Analyzing Victory Into Defeat

It's not necessary for reporters to agree that the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a major victory. But they should let their readers know such people, outside the Bush Administration, exist.

In After Zarqawi, No Clear Path In Weary Iraq by the Washington Post's Ellen Knickmeyer, every independent expert downplays the significance of Zarqawi's death. Even a mysteriously identified "longtime participant in the U.S. military hunt for Zarqawi" sees it as upside for the bad guys. Yet at least one of Knickmeyer's named sources is more upbeat in a different outlet, and she omits the passionate political convictions of another.

Knickmeyer:

"The immediate aftermath of this will probably be an upsurge of violence" as Sunni insurgents hurry to show that Zarqawi's killing has not broken the resistance, said Michael Clarke, an expert on terrorism at the International Policy Institute of King's College London.

"In the medium term, in the next month or two, it will probably help to downgrade sectarianism," Clarke said by telephone. "But the dynamic of sectarian violence is probably past the point of no return."

There's a bit more along these lines, and you may need to graph Clarke's forecast--an immediate upsurge in violence followed by a probable downgrade in sectariansim. But the general outlook is glum. The London Daily Mail paints a different picture:

Michael Clarke, director of the International Policy Institute at King's College London, said that because of the devotion al-Zarqawi inspired in his followers, his loss to Al Qaeda could be felt more keenly than the death of bin Laden.

Professor Clarke said: "If Osama is captured or killed, I would say it probably would not make much of a difference to the movement.

"But in the case of Zarqawi being killed, it is quite a big blow, which will not be felt immediately.

"He seemed to have influence over 10,000 fighters, he had a big handle on the Sunni and external elements. "That will raise big questions for Al Qaeda."

After which Clarke says, as he did in the Post, that violence may increase in the short term. But his reaction is simply more positive.

Then we have a nice chat with a noted observer. Knickmeyer:

"The man was a burden on al-Qaeda," said Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper and a noted Palestinian observer of international militant groups.

"I believe personally that President Bush unintentionally gave al-Qaeda a huge reward in getting rid of Zarqawi," Atwan said by telephone from London. "He was an unmanageable bully who forced himself as a leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq."

Makes you wonder why we even bothered killing him. But why doesn't Knickmeyer, her editors or the four Post staffers who contributed to this story better acquaint their readers with Atwan? In 2004, Cliff May of NRO's The Corner ran into him in a BBC interview:

His talking points were that Arafat was a man of peace (hadn’t his award of the Nobel Peace Prize established that?), that he was a democratically elected leader (Jimmy Carter himself said Arafat won in a free and fair election in 1996!), that he had accepted the existence of Israel (he said so, many times!).

Bari-Atwan also said that the Americans had killed 100,000 innocent Iraqis – and that was based on the Lancet, a prestigious journal. (He added that those fighting the Americans were a nationalist “resistance,” that Zarqawi was merely helping them, much as the French helped George Washington against the British.)

Atwan is perhaps not the most serene detached observer of anything that reflects favorably on President Bush. Also in 2004, the Media Research Center's Cyber Alert quoted Atwan after Bush had spoken about the mistreatment of prisoners:

"I said in my front page editorial this morning, President Bush is the greatest liar of our modern history. He lied about weapon [sic] of mass destruction, he lied about democracy in Iraq."

Fine. Quote anyone you like, including someone who believes Bush is the greatest liar in modern history, that Arafat was a man of peace and that Zarqawi was like, say, Lafayette aiding George Washington. But let me know when you're doing that, 'kay?

The world is filled with credible people who think Zarqawi's death is, you know, good. You can start with Claudia Rosett.

Cross-posted at PostWatch