Wars can be lost on the battlefield, but not completely won there. That's because war, as the Prussian military strategist Karl von Clausewitz wrote, "is the continuation of politics by other means." And politics is not naked force: political endeavors succeed or fail on their ideas and values. Wars can only be won when the peace is won -- in hearts and minds.
This truth does not give us occasion to cast all weaponry aside and commence a group hug to the strains of Kumbaya. It is not utopian dogma. But it does bear a positive import: good countries, just like good men and women, don't finish last. In the real world, they actually finish first.
American soldiers must not torture or humiliate foreign soldiers or civilians for two powerful reasons: first, it is wrong, and second, it produces disastrous results. It seems strange to have to say that.
How America behaves in the world does matter -- for us and for everyone else. Greatness measured merely in military might is not the greatness the American people seek. A strong military lacking in humanity is not the service that the bulk of our military men and women seek to be part of.
Reactions to Torture
The support for the war in public opinion polling is for the liberation of the people of Iraq, not for the interrogating and tormenting of the defenseless. This is precisely why President Bush's support is now eroding, even after it had held firm despite months of consistently negative news from Iraq. Americans cannot stomach these abuses -- to their credit.
Conservative commentators, including Rush Limbaugh, have been too quick to point out that these abuses, disgusting though they are, pale in comparison to the abuses of Saddam Hussein and of Al Qaeda. True enough. But what's the point?
There are no merit badges for light torture. To his credit, President Bush recognized this.
And I've been shocked to hear too many citizens actually defend this behavior. Some believe they are facing hard truths that others squeamishly refuse to face. We even hear that torture can be justified, if it gains authorities critical information that might save innocent lives. It is an interesting hypothetical question of ethics.