ON WEDNESDAY, June 7, U.S. military forces, in President Bush's words, "delivered justice to the most wanted terrorist in Iraq," Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
Before considering the possible implications for the war in Iraq and the global struggle against terror, we should pause to celebrate so striking an instance of injustice avenged, and justice vindicated. The unjust--even the barbarically unjust--prevail all too often in this world. It is good for civilized people to see, as Marshall Wittmann put it, that "evil has suffered a setback." In the blunt words of Paul Bigley of the United Kingdom, whose brother Ken was captured and beheaded by Zarqawi, the terrorist "deserved what he got and may he rot in hell."
One might also pause to point out that if we had followed the advice of those who want to pull out from Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi would today be alive and well, and triumphant.
What are the implications for the war in Iraq? That depends on some factors that we can't yet know with any confidence--the resilience of al Qaeda's leadership in Iraq, for one thing, and the true sentiment among the Sunnis of Iraq. But it also depends on what we do. Do we take advantage of this opportunity politically and militarily? Do we pursue the enemy aggressively now when it may be rattled and divided? Or do we do look on this as an excuse to begin to get out--as John Kerry and many others are already advocating? If we do the latter, we will give Zarqawi a victory in death that he could not achieve in life.
What needs to be done now seems clear: a renewed offensive to wipe out what remains of Zarqawi's organization and to defeat the insurgency. We highly recommend the strategy laid out three weeks ago in these pages by Frederick W. Kagan (see "A Plan for Victory in Iraq," May 29) for a comprehensive execution of the clear/hold/build approach in the Euphrates Valley, to be accomplished by Iraqi and U.S. forces working together--something that cannot be accomplished if we draw down U.S. forces. Some counterinsurgency experts would put a priority on sending additional troops to establish order in Baghdad.
But whatever operational choices are made, now is the time to take our best shot at really improving the situation on the ground in Iraq. If this requires 90 percent of the president's time, if it requires stressing the Pentagon and shaking up business as usual elsewhere in the administration--so be it. There is no other successful path forward for the Bush administration than victory in Iraq.
It is also the time to revisit the case for the war. Zarqawi is a perfect reminder of why we had to fight in Iraq. Would we be safer if he were living there, under Saddam's protection, securely planning attacks around the world and working on his chemical and biological weapons projects? Zarqawi's life and death remind us that we are engaged in a global struggle. When he died, Palestinian foreign minister Mahmoud al-Zahar, a leader of Hamas, linked the "resistance" in Iraq to that against Israel, deploring what he termed the "assassination" of Zarqawi. As Saul Singer noted in the Jerusalem Post, we are "witnessing the seamlessness of jihad. Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and al Qaeda come from different sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide, but they agree on the need to wage jihad against the West, particularly Israel and the United States. The death of Zarqawi saddens all of them, just as it causes encouragement for free peoples everywhere."
Zarqawi was a cunning and effective leader of the forces of jihadist terror. His brutality against civilians--Shiites mostly, but also Sunnis who wanted to work to create a new Iraq--helped push Iraq dangerously close to a sectarian civil war and ethnic cleansing, and gravely endangered Iraq's brave experiment in democratic federalism and freedom. But he did not succeed, though the threat he helped create is very much with us.
Al Qaeda's top priority remains what it was in Ayman al-Zawahiri's letter to Zarqawi last July: "Expel the Americans from Iraq." To which, surely, Americans must respond: No posthumous victories for Zarqawi.