Candide’s Notebooks/June 8, 2006
We can’t exactly have it both ways. Either Zarqawi was a bumbling idiot, as the Pentagon tried to portray him in a video last month, or he’s the most wanted, most dangerous man in Iraq, as the White House’s tired version of Iraq as a wild-west Mideastern show has had it. His killing should bring a moment’s relief. The world always feels lighter when rid of a blob of barbarism. But the White House is playing up his killing by doing the equivalent of a street-dance: a 745-word Rose Garden address by President Bush that continues to miss the point: “Zarqawi’s death is a severe blow to al Qaeda.” Maybe so. But al-Qaeda isn’t the point in Iraq, or much of anywhere at the moment. We zero in on one man, we lose a country: Somalia is now a Taliban-like caliphate that the United States helped bring about. (I also wonder, with Victorino, “if the Bush administration is doing everything it can to best ensure OBL’s victory.”) Afghanistan is inching its way back to pre-2001 conditions. Iraq’s war isn’t nearly over: Zarqawi had already been marginalized ever since his terrorist bombing of a hotel in Jordan last year, while the Iraqi prime minister continues his show of puppeteering figureheads in one ministry or another while bodies pile up in the nation’s morgues. The nabbing of Saddam had supposedly been a blow to the insurgency. Same with the paraded killing of his two sons, and now the killing of Zarqawi. But the war in Iraq and within Islam is a bit more blobby than any one man’s beard, or even the shadows it casts.