The anticlimactic death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi sparks little more than the weary realization that we have now turned enough corners to come full circle. If the lunatic’s demise means anything, it likely means that Iraq’s foreign fighters will only refocus their lethal energy on U.S. troops -- per Osama’s original memo -- rather than methodically reducing that nation’s indigenous Shiite population.
The sectarian slaughterhouse will remain intact, however, with Zarqawi having accomplished his goal of igniting a civil war just a bit ahead of its inevitable cultural schedule. Now that the bloody marvel of ecumenical love and brotherhood is in full flower, external facilitators need no longer apply.
All of which means we’re right back where we started, which is to say, where reality-based analysts of yesteryear said we’d be if we were foolish enough to militarily insert ourselves in the roiling madhouse of religious and anti-Western hostilities that constitute the Middle East. Iraq’s civil war will widen, sectionalism will deepen, Iran’s influence will broaden and unprepared American infidels will once again line up in the principal crosshairs of radical Islamic purists.
Yet sadly typical of the West’s religious belief in inexorable progress -- ethereal progress forever on the march, given enough secular firepower -- many on this side of Allah’s Paradise see Zarqawi’s personal rapture as a watershed of hope. They hurried in working overtime in re-deluding themselves and potential acolytes into thinking that one psychopath’s assassination will somehow alter the course of centuries-old scattered resentment and 21st-century organized malevolence.
“[Zarqawi’s death is] a great loss for these jihadi networks,” said one hallucinatory counterterrorism expert under the spell of neocon Strategic Optimism. “I don’t think there is any person in Iraq able to control this network the way Zarqawi did. It’s very decentralized. He was the only person in Iraq who could provide the glue.
“By losing Zarqawi, they run the danger of losing Iraq as a battlefield to the nationalist insurgents and others who aren’t interested in bin Laden or the global jihad.”
Right. We’ll check back in a year or so to see how he’s creatively renewed that forecast.
Analysts somewhat more familiar with Islamic radicalism, however, such as analysts living in the geographical heart of Islamic radicalism, see things differently.
The Saudi National Security Assessment Project’s director, Nawaf Obaid, for instance, “said Zarqawi’s network had already been eclipsed in size and strength by other groups of foreign fighters in Iraq. He said units led by Egyptian, Saudi and Algerian commanders posed a much more serious military threat than al-Qaeda in Iraq, although much less is known about how their operations are organized. The strongest, he said, are North African groups in Iraq composed largely of veterans of the civil war in Algeria.
“‘They’re completely autonomous organizations,’ Obaid said in a telephone interview from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. ‘They’re more powerful than Zarqawi was and have more weaponry and money at their disposal. They all have their own networks, their own fundraising abilities and their own way of bringing in fighters.’”
Was this predictable? Of course it was. And predicted it was. For example in the neocons’ hacyon year of 2003 the London Observer’s Jason Burke insightfully wrote in his book Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, that bin Laden -- and one can now add the name Zarqawi -- was “merely a transient phase in the history of Islamic militancy.” His time “ha[d] passed” even then, with the lanky jihadist remaining influential in the Islamic world only in symbolic terms. Now Zarqawi’s influence will remain, and grow, in martyrdom terms.
The problem we face today goes “far beyond the deeds or words of one man or one small organization,” observed Burke. This deeper problem lies in a “broad-based, multivalent, diverse movement” of radical Islamic activism scattered across the globe, in “Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kashmir, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines” -- and, from our own doing, Iraq.
But fret not, worry not. A fresh face of evil personified will soon substitute for Zarqawi in Iraq, and then we can drop another 500-pound bomb on it and turn yet another corner on our drive to Progress.