Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Beacon No. 92: We Didn’t Create Him


As soon as the evening after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike, someone said to me at a party, “Well, didn’t we create him?” By the next morning, this notion had hardened into the accepted wisdom among left-ish commentators: The U.S. inflated the importance of an otherwise second-rate thug in order to have a concrete enemy to fight, to give a face to the faceless insurgency, and to create a needed linkage between Al-Qa’ida and the Iraq war.

The lapdog press, these same commentators said, went along with it. Zarqawi, they argued, wasn’t really that important and so what was the Bush administration crowing about?

I can understand where administration opponents would want to minimize any success in Iraq, but it’s silly to suggest “we made Zarqawi" in a way that minimizes his importance.

I could argue that the U.S. government didn’t vault Zarqawi to the top of his insurgent group, a doubtless bloody process. The U.S. media didn’t kidnap Americans in Iraq and produce videos of their beheadings, then thrust them into Zarqawi’s previously innocent hands. The State Department didn’t lobby Osama bin Laden to explicitly embrace Zarqawi as His Man in Mesopotamia.

But the simple answer to the Zarqawi-was-nothing argument is that no one was making this argument before Zarqawi was killed. Only after Zarqawi turned up dead did I read anyone suggesting he was unimportant. Until then it seemed more or less accepted by everyone that Zarqawi was important to both the Iraq insurgency and to al-Qa’ida’s stated goal of expelling Crusader-Zionist-whoevers from Muslim lands.

Zarqawi said he was the big man in Iraq; Osama bin Laden confirmed this, as did all the Iraqis killed because of the part of the insurgency Zarqawi led. And there’s nothing abnormal about the media extensively covering someone who makes news; killing people is news, and making videos showing someone killing people is doubly so.

It’s no contradiction to be relieved that Zarqawi was killed but see this purely as a success of the U.S. armed forces—without endorsing the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. If the U.S. says it is going after someone, then does that unrelentingly for years, then finally captures or kills him, that’s an important plus for the reputation a nation that is seen as fickle—even in the midst of a war whose mistakes make those of the British during the Revolutionary War and America during Vietnam (see Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly) look like models of efficiency.

People who press the Zarqawi-was-nothing argument do have one point: Parts of the press really were administration lapdogs, at least in hindsight. Note Time magazine’s quietly histrionic cover, which Michael Shaw discusses with some clarity at Huffington Post. Where was the red X over Stalin's portrait, or Pol Pot's? How about Mao, who instead got a beautiful painted portrait and a cover after he died?

If someone argues that the U.S. didn’t kill these butchers, whose body counts were at least two or three orders of magnitude greater than Zarqawi’s, I would respond that American forces didn’t kill Hitler either; he committed suicide.

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