American Enterprise Online | 7.10.06
By Alan W. Dowd

We have seen their kind before. They’re the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends, in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies.
                         -George W. Bush, 2001

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead. It was always a matter of when and how—not if—the US military would catch up with him. In the end, an all-star team of Special Ops forces known only as “Taskforce 145” did the hunting and a flight of F-16s did the killing.

Iraq and the world are much better off without him, of course. He was responsible for literally thousands of murders. But the war goes on. Doubtless, Zarqawi has already been replaced by some other “most wanted” terrorist. In a sad sign of our times, he was just one of many mass-murderers masquerading as holy men. As Osama bin Laden, Zarqawi’s patron and mentor, puts it, “These youths love death as you love life.” Not only do the jihadis love death; they worship at its altar. It is both their ends and their means. And so, there are plenty of other martyrs-in-the-making to fill Zarqawi’s shoes.

Yet the US military’s search-and-destroy mission—global in reach and relentless in nature—is sending a message to the enemy and his would-be recruits. After all, Zarqawi himself feared the day when “we pack our bags and search for another land, as is the sad, recurrent story in the arenas of jihad, because our enemy is growing stronger and his intelligence data are increasing day by day. By God, this is suffocation.”

Between the beheadings and the bravado and the bombings, those who would follow Zarqawi are also hearing an unspoken message. It goes something like this:

  • Your leaders are not winning this global jihad. Iraq and Afghanistan are now fighting against them rather than sheltering them; al Qaeda is a shattered shell of its former self; the United States has not crumpled like the paper tiger your leaders thought it to be.
  • Your leaders are not liberators. If they were, Iraq and Jordan would be mourning rather than celebrating today; Afghanistan would be weeping. Zarqawi himself conceded that his war in Iraq was difficult “because of the gap that will emerge between us and the people…Democracy is coming, and there will be no excuse thereafter.”
  • Your leaders are not supermen; they are not prophets; and they certainly are not immortal or invincible. Zarqawi now joins Mohammed Atef and Khalid Sheik Muhammed, Ramzi Binalsheib and Abu Zubaydah, Farraj al-Libbi and Abu Ali al-Harithi, the Husseins and their henchmen, and thousands more. All are killed or captured. Whether they are rotting away in prison or in hell, they are no longer a part of this war.
  • And if you want to join them, if you want to fight to the death, the US military and its allies will grant your wish.

While American troops delivered the message to the jihadists’ A Team operating in Babylon, Canadian police and intelligence agents delivered it to the farm team plotting here in North America. Swooping in 10 days ago to preempt a literal decapitation of the Canadian government, a counter-terror team arrested 17 terrorists and connected the dots to scores of other cells all around the world—from Toronto and Atlanta, to London and Copenhagen, to Sarajevo and Dhaka.

Under operational codenames such as Osage and Northern Exposure and Mazhar, intelligence units in the US, Bosnia, Sweden and Britain have been pouncing on their prey for weeks, disrupting chemical attacks, car-bombings, hijackings and the like.

But if we have learned anything by now, it is this: The global war on terror is not and will never be an unbroken string of victories for the allies. Wars seldom are. The same pages that detail the good but chilling news from Canada and the end of Zarqawi also report on the Marine investigation at Haditha and what is being labeled “the shame of Kilo Company.” On the very day Zarqawi was eradicated, car bombs killed 40 innocents in Iraq. And American troops are still bleeding and dying in Iraq’s lawless Anbar province and Afghanistan’s formless frontier with Pakistan.

This blend of setbacks and success is not unusual in a time of war. The Cold War had its low points—the walling-off of Berlin’s eastern half, the haphazard retreat to Pusan and the bloody but brave march across the Chosin, the bludgeoning of Hungary, the August winter that cut short a Prague Spring, the wrenching withdraw from Saigon. Even in World War II, contrary to Hollywood history, America saw its share of failures and humiliations. Pearl Harbor and Corregidor and Bataan come to mind. The month-long battle for Sicily was technically a success, but Allied commanders fumbled and ultimately allowed the outnumbered and outgunned Germans to evacuate the bulk of their army onto the Italian mainland. The springtime victory at Normandy gave way to a winter of bloodshed in the Ardennes.

There will be more good news and more bad as this war drags on—and more lessons to glean from its many fronts.

One such lesson from Zarqawi’s brief but bloody time on the scene is that terrorists and tyrants do collaborate against their common enemy, no matter how many realists in the foreign-policy Establishment or surrealists on the far fringes claim otherwise. After 9/11, Zarqawi fought in Afghanistan under the Taliban/al-Qaeda flag, and then he fled to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where he set up a new terror operation. This was in 2002, long before Operation Iraqi Freedom felled the tyrant’s statues. Thus, it’s hard to believe that Saddam’s police state didn’t know about Zarqawi.

We can apply another lesson from the Zarqawi episode very close to home. It pays to recall that Zarqawi used porous borderlands to move from one battlefront to another. With the 9/11 attackers’ entry points now under tighter security and closer scrutiny, what’s to stop Zarqawi’s kind from choosing the path of least resistance into our country—the northern and southern borders? 

This isn’t some abstract worry: In 2003 alone, as The Washington Times has reported, some 60,000 illegal aliens designated as “other-than-Mexican” were arrested on the border. In 2004, Honduran officials confirmed that Adnan el Shukrijumah, the leader of an al-Qaeda cell, had traveled through their country. Likewise, the Panamanian government reported that Shukrijumah had moved through Panama prior to the 9/11 attacks. US officials told the Times that Shukrijumah had actually met leaders of a Salvadoran crime syndicate with roots in Mexico. In addition, the unassuming Shukrijumah reportedly traveled to Canada in the hopes of acquiring material for a dirty bomb. He remains on the FBI’s terror watch list.

We should keep this in mind as we grapple to mend our immigration system. Our first objective in this long-overdue effort must be protecting the American people. All the other goals—welcoming workers and visitors, opening pathways to opportunity, and helping Americans-in-the-making take the first steps to citizenship—are of secondary importance.

A final Zarqawi lesson has to do with what might be called the jihadist recidivism rate. It may be hard for Americans to comprehend, but the jihadist cannot be reformed. Zarqawi was arrested in Jordan in the early 1990s (for trying to overthrow King Hussein), and as soon as he got out of prison he was planting terror cells in Europe. As The Washington Post has reported, he then went to Afghanistan to set up terror training camps and wage war on the Afghan people and, later, on the US. His next-to-last stop was Iraq, although he found time between video-taped beheadings and mass-murders at Shia mosques to leave his calling card in Jordan—a triple bombing that claimed 56 innocents, most of them Jordanians at a wedding celebration.

Zarqawi is now, finally, where he belongs—in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies.