By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
IT’S HARD TO CONDONE CELEBRATING any man’s violent death, but in the case of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, I’ll make an exception. Although recent videos cast this thug in a clownish light — struggling with his machine gun, wearing black to disguise his paunch just like Steven Seagal — Zarqawi was actually an unholy cross of jihadist and psychopath. He got off on killing; the virgins were just a bonus. Whether you were an infidel or a Muslim, for or against the invasion, he would have cheerfully lopped off your head and praised Allah if somebody blew your kids sky high.
Even American officers mythologized Zarqawi — they whispered about “the Z word” like Hogwarts students talking about He Who Must Not Be Named. And why not? His ruthlessness didn’t merely terrorize ordinary Iraqis — who, in interviews, routinely termed him a “monster” — but even spooked the leadership of al Qaeda, who clearly saw him as some sort of Islamicist Joe Pesci, the crazy-ass motherfucker who’d blow up a mosque full of civilians and never think twice about the larger consequences. Despite Zarqawi’s evident charisma and skills as a micromanager of murder, I’m sure Osama de Niro is happy that this mean bastard is toast.
As with most good news from Iraq, you couldn’t be quite sure what Zarqawi’s death meant. If the occupation has taught us anything, it’s that you can run through a whole lot of headline-grabbing “breakthroughs” (Saddam’s capture, the taking of Fallujah, the purple-fingered election) without ever getting any closer to a genuine turning point. So it was hardly surprising that the American left wasn’t exactly bowled over by newscasts showing photos of Zarqawi on his slab. Wasn’t this just another summer rerun?
This blasé attitude did occasionally fall into self-parody, as when the anti-war Internet news service Truthout sent out a roundup of its top stories with the laughable teaser: “Marjorie Cohn on the legality of the Iraq war and U.S. Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada’s refusal to deploy; Zarqawi killed . . .” If only he’d blown up an abortion clinic, his death might have been the lead.
For the most part, though, the left’s response took the not-unreasonable form of a big “Yes, but”: Yes, Zarqawi was a dangerous killer, and yes, it’s good that he’s gone. But his disappearance won’t stop the insurgency or the low-grade civil war, and anyway, the White House deliberately passed up chances to wipe him out in northern Iraq back in 2002 lest it dilute the case for war.
Such ideas “enraged” professional frothers like Rush Limbaugh, who had recently suggested that Zarqawi’s speeches could’ve been written by Howard Dean or Al Gore. (How true. I think fondly of Al’s taped message that called for the beheading of Ralph Nader.) My favorite outburst came from the pseudo-intellectual Limbaugh, William Bennett, who chastised his CNN colleague Christiane Amanpour for calling Zarqawi’s death “important” but noting that officials claimed it was too early to declare the insurgency finished. Dubbing her “Aman-bleakness” — a joke so tin-eared it made you respect the Wildean flair of “feminazi” — he accused her of trying to “get bad news” out of the killing.
Of course, the great joke here is that, far from flashing her unpatriotic liberalism like a “Dean for President” garter belt, Amanpour was faithfully echoing the White House line. Ever since George W. Bush’s mea partly culpa with Tony Blair last month, his polls-battered administration has changed tack, scuttling its clueless triumphalism and conceding that the struggle for Iraq was still going to be tough. “Mission Accomplished” has turned into a cautious “Yes, but.” Announcing Zarqawi’s death, the once-jaunty Rummy maundered oh-so-softly, like a man announcing his own senility.
As for the president, I don’t know whether Bush sincerely believes he’s made a hash of things — who among us can plumb this man’s shallow depths? — but we shouldn’t deride him now for uttering the reality-based words we’ve excoriated him for not saying earlier. Perhaps he really has made a small personal breakthrough. (I’m well aware that die-hards won’t be truly satisfied until Bush renounces his God, packs Cheney off to Gitmo and loads his iPod with the complete recordings of Pet Shop Boys.)
Despite the president’s sober new tone, Zarqawi’s death became yet another occasion for some neocons to “revisit the case” for the invasion. Flashing his catfish grin on the Web site of The Weekly Standard, editor William Kristol asked, “Would we be safer if [Zarqawi] were living there, under Saddam’s protection, securely planning attacks around the world and working on his chemical- and biological-weapons projects?”
A good question, Bill. Now, can I throw you a couple? Would we be safer if Bush had let the military take out Zarqawi back in 2002? And if we really wanted to be safe, was it smart to spend hundreds of billions of dollars, sap our armed forces, cause tens of thousands of deaths (most of them civilian) and alienate the whole world in order to topple a tyrant, tenuously tied to al Qaeda, who had no power to hurt us? Just asking.