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A Small Rabbit Out of a Big Hat

Zarqawi's death is the latest symbolic rabbit that the administration has pulled out of the hat labeled "turning the corner."
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Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is apparently dead. The United States armed forces in Iraq have been bombing al-Zarqawi hideouts almost weekly since May 2004 when American businessman Nicholas Berg was shockingly beheaded on film, and someone claiming to be Zarqawi is said to have taken credit for it. With a $25 million reward on his head, there were surely a series of tragic mistakes based on opportunistic calls.

It's hard to say who was more interested in transforming the Jordanian Bedouin fighter, formerly Ahmad Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalayleh, into a legend -- Zarqawi himself or the American military. Now the Bush administration will reap the short-term reward for this dramatis persona... and the long-term grief. This is the latest symbolic rabbit that the administration has pulled out of the hat labeled "turning the corner." The press will tune in and turn on to this docudrama with monotonous predictability. The Bush administration will get a little bump in the polls as people divert their attention from its other political chicaneries and snatch at the last threads of hope that: the war is about terrorism, after all, and we are the good guys; the lives lost will not be in vain, and we will really "turn the corner" this time... the Iraqis and the world will see that we are a benign and beneficial nation.

But the attention-deficit disorder of the media and a society inebriated on the instant gratification of the consumer bacchanalia will watch this triumphalism fade, in days, not weeks, and the grating realities of our culture's meaningless drudgery and vacuous need to be entertained, the steadily mounting casualties, rising gas prices, the Haditha massacres... all of it, will return. When it does, the draught will be that much more bitter. The war will continue. The blood will spill. Even fewer people will retain the capacity to fall, yet again, for the old Turning-the-Corner parlor trick.

Moreover, the Pentagon and the White House will have lost the personification of evil that Zarqawi represented to justify the war. As Scott McClellan -- before his ticket was punched -- said hundreds of times, like one of those dolls with a string on its back, "Iraq is the front line in the global war on terror." Zarqawi was the ultimate "foreign fighter," one who willingly adopted the name "al Qaeda in Iraq," feeding the mistaken notion that there is actually an organization called al Qaeda, an official enemy that is global and eternal, and now manifest on this particular part of the oil patch.

Just this year, the Washington Post published a document showing that the Pentagon had an active program to legendize Zarqawi.

"The Zarqawi campaign is discussed in several of the internal military documents. 'Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response,' one U.S. military briefing from 2004 stated. It listed three methods: 'Media operations,' 'Special Ops (626)' (a reference to Task Force 626, an elite U.S. military unit assigned primarily to hunt in Iraq for senior officials in Hussein's government) and 'PSYOP,' the U.S. military term for propaganda work..." (Washington Post, 10 April 2006)

Leverage xenophobia response.

The Pentagon public-relations staff, with the active assistance of an obsequious US press, successfully portrayed Zarqawi as a one-man dynamo, an evil genius who was single-handedly running most of the "insurgency" in Iraq, a take-off on the earlier theme of foreign fighters being the majority of the resistance. This, and we should remember when the British SAS was caught in the act of planting bombs last year that would have been attributed, undoubtedly, to Zarqawi.

"They won't have Ahmad Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalayleh to kick around any more," to coin a phrase. No they won't; and it will be their loss. Zarqawi will be sorely missed in Washington.

The rabbits in the Turn-the-Corner hat get smaller with each passing day.