Lest we forget:
On four levels, Zarqawi’s death has global ramifications.
The first and most basic stems from the command position he enjoyed. While the leaders of al-Qaeda like to dispatch suicide bombers, they themselves are not inclined to suicide. Their larger strategy in launching terrorist attacks on everything from police stations to mosques to wedding parties is to destroy the bonds of trust on which decent societies depend, erode the will to fight back, and clear the way for a takeover of power. Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issue bloodthirsty messages from their hideaways, but they have not offered themselves up for the kind of sacrifices they require of their followers. It is the capture or killing of such terrorist kingpins – and Zarqawi was one – that serves as the real disruption and deterrent.
Second, Zarqawi was found with the help of Iraqis, some of whom have been dancing in the streets to celebrate his death. In Iraq, that is a sign not only of opposition to terrorists, but of the courage to stand up and defy them. It is of a piece with the decisions of millions of Iraqis over the last two years to turn out, despite death threats, to vote. They are telling each other, and the world, that they are willing to take large risks to build a decent, free society.
Third, in raids that accompanied the strike on Zarqawi, U.S. and Iraqi forces have acquired what White House spokesman Tony Snow has described as a “treasure trove” of intelligence. The cars, explosives, guns, ammunition and safe houses required for al-Qaeda’s murderous operations turn up courtesy of a network that points to other nodes. That may not immediately stop other operations already in place, but it can have a big effect down the road, leading to other top figures in the command.
Finally, this is an excellent moment to step back and look at just how far in this war we have come. Five years ago, al-Qaeda’s commanders, from their safe haven in Afghanistan, were training thousands of terrorists and planning the Sept. 11 strike on a sleeping America. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein ruled by terror, with a record of exporting brutality and war from Baghdad at any opportunity to wherever he could reach – invading his neighbors, rewarding Palestinian suicide bombers, and openly rejoicing over Sept. 11.
Read the rest of Claudia Rosett’s excellent piece.