What would Nick do?
It's kind of a shame to start this blog entry on such a dour note, but the times call for what they do. An al-Qaeda leader beheads an American in purported retaliation for our prison abuses in Abu Ghraib.
Some points to make: first, this is an exercise in murderous propaganda. They did not kill this man because they saw the pictures; they killed him because they are terrorists. They did kill him in the particular fashion and with that particular message because they do know how we operate in the West.
Some people will actually take this statement and treat it as though it has some moral seriousness; they actually do think we Americans deserve this kind of abuse. Others will point to it and say "See! We told you this would make them really mad!" Never mind that Abu Ghraib did not create their murderous natures, only gave them a pretext to do what they desired.
The problem is that a significant element of American society wishes to be loved by the world. Instead of facing reality, they prefer to gaze into a mirror, interpreting everything that happens just as they would a facial blemish that will ruin them for the next high school dance or society party. Their fate, consequently, is in the hands of those from whom they desire adoration, and their statements must be evaluated in that light.
The enemy we fight, however, must fear us. Fear is under our control; a devastating response to the murderers of this young American encourages our enemies not to do that sort of thing anymore. As a tactical matter, we can continue to wring our hands over the abuses at the prison, or we can very publicly and very sincerely condemn and punish the instigators while subtly reminding our opponents that falling into our hands is not a desirable fate. Of the two options, which would Niccolo Machiavelli counsel?