The Texas outlaw John Wesley Hardin once famously said that he never killed anyone who didn’t need killing. Hardin’s definition of who needed killing was considerably too liberal. But if there ever were anyone who unquestionably exhibited such a need, it was the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Iraq’s maestro of vileness and death.
Killing Zarqawi is the equivalent of averting a Haditha every other day in Iraq, indefinitely. Massacres weren’t exceptionally rare, once-every-few-decades lapses in the code of conduct of Zarqawi’s fighters–as they are for ours–they were a way of life. Zarqawi took the death cult that surrounds suicide bombing and pushed it to its hellish logical conclusion.
He made 1983’s horrific suicide bombing against the Marine barracks in Lebanon seem quaint. That attack was directed at U.S. personnel and had a goal that was at least understandable: chasing the U.S. from Lebanon. Zarqawi, in contrast, targeted women, children, and people attending wedding celebrations. For Zarqawi, most everyone in Iraq–but especially anyone from the Shiite majority–was a potential pool of blood and a few scattered shoes, with loved ones wailing in the background.
His tactical goal was more death. He wanted to provoke the Shiite into acts as cruel as his own, and unfortunately had achieved some success. The vengeful Shiite militia members plying the streets of Baghdad with their power tools to torture Sunni men before dumping their bodies in the street are Zarqawi’s progeny. He gleefully pointed to their murderous work as justification for even more killing by Sunnis, toward a full-scale civil war making Iraq a nation as Hieronymus Bosch painting, an Arab Rwanda choking on its own blood.
The word for this vision is “evil.” It has become fashionable, in light of the setbacks we’ve suffered in Iraq, to regret President Bush’s black-and-white, good-and-evil view of the world. In his new book, The Good Fight, writer Peter Beinart argues that one of the great strengths of liberal foreign policy is that it is unburdened by such simplistic reckonings. But sometimes the ledger is indeed quite simple–with Zarqawi’s demise, the sum total of evil in the world is now a little less.
Everyone professes to know this. But some know it more than others. Otherwise a major Democrat like John Kerry wouldn’t be advocating a full U.S. pullout from Iraq. Until Iraqi forces can carry the load, a pullout means abandoning the field to the likes of Zarqawi. If last week Kerry had been given a magic wand to wave and make all U.S. troops disappear from Iraq instantly, Zarqawi would almost certainly be alive right now. There would have been no one to send F-16s to drop two 500-pound bombs on his head.
Within hours of the news breaking of Zarqawi’s death, Rep. John Murtha was on CNN saying we should leave Iraq and let the Iraqis work out their civil war just the way we worked out ours. Of course, 600,000 died in our Civil War. And the Iraqis “working it out” would be accomplished with truck bombs and ethnic cleansing.
Humanitarian considerations aside, the stakes in Iraq are incalculably large. If many politicians in the U.S. have never realized this, Zarqawi always did. He knew the advent of decent government in the Arab world would be a blow to the ideology of terror, hence his ultimate strategic goal of forestalling it with mayhem and slaughter. We don’t know if we will prevail in Iraq, and there is argument over the means of doing it–should our tactics be harsher or softer?–but there’s is no doubt about how to lose: pull out prematurely. That’s why Kerry, Murtha, et al., are effectively advocates of defeat.
From beyond the grave, Zarqawi can only wish that the Democrats for a pullout had been able to affect their preferred policy already. Then this loathsome man who so needed killing would instead still be working his evil will.
— Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.
(c) 2006 King Features Syndicate