Inkwell’s two must-reads today are William Safire’s “The Cruelest Month” column in the New York Times and military historian Victor Davis Hanson’s Wall Street Journal piece on the repercussions of the events at Abu Ghraib prison.

More optimistic than I am after the cruelest month (don’t you love the way we pick up one phrase and work it to death — “cruelest month” is this month’s “boots on the ground”), Safire believes that the worst may be behind us.

Safire does take note of the US’s troubling decision to put one of Saddam’s former generals in charge in Falluja. Jubilant insurgents declared victory.

“We can hope that any such gamble with unvetted Baathists does not mean we have stopped fighting to win and started fighting not to lose.”

No kidding. The Falluja deal is the first time I’ve been moved to worry about a Vietnam analogy.

“The new certainty of ultimate coalition troop withdrawal should also concentrate the minds of those Iraqis who until now have been all too content to allow the outside world to bear the human and financial costs of overthrowing Saddam,” writes Safire.

“The great majority of Iraqis are glad that Saddam is overthrown,” Safire concludes. “We and the UN are giving them democracy’s moment, but courageous Iraqis must come forward and seize it. Next April’s goal must is not ’stability,’ the new soft word for the old hard tyranny. The goal — theirs and ours — remains Iraqi freedom.”

Let’s hope Safire’s optimism is not misplaced. Let’s hope that courageous Iraqis, and not just Baathist generals, will be alert to opportunity.

With regard to the humiliation and possible abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers, Victor Davis Hanson writes, “We must insist on a higher standard of human behavior than embraced by either Saddam Hussein or his various fascist and Islamicist successors….[I]t won’t do for us to just point to our enemies and shrug, ’They do it all the time.'”

While not minimizing the alleged crimes, Hanson does ask us to get a grip.

He notes that the investigations are not complete and that a report in the New Yorker magazine is not yet proof of “torture, either systematic, brutal or habitual.” These alleged actions have been condemned by everyone from the president on down, and, yet, while never condoning them, we must keep them in historical perspective. They are not as grave as, say, the machine gunning of civilians at No Gun Ri in Korea or My Lai in Vietnam.

Hanson notes that US soldiers are “rightly” held to higher standards, but that doesn’t mean we should not be cognizant of the Arab world’s double standard:

“The Arab world — where mass-murdering Osama bin Laden is often canonized — is shocked by a pyramid of nude bodies and faux-electric prods, but it has so far expressed less collective outrage in its media when charred corpses of four Americans were poked and dismembered by cheering crowds in Fallujah. The taped murder of Daniel Pearle or a video of the hooded Italian who had his brains blown out — this is the daily fare that emanates now from the television studios of the Middle East.”

But is there an aspect of Abu Ghraid we aren’t yet discussing?

A friend of mine suggests that some of the real reason for the intensensity rage of the Arab world — it’s the women. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski was in charge and the now-infamous soldier presiding over a pyramid of nude males (with an insultingly dangling cigarette) was also a woman.

This makes sense when you consider that the response has focused on the shame and the humiliation rather than the (apparently minimal) physical aspects of the suffering.

Is this the elephant in the room? Just asking.