Written May 7, 2004
Published in my city's daily newspaper
The larger question raised by the Iraqi prison scandal is "What will we do now to win the war?" US military capability to defeat an opponent in battle is not in question. Instead, the issue now is winning the hearts and minds of Iraqi leaders and citizens for long enough to help them build a stable, constructive government--and the perceived "rightness" of our presence and continued involvement in Iraq is directly relevant to winning hearts and minds.
That perception of rightness has always been the weakest link in the war. Our claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and sponsorship of terrorism still have not been shown to be true, but we at least could rely on the fact that Saddam was a bad guy who ruled by force and fear. As the good guys, who govern with laws based on equality, due process, and securing the rights of the governed, we could still hope to be welcomed and respected as we try to help Iraq establish a new government. The prison scandal seriously undercuts that last hope.
The decision to go to war cannot be undone, but the US must still figure out how to win. Lawyers, judges, and Defense Department leaders will gradually rebuild the perception of rightness in how we run prisons, but that is not the same as improving our ability to be welcomed and respected in post-war political rebuilding. Only our national leadership can create that overall perception of rightness. Regardless of the outcome of this year's election, I hope our President is up to the task. I hope our senators, congressmen, religious leaders, news editors, and ordinary citizens make sure the President knows that it *is* the task.