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It Is A War. This Was a Victory. But the War Goes On, and Will Go On For a Very Long Time.

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The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott’s reflections on the end of Zarqawi are third-tier high school paper and armband level. His sentiments are not limited to nearly-anonymous newspaper pundits, however, but are widely shared on the left and within the Democratic Party and require a reply. Here are his closing paragraphs:

We may not have victory. Iraq may be a living hell both for those who are fighting to make it better and for those who live there. But we bring home the occasional politically expedient marker of “progress.” Major combat operations are over. We got Saddam’s sons. We got Saddam. Now we have Zarqawi. The trophy case fills: elections, a constitution, a new government — everything but peace and stability for an exhausted nation of Iraqis who have died by the tens of thousands during the evolution of this war.

Zarqawi is gone and good riddance. But there’s nothing in the image of his face that deserves a frame. It’s a small thing, to be sure. But it suggests a cynicism about this war that is profoundly distressing. Our political and military leaders simply can’t resist packaging the war and wrapping it up in a bow.

Sometimes a frame is just a frame, and a dead killer a dead killer. Focusing on the frame as a means of getting into a slashing attack on the Bush Adminsitration and the military is a transparent reach, but the defeatism in the column is virulent.

On yesterday’s program, Christopher Hitchens said this about Joel Achenbach’s Zarqawi’s musings:

Where do you start with so blasé, half-baked journalism. And I don’t want to be in the same profession as someone who writes that way. I mean…well, I don’t think I need to add. All you need to do is quote it, right?…

People who think like this, and talk like that, they’re perfectly entitled to do it, but they have to live with having said it. And that must be, it ought to be hard. It really ought to be hard.

(Lileks posts a defense of Achebach here.)

It is hard to say something important and unique after a major event, say like Victor Davis Hanson does here:

[I]f you look at something comparable, like the insurrectionists that tried to destroy Rome, people like Vercingetorix, the Gaulish popular leader, or Mithridates, or Jagurtha, any time these people were captured or humiliated or killed, the popular uprising usually lost steam and petered out. And I think that we in the modern, sophisticated, technological age don’t look at things in this emotional sense of honor and pride and spirit. And yet, wars are so often, they so often hinge on just these factors. So I think there’s going to be a lot of intangible benefits to the United States that we’ll see in the next six months…

Lacking the writing ability or the knowledge base necessary to draw parallels or consider events carefully, writers who rush in throw off idiocies like Kennicott’s perfect indifference to the death or removal of killers:

But we bring home the occasional politically expedient marker of “progress.” Major combat operations are over. We got Saddam’s sons. We got Saddam. Now we have Zarqawi. The trophy case fills: elections, a constitution, a new government — everything but peace and stability for an exhausted nation of Iraqis who have died by the tens of thousands during the evolution of this war.

This is an echo of Richard Clarke’s complaint yesterday that of course Zarqawi’s death didn’t mean that the troops would be home soon, to which Mark Steyn replied:

[T]hat is pathetic, because the point of this is that it is good news. You can say that about any stage in the war. You could have said all through the Second World War, you could have said when we liberated the Solomon Islands…well, this isn’t going to make a great deal of difference to those of us who are waiting for our troops to come home from Europe. You could say that about every victory in a war. In that sense, every victory is just a pause to take a breath, to cheer the great work that’s been done, and then on to the next stage. I mean, this man, Richard Clarke, he’s so corroded by bitterness, basically, because people didn’t do what he said. And there’s no reason to pay any attention to him, as far as I can see.

Kennicott is trying to say that nothing matters in Iraq because killing goes on, and though a new, democratically-elected government exists and is gaining confidence and greater strength by the day, that it can never succeed. Behind Kennicott’s words is either a view that the Arab world cannot handle freedom or that Islamofascism cannot be beaten. Of course Kennicott lacks the courage to state as much, and so his musings are limited to blasting away at those who are waging the war.

It is a war. Killing Zarqawi was a victory, and his death may have saved thousands of lives in the short run and hundreds of thousands of lives in the long run. But just, as Mark Steyn argued, the success at Midway didn’t obviate the need for Iwo Jima or Okinawa, or the landings at Normandy remove the necessity of crossing Europe to Berlin, killing Zarqawi didn’t end the war. I asked Deputy National Security Advisor J.D. Crouch yesterday about the other major news –the Islamists’ seizure of Mogadishu, which raises the prospect of an enemy’s safe haven right where American retreat in the ’90s began:

HH: Yesterday, the news came that Islamists in Somalia are declaring that Mogadishu is now under their operational control, and of course, the threat arises that that could become the new Kandahar, the new Kabul. What are we doing about that?

JDC: Well, obviously, we’ve got to…and this is a problem of safe havens, obviously that the President and Secretary Rumsfeld and others have talked about. We have defense relationships in the region that we will be exploiting. We obviously have contacts along the border. We do not have diplomatic relations with Somalia. We’re not a…this is not a country that we could have direct relationship with. So we’re having to exert pressure and exert influence from basically around and outside the country.

HH: But it is indeed a serious threat, isn’t it, that you have Islamists in charge of a major port city with some industrial base?

JDC: Absolutely. It’s something we’re going to have to deal with, and as I said, we’ve got an approach to that, and we’re working not only with the countries in the region, but we also have, as you know, we also have military forces in the region from a Naval perspective that are in and around that area.

What, I wonder, does Mr. Kennicott think of the threat now lodged in Mogadishu? Judging from his column today, my guess is nothing at all. He can’t see past the picture frame, much less past the borders of Iraq, to the much greater battlefield on which this war is being waged, and which includes the American media. Mr. Kennicott worries that critics of the war raise doubts at the “peril of having their patriotism questioned,” though no citation is offered, and this is a convenient dodge and shield.

I am sure Mr. Kennicott is a fine American, patriotic and loyal.

But his take on Zarqawi’s death is sophomoric, a pose struck for his friends on the left, and deserving of the same contempt he displays towards the military.


You ask, “Who is Phillip Kennicott?”:

Philip Kennicott is the culture critic for the Washington Post, which he joined in August 1999. In 2000, he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for editorial writing. He has also covered city politics and urban development. He served as classical music critic for the Detroit News and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, were he also worked for two years as an editorial writer.

Mr. Kennicott has served as senior editor of Musical America and editor of Chamber Music Magazine, which he redesigned and expanded from a quarterly to bimonthly publication. He is a reviewer and former columnist for Gramophone. His introduction to the University of Nebraska publication of Music and the Fiction of Willa Cather was published in 2001. In recent years, his collaboration with videographers from has taken him to Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan. He received a Cine Golden Eagle for his latest video, Fueling Azerbaijan’s Future. Mr. Kennicott graduated summa cum laude with a degree in philosophy from Yale in 1988. Prior to Yale, he spent two years at Deep Springs College in California and worked on a sheep ranch in New Zealand.


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