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Destroying Terror's Symbols By: Ralph Peters
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Last week, American bombs nailed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  That’s great.  And the pig lived just long enough to know the Americans got him.

That’s even better.

A butcher with a taste for innocent blood, Zarqawi had become the leering face of fanaticism in Iraq.  We ripped that face right off.  It took a while.  But now Zarqawi’s undeniably dead.


It’s a bigger victory than you’ve been told.


Oh, the Jackal from Jordan’s death was big news.  Briefly.  It even bumped the alleged “massacre” at Haditha off the front page for a couple of days.  But the America-is-all-bad-all-the-time media recovered quickly.  By the weekend, we were being assured that Zarqawi’s death wouldn’t really make a difference.




It was a devastating blow to his followers.  And his death sends a global message to terrorists:  We will find you and kill you.  We are stronger than you.  You will lose. 


Zarqawi’s death won’t end terrorism.  But it will severely hinder al-Qaeda in Iraq.  The mass of intelligence we gained in dozens of related raids will further cripple the organization.  Our troops won’t get credit for a job well done, of course.  But penetrating his organization and killing Zarqawi was more important than capturing Saddam.


There’ll be a spike in tactical terrorism to “prove” that Zarqawi’s acolytes are still in the game.  But the terrorists have been thrust onto the operational and strategic defensive.


Still, for all the practical benefits gained by killing Zarqawi , the psychological victory is vastly more powerful--this long war is really about psychology and strength of will.


Zarqawi was the video star, the Great Beheader who treated helpless prisoners as sheep to be slaughtered.  Although his gory antics ultimately alienated Muslims of conscience, to the extremists and the wannabes he was his god’s avenger, merciless and hard, defying “godless America.”


As long as Zarqawi continued to elude justice and kill Shiites, uncooperative Sunnis and, occasionally, Coalition troops, he was Abu the Kid, the bandit-hero of the dark side.  Alive, Zarqawi was a galvanizing force and a living recruitment poster.  Zarqawi the symbol had become much greater and more important than Zarqawi the man.


Now he’s dead.  And he isn’t a martyr, folks.  He’s just a dead murderer, a porky, decomposing corpse with an after-the-barfight mug.  And thank the Lord he didn’t live: Now we don’t have to pay for a Hollywood trial (“If the bomb doesn’t blow, you must let him go!”).  Or listen to media complaints that we locked him up in a Motel 6 instead of booking him a suite at the Ritz-Carlton.


His followers can insist he’s a martyr as loud and as long as they want.  But Zarqawi won’t have much shelf-life as a corpse.  His death will dishearten many.  No matter how fanatical the remaining terrorists may be, I guarantee you they’re forlorn.


We just won a tremendous psychological victory—one so big that even the media can’t undo it.  We didn’t just kill a terrorist chieftain—we shattered an idol.  Alive, Zarqawi was a potent symbol.  Dead, he’s dog-food.  His power to galvanize followers evaporated instantly—a year from now, no young Arab is going to blow himself up to avenge the Martyr Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.


Our enemies understand the importance of symbols more clearly than we do, hence their sense of loss.  The 9-11 attacks were on symbols of American power—just as the foiled attack in Canada were to strike symbols of that country’s democracy and freedom.


The media traffic in symbols, too.  The press has made the well-run prison at Guantanamo into a symbol of imaginary American brutality.  The ugly shenanigans of a handful of junior enlisted people at Abu Ghraib gave the media another wonderful anti-American symbol—even as journalists ignored the viciousness of the “abused” prisoners and their still-free terrorist pals.


Now the media are creating a symbol of Haditha.  Forget the terrorist bombings and snipers—or the stresses of combat on our troops.  Ignore the terrorists’ disinformation campaign (which the media trusts as Gospel truth).  Our Marines are guilty until proven innocent—while imprisoned terrorists are innocent even after they’re proven guilty.


Those anti-American symbols weren’t created out of thin air, but the air wasn’t very thick, either.  Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and now Haditha are more illustrative of the power of the media to exaggerate an event’s scale and importance for propaganda purposes than they are of American failings.


We’re already back to media weeping over three prisoners at Gitmo who had the decency to hang themselves and spare the American taxpayer the cost of feeding them.  Conditions must be inhumane, the psychological pressure is unbearable, blah, blah, blah.


Well, how about the psychological pressure on the Marines at Haditha?  How about the suffering of innocent Iraqis at terrorist hands?  How about Zarqawi’s victims?


As far as the media is concerned, if your suffering isn’t caused by an American, it doesn’t count.


Both the terrorists and the media suffered a huge defeat last week.  Journalists can no longer make snide remarks about our inability to get Zarqawi.  And the terrorists lost their most potent symbol in Iraq—the most important in the world after Osama.


Meanwhile, let’s be brutally honest about one mistake we’ve made in the War on Terror: We’ve taken too many prisoners.  A terrorist can do something monstrous, then surrender and demand flawless treatment (better than the inmates in our state prisons get).  The prisoner behind bars fights on in the propaganda war.  Gitmo, too, is a battlefield.


With few exceptions, terrorist prisoners are a liability.  We need to readjust our tactics so that more are killed before they have a chance to surrender.


We got it right with Zarqawi.


Ralph Peters’s new book, Never Quit the Fight, will be published in July.


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Ralph Peters is a New York Post Opinion columnist and the author of "Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World."

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