Saturday, June 10, 2006

More Questions about Zarqawi

In a comment here, there are several questions about Zarqawi's death and the reaction it provoked (or, perhaps, failed to provoke). The first question is, what difference does it make whether Zarqawi was al-Qaeda or not?

Here's what difference it makes: The United States entered the war in Iraq under false pretenses. (To call it an "intelligence failure"--as some persist in doing--is to ignore inconvenient facts just as the Bush administration did when the choice for war was made.) One of the falsehoods was that the U.S. would be fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. In fact, soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (and in large measure as a result of operations there), al-Qaeda became something quite different than it had been prior to 9/11. Most experts believe that al-Qaeda became more significant as an idea--an inspiration of sorts for jihadists--than as an organization. (See this September 2004 post.) It spawned imitators and, under the pressure of American military operations against it, it metastasized. It would have been more honest of the Bush administration in 2002 and 2003 to have said that, thanks to American successes in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda no longer exists as the kind of threat it once was. To have said that, however, would have been to abandon one of the secondary rationales for the war in Iraq. (The WMD threat was always primary.) It also would have necessitated more candor about the real nature of global terrorism in the post-9/11 world. It is not, after all, very comforting to think that our successes against al-Qaeda may have made the threat of global terrorism more amorphous and, consequently, more difficult to address.

So what difference does it make? Quite a lot if the truth matters where the war in Iraq is concerned. Supporters of the Bush administration (and the administration itself, of course) needed to call Zarqawi a high-level al-Qaeda operative in order to promote the fiction that the United States went into Iraq to fight al-Qaeda. Supporters of Zarqawi (and Zarqawi himself) needed to adopt the al-Qaeda brand in order to inflate their own importance. The evidence we have available indicates that Zarqawi called his organization "Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" because he was inspired by bin Laden's organization, not because he was part of it. Zarqawi was a knockoff, like a "Rolex" watch manufactured in China.

The second and third questions are these: "Why is it that those who oppose the war reflexively downplay any news of progress? Can't you oppose the war and also admit when there is progress and be glad for it?"

Just as bad things can happen in a just war, good things can happen in an unjust war. It is a good thing that Zarqawi is gone, just as it is a good thing that Saddam Hussein sits in prison. It is a good thing that the U.S. transferred sovereignty to the Iraqis, that the Iraqis have had elections with widespread participation, and that a government has been installed. (This is not presented as an exhaustive list of good things that have happened in Iraq, of course.) Those of us who oppose the war are very much aware of the successes that have occurred along the way. Every opponent of the war whom I have talked to or whose views I have read hopes that, in spite of the problems with the war, Iraq will become peaceful and democratic, that is, that this enterprise, however misbegotten, will succeed. Having said that, there are a wide variety of views (even among those who initially supported the war) regarding what the United States should do now. Those who support an immediate withdrawal have concluded that withdrawal is simply the lesser evil. One can certainly disagree with this prescription, but one cannot honestly conclude that those who support withdrawal are hoping for failure.

It is a good thing that Zarqawi will never again plot, propagandize, or kill. But does his death represent a turning point in the war? Not even the Bush administration is making that claim this time around.

If I, like many other opponents of this war, fail to express much gladness over Zarqawi's death, it may be due to a certain skepticism regarding the ultimate significance of the event. That skepticism, sadly, is a consequence of paying attention to what the Bush administration has said all along about Iraq. (Remember "Mission Accomplished"?)

In The City of God, Augustine argued that peace "is the purpose of waging war. . . . What, then, men want in war is that it should end in peace." Killing a terrorist such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a war may be a necessary evil, but it is an evil nonetheless. (See On Killing by Dave Grossman for some understanding of what killing does to the one who kills.) The only thing any of us should be glad about in war is the peace that ends it.