One of the more perceptive folks whom I have known in my limited experience in online politics, Ian Welsh has a unique perspective on Zarqawi’s death and current trends in the mideast in general:
All of this is very good news for the West – drying up bin Laden’s money didn’t exactly stop the idea of al-Q’aeda but it did transmute it into a much less virulent form by reducing bin Laden’s ability to enforce the ideology of al-Q’aeda due to his dependence on men like Omar who are provincial fanatics.
From this perspective the death of Zarqawi is not necessarily particularly bad news to al-Q’aeda. It will depend, greatly, on whether the new Iraq leader of al-Q’aeda is less of a fool than Zarqawi and is able to bring people into al-Q’aeda rather than forcing people out.
As they say, read the whole thing. I hope that he is right because for my money America faces worse odds fighting a charismatic pan-Arabist strategist like bin Laden than we do fighting small minded street toughs like Zarqawi, for whom chasing arbitrary sectarian disputes is as important or more important than challenging the West. Zarqawi’s fingerprints are all over the now-infamous Khalidazid memo, originally leaked to the Washington Post:
This cable outlines, the Post reported Sunday, “the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees’ constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government.”
It’s actually far worse than that, as the details published below indicate, which include references to abductions, threats to women’s rights, and “ethnic cleansing.”
[…] As a footnote in one of the 23 sections, the embassy relates, “An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militiast are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq.”
For the innocent Iraqis who have had to make the dangerous trip to collect fallen relatives at the local morgue Zarqawi’s death could not come soon enough. Americans have to wonder, however, whether this new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, abu Hamza al-Muhajer, will focus his bloody attention as much on fellow muslims as his late predecessor. Do we hope yes, or no? If yes then we go on being the equivalent of the Compton PD – undermanned and grateful that at least they’re mostly killing each other. If no then al Qaeda will have nowhere else to send their piles of loose munitions and faith-hardened volunteers except against us.
I would love it if there was some third way out of this unpleasant Sophie’s Choice. Hey, maybe we can just keep dropping laser-guided antipersonnel rottweilers on every #1 and #2 that comes up. Everything will get rosy again, right? Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Israel keeps vaporizing #1 and #2 terrorist masterminds and the LAPD keeps on putting away the heads of this or that gang, and yet missiles keep raining down and gangs go on thriving. Some problems don’t end like a cheap Hollywood actioner where the chief bad guy loses a fight at the edge of a chasm, plunges into space and rights every wrong with the unambiguous finality of his death. On this side of the movie screen some ambitious sous-chef will always step in to fill the void. We’ve seen this movie before. In lieu of any other strategy I think that we should seriously ask whether, at least in part by our own doing, our continued presence in Iraq does more harm than good.
Let me expand, briefly. Iraq’s al Qaeda gets its funding over and above bin Laden’s dwindling share, iirc, because of the confluence of holy sites and the infidel army. Images of US violence in the muslim holy land work just like the terrifying specter of president Hillary when it comes to bringing in the cash. If you take away the US presence then AQ has to find some other bugbear to demonize and something tells me that a Sunni-Shiite-Kurdish coalition government just doesn’t have the same bite. Will a diminished al Qaeda end the sectarian forces that already threaten to pull Iraq apart? No, it won’t. But neither will we.