effect. To see it, all you have to do is read Andrew Sullivan.

But, tactically speaking, our enemy has just snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the campaign for the hears and minds of Americans. They had a clear propaganda winner in Abu Ghraib. Then they immediately reduced that victory to ashes by their depraved beheading of Nicholas Berg. They enabled a side by side comparison of Americans to Islamist nutcases.

Americans: abuse consisted of (a) keeping naked prisoners in the dark, (b) posing prisoners for sexually suggestive photos, and (c) possible sexual acts (those haven't yet been established to my satisfaction, but they might well be). Response consisted of: Investigation, Identification of offenders, Prosecution.

Islamists: abuse consisted of the deliberate and horrifying public murder of a prisoner. Response consisted of: Boasting of and glorying in the deliberate and horrifying public murder of a prisoner.
The claim that Berg's murder was in retaliation for the abuse at Abu Ghraib is absurd for any number of reasons, including but not limited to the fact that the people making the claim are the same ones who murdered Daniel Pearl, not to mention three thousand Americans on 9/11. Anyone with a calendar can see that those acts were not related to any abuse by Americans of Iraqis. Our enemies don't need a reason to murder Americans. They're going to do it whether or not they have an excuse.

And, just as an aside, if the abuse of Iraqis is so important to al Qaeda, why weren't they beheading Saddam's minions for the far worse and far more widespread abuses committed by his regime over a far longer period? Is the abuse of Iraqis offensive to Islam only when committed by Americans?

A question for the people of the US: Who would you rather have in charge? It is in your power to win or lose the war. The consequences of a loss may not be felt here in your lifetime. But make no mistake, our children and grandchildren will pay the price of a defeat in Iraq.

We have to make a choice, and it must be made now. This choice is not of our making. It has been thrust upon us. We have to choose between them and us.

I vote for us.
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