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Giving up long held American rights, attempting to copy the worst elements of repressive regimes like the Argentine and the Soviet, are not the way to victory in the “war on terror.” These attempts to discover how low we can go in our own behavior are counterproductive. The America whose ideas have become common across the world was a concept of idealism and possibility. People never turned to the ideals of America because of their similarity to totalitarian regimes and monarchies but because they were different.
We win wars of ideas by having better ideas. The Bill of Rights and Habeas Corpus are persuasive ideas. Disappearing our enemies and holding them indefinitely without charges are the cowardly acts of frightened dictators and incompetent despots.
The great ideas that have made America a light to the world require courage, support and sacrifice. They are not cheap or easy.
But having such ideas is how societies win long term conflicts because having such ideas means that a people willing to hold on to its ideals even when threatened with destruction is a worthy people who live for more than just themselves.
“As it turns out, our enemies’ greatest weakness is that they are bereft of ideals,” he added. “If we can maintain our ideals, our sense of justice, in the face of this, we can win. What the enemy, what the terrorists want to do — because they know they can’t beat us militarily — [is] they can try to change us. They can cause us to become more like them, and for them, that’s victory.”
The reason why, he argues, is that if the United States cannot portray itself as the holder of loftier ideals, then it is much harder to convince the rest of the world to stay on its side — and it’s harder to fight wars because even allies are less cooperative.
“Who’s going to surrender to the United Sates if they think they’re going to be detained indefinitely without a trial? Is anybody going to give up?” he asked. “Who’s going to say, ‘You know, maybe the United States isn’t as bad as we think it is, and maybe it’s al Qaeda and the Taliban who are the bad guys, and I’m going to side with the good guys?’”