Zarqawi’s death welcome, but not end to war

The news of Zarqawi’s assassination is certainly welcome, even if the rumors are true that he was turned in by his own people. He was a terrorist in the true sense of the word (as opposed to the Bush administration’s version), and his end is justified.

That said, let’s not forget that the administration could have targeted the man before the Iraqi invasion, but declined to do so because Zarqawi’s death would have “undercut [the administration’s] case for war against Saddam.” And I agree with Yglesias that Zarqawi’s death won’t amount to much in ending the war:

Many less-trivial turns of events that provoked outbursts of optimism — Saddam's capture, the Iraqi elections — have proven to be wildly overblown, and it would be honestly moronic to make a big deal out of this…, which even the President seems to at least semi-recognize. We kill people associated with the insurgency in Iraq all the time, and have been doing so for years. The problem hasn't been an inability to accomplish this, it's been that killing insurgents doesn't accomplish anything.

The “insurgency” in Iraq is a tad more complicated than our right-wing brethren would have us believe. It’s not a simple matter of “freedom-hating evildoers” against the “pure and holy warriors” of the United States. A lot of Iraqi violence is sectarian, different religious, ethnic, and tribal groups settling scores, vying for power, unleashing centuries-old vendettas on one another. And then there’s a lot of anti-U.S. sentiment. People don’t want us there.

Get it? Our very presence in Iraq creates insurgents.

So while I celebrate getting Zarqawi, I’m a little sickened by the victory dance on the right. At any moment we can expect to see them break out manly accoutrements like flight suits and “mission accomplished” banners and strut near military equipment with their chests puffed out. In other words, they’re playing politics with a real shooting war.

Which is kind of dumb if you think about it for a moment. Today Bush declared no discernable end to the war. People continue to die. Most Americans and Iraqis still want US troops out of Iraq. By crowing over Zarqawi’s death today as proof of why we should remain in Iraq, the crowers’ credibility will take a beating if the violence doesn’t quickly abate. The Wall Street Journal (subscription req’d):

But any gains are likely to be short-lived unless the development is followed by a longer-term reduction of violence in Iraq — and by what many Republicans quietly hope for but won't publicly advocate: a drawdown of U.S. troops before November.

Ultimately Montana’s Senate election is not going to be a litmus test of President Bush’s policies. It’ll come down to whether you believe Jon Tester is more honest and capable than Conrad Burns. It’ll be a battle of character.

But with Bush’s approval ratings sagging and Iraq slogging on without letup, I’m guessing Burns doesn’t want to make an issue out of the Iraq War.

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