Why Character Counts

On the opening page of his history of the Second World War, Winston Churchill inscribed this moral: “In War: Resolution; In Defeat: Defiance; In Victory: Magnanimity; In Peace: Good Will.” But in the opening hours of the War to Remove Saddam, the United States is demonstrating it possesses both the power and the moral vision to practice magnanimity and good will in the midst of war itself.

What has shocked and awed our enemies and would-be enemies, our friends and would-be friends, is not the brute force of our attacks, but their precision and restraint.

We struck at Saddam himself with laser guided bombs and cruise missiles. We reached out to bring under our protecting arm the most vulnerable anti-Saddam Shiite populations of southern Iraq. We solicited the orderly and bloodless surrender of any Iraqi units that decided not to die for a tyrannical regime. And we prepared to rush in massive quantities of food and medicine as well as financial aid to begin rebuilding the country we had only begun to invade.

These moves seem calculated to have maximum impact on the real targets of the war: the hearts and minds of Iraqis and other peoples of the Middle East.

Well Placed Trust

The Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz said war is politics by other means. In essence: it is to get a nation or a people to do at the point of a gun what you could not get them to do through persuasion. Saddam will be destroyed because he never could be persuaded. But the ultimate political aims of this war are to stop Iraqis and other Middle Eastern peoples from seeking to threaten the United States, and to teach potential terrorist recruits that there is a better destiny in store for them than signing up to kill Americans.

Bombs alone could never do this. But bombs in combination with the remarkable nobility of the American character displayed in the conduct of this war can.

President Bush knows precisely what he is doing. In his speech announcing that hostilities had begun, the President stressed the character of the American war effort and the character of the men and women who will carry it out. “To all the men and women of the United States Armed Forces now in the Middle East,” he said, “the peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you. That trust is well-placed.

“The enemies you confront will come to know your skill and bravery,” he said. “The people you liberate will witness the honorable and decent spirit of the American military.”

It took courage to confront Saddam’s threat. It took courage and faith to confront it precisely the way this President has. Now we see why character counts.