Thursday, May 11, 2006

Beacon No. 86: Zarqawi al-Klutz


Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s a fearsome dude if you’re convinced he’s the all-powerful, shadowy leader of al-Qa’ida in Mesopotamia and one of Osama bin Laden’s top, if distant, lieutenants. He released a fairly fierce-looking video of himself a few weeks back, promising the usual colorfully varied deaths to the Crusader enemy, on and on world without end.

Powerful stuff, and a powerful recruiting tool—if you take him seriously.

In a brilliant bit of maneuvering, U.S. forces managed to not only seize outtakes of the Zarqawi video during a raid, they assembled the most embarrassing ones into a blooper reel. Rather than save it for the Pentagon holiday party, they released it to the media and you can view Zarqawi fumbling a hot machine gun, wearing white American-brand sneakers beneath his macho black “terrorist” garb, etc. from the BBC’s site here.
My colleague over at Eccentric Star wondered about the wisdom of showing Zarqawi as a bumbler:

I don't doubt that the outtakes provide a fun moment. But their release by the US sends an inherently contradictory message. How can Zarqawi be the most dangerous person in Iraq at the same time that he's a bumbling klutz?

The answer is that one message is intended for U.S. audiences—Zarqawi may be dangerous and manipulative, but he’s hardly all-powerful—while the other is intended for potential jihadis—Zarqawi’s a bit of a blowhard, just like people they know at home.

The blooper reel helps humanize someone who spends a lot of energy trying to appear as a sort of Ian Fleming evil mastermind—and yet can’t switch a machine gun to full auto without a flunky’s help.

I should note that Eccentric Star goes on to discuss other media reaction to the Zarqawi blooper reel, not all of it favorable—but I continue to think U.S. military propagandists were shrewd and remarkably quick on their feet in this case.

(Thanks to Eccentric Star for the BBC link, and to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.)

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