To properly fight an insurgency:
Neither side needs the love or loyalty of the population nearly as much as its cooperation. The insurgent must have nondenunciation so that he may carry on his war against the authority from the midst of the people. The counterinsurgent needs information, so that he may determine the nature, power and membership of the insurgency. Because a credible threat of sanction (death or torture, for example) frequently outweighs love or loyalty, the side that imposes stiff penalties for noncompliance will often win the cooperation of the people away from the side that inspires merely moral support for the merits of its cause. ...
More concisely, a noncombatant will cooperate with the side that punishes noncooperation with the greatest specificity. If one side punishes capriciously, most rational noncombatants will decide that they are better off cooperating with the other side. Why? Because the more capricious side -- lacking good intelligence about who is and is not cooperating -- may punish noncombatants whether or not they cooperate with the other side. The side that punishes accurately, on the other hand, will only punish genuine noncooperation. Therefore, the smart noncombatant cooperates with the side that neither punishes too many actual cooperators or fails to punish too many actual non-cooperators, because he reduces his risk of punishment by the side that punishes efficiently without altering his risk at the hand of the side that punishes capriciously. ...
Because perceptions are so important in counterinsurgency, capricious acts and the publicity of those acts can actually hurt the war effort. When supporters of the Coalition and the government of Iraq object to the widespread and one-sided publicity of purported American war crimes, it is not that we think, a priori, that these events should be covered up or that we care about the political fortunes of the Bush administration. Rather, it is because we know that anything that increases the perception of the counterinsurgency as capricious will actually hurt the war effort insofar as it motivates noncombatants to cooperate with the other side. Similarly, relatively muted publicity of enemy atrocities artificially dims the perception that al Qaeda kills capriciously and brutally. Both problems would diminish if the press, which has an enormous capacity to magnify perceptions, applied the same moral standard to both sides.
Tigerhawk's post is so full of insight it is hard to know where to begin. But here's a starting point. Counter-terrorist warfare is never won by merely by rising to a supreme height of moral magnificence. Sadly, war requires coercion in one form or another. But as Tigerhawk cogently argues, coercion cannot be applied indiscriminately. It is most effective when combined with a kind of justice because the smart noncombatant, can avoid arbitrary punishment by adhering to the rules of the just, or at least predictable party. The party governed by decency and law. But the real order of things can be misrepresented by lies. The consequence of habitually making wild accusations against the Coalition, such as were brought against the Haditha Marines; sensationalizing relatively events as torture, running the relatively few cases of actual torture for weeks on the front pages; sponsoring contests to concoct stories like tank drivers running over pet dogs and claiming that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed by aerial bombardment as "excess deaths" was to imprint the image of a mindless, brutal coalition on the Iraqi side. Thus the Leftist enablers of terror successfully portrayed the more just -- albeit imperfect side -- as being unpredictably coercive.
Only after the Iraqis discovered, by sad and bitter experience, what a crock of s..t this narrative was, by repeated atrocity at the brutal hands of al-Qaeda, did they understand they had it all wrong. It was the al-Qaeda which cut your face off with cheese wire; al-Qaeda which shot you for mixing tomatoes and cucumbers in the market bag; al-Qaeda which blew up any and every public assembly; al-Qaeda which routinely tortured innocents in slaughterhouses and had a manual to do it with; al-Qaeda which beheaded innocent children. Only after all the fake memes were repelled and was some semblance of the truth established; and only then did the tipping point start to come.
The bottom line is that in fighting bad hombres it pays to have a six gun, a white hat and to shoot straight. The problem is getting some of the papers to tell it that way.