June 9 (Bloomberg) — One day after the news of the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death, the spin is already well developed.
Sure the Pentagon may have had a success, and it may be posting the word "DEAD" in big red letters beside Zarqawi's picture. But now comes the hard part. And the U.S. will not follow through. The world will therefore endure inevitable, inexorable failure in the Middle East.
This of course is the view of al-Qaeda leaders, who welcomed the "joyous news" of Zarqawi's martyrdom. But the attitude is also common in the U.S. One of its more eloquent spokesman is Michael Berg, the father of Nicholas Berg, the man Zarqawi personally beheaded in 2004. Berg is quoted on CNN's Web site regretting the violence used to kill Zarqawi. "It's an endless cycle," he says. "As long as people use violence to combat violence we will always have violence."
But in fact the Zarqawi death is more than symbolic. The hours in which the details of the vanquishing of Osama bin Laden's man are being absorbed offer a good time to rethink the conflict there, both past and future.
Following the American occupation in 2003, many people believed that Iraq might have a chance at becoming a stable civil society — President George W. Bush was not alone there. But the terrorism that followed darkened the land, especially the terrorism of Zarqawi, "an entrepreneur in the killing of civilians," in the words of New York University law professor Noah Feldman.
Zarqawi, Feldman says, set up a dynamic, "where it became okay for Sunnis to kill Shia, and, therefore, eventually, for Shia to kill Sunnis." Zarqawi's death, Feldman says, won't stop that dynamic, for "the technique lives on." Feldman says the answer is to show Iraqis that the U.S. and the allies will stay there to suppress that technique. "I would send 100,000 more troops."
Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations e-mailed me a recommendation similar to Feldman's: "we need more troops to secure Baghdad at a minimum." Many of the insurgents, he points out, don't follow Zarqawi, but are rather "militias on all sides and sheer criminals." Boot points to an alarming blog out of Baghdad, messopotamian.blogspot.com, which warns that the capital will be paralyzed unless more troops move in.
These experts are correct about the need for more troops. It was catastrophic that the U.S. didn't deploy more soldiers at the outset. The Pentagon argument that a U.S. deployment with a "light footprint" in Iraq would be loved better by the citizens than a heavy force proved wrong. And now Italy's 2,600 troops will be leaving at the end of the year. Britain wants to leave too.
So Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld errs when he discusses, as he recently did in Singapore, the possibility of an exit. It doesn't help when he says that "we don't intend to occupy that country for any period of time" — even if he is merely trying to fend off critics who want to portray the U.S. as a brutal occupier.
The part of the general reaction that seems off base is dismissing the importance of the Zarqawi death. For in fact, what happens to individual leaders does matter. Many Muslims in the Middle East believe that terrorism is the only way to interact with the West. But many more are only waiting for a signal that the beheaders will not be tolerated.
We can't underestimate the appeal to some of the Zarqawi message, including to those who were arrested in Canada recently. They apparently planned their own beheading, of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The problem at issue is partly one of vocabulary. As soon as you make the enemy anonymous, rather than attaching a name, you begin to detach from the story. When you talk about a cycle of violence, you are throwing up your hands, giving up on sorting out the moral components of the struggle.
A second conclusion here is not one many will like. It is that both the Bush administration and the Blair government probably need to go to their own legislatures and ask for more soldiers. The leaders may view doing so as impossible. But big troop requests are "impossible" only politically, because doing so would make these politicians look inconsistent. So what? Given the terms of this war, more troops are needed.
My own guess is that it may turn out that Democrats, either in Congress or from the White House, will eventually be the ones to seek greater numbers of soldiers for Iraq. After all, Democrats were, historically, the party that sends troops into battle. They are also, though they don't often acknowledge it, the nation builders.
Iraq is not about Republicans or Democrats, or even the prospects of the Labor Party. Everyone longs for closure on Iraq. The only way to get that closure is to recognize villains as villains and Iraqis as individuals, and then to defend them, one by one.
(Amity Shlaes is a Bloomberg News columnist. The views expressed here are her own.)
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