The merit of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
If the serial decapitator Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did not exist, then the Bush administration, the Atlantic Alliance and the rest of the civilized world might have to invent him.
This poisonous Jordanian terrorist has done the world a service. Almost at a stroke he has eased away the accumulated grievances between Washington and Paris, between America and Europe, by couching the struggle in Iraq in terms that force even the French onto the side of President Bush.
“We are at war with democracy,” Zarqawi declared, in an announcement hat coincided with the Iraqi elections on January 30. “Democracy is an evil principle.”
Thanks, Zarqawi. George W Bush could not have put it better himself. If anything could persuade President Jacques Chirac, the editorial board of Le Monde and the massed sociology faculties of the Ecole Normale and Superieur and Polytechnique and Sciences-Po that the White House was on the side of the angels, it was Zarqawi’s wonderfully helpful reel of videotape.
It managed to blur over some of the little local difficulties with those Iraqi elections. Take the latest results from Tikrit, home town of Saddam Hussein and the al-Tikriti clan, Sunni Muslims all. So it was a little embarrassing to note that the Shi’ite vote in Tikrit seems to have outnumbered the Sunni vote.
In American terms, this is like George Bush’s home town of Midland, Texas, voting overwhelmingly for John Kerry in the Presidential election, or the staunch Democrats of Boston deserting the Kerry ticket to vote en masse for George Bush and Dick Cheney. Were that to happen in America, it would not take a professional political commentator to realize that something was amiss in the election. But the latest returns from the Tikrit precincts have raised barely an eyebrow.
Thanks again, Zarqawi. Why worry our heads about details like the Sunni turnout when the local terrorist leader is at pains to remind us that his bunch of Islamic fascists is at war with democracy, with modernity, with education for women, with schools that teach much beyond the Koran, and with concepts of justice that go much beyond the lopping of heads and hands.
The new U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should start a subscription for a small memorial to al-Zarqawi. His immortal words “at war with the evil principle of democracy” should be carved into the plinth, and the sculpture deposited at ground zero of the World Trade Center ruin in Manhattan - just to remind us all who the bad guys are.
Al-Zarqawi’s timing was perfect. His fighting words came just in time to guarantee Condi Rice a splendid hearing in Paris; just in time to help Tony Blair explain to the House of Commons why Britain and the U.S. could now start to think in terms of reducing their troop numbers; just in time to help sweeten the double ceasefire announcement from Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Secretary of State was able to use Zarqawi to get a very much warmer reception in Paris that she might have expected as the author of that unfortunate phrase about American policy to the critics of the Iraq war – “Punish France, Ignore Germany, Forgive Russia.”
“Today's radical Islamists are swimming against the tide of the human spirit,” she told her audience at the elite Sciences-Po college. “They grab the headlines with their ruthless brutality, and they can be brutal. But they are dwelling on the outer fringes of a great world religion, and they are radicals of a special sort. They are in revolt against the future. The face of terrorism in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, called democracy an evil principle."
Thanks again, Zarqawi, for letting Condi Rice and President Bush draw a neat historical line between the Iraq War and the era of Transatlantic rows, and the Iraqi elections and the new era of Transatlantic cooperation. The elections are the new baseline.
“How can you not be impressed'' by the Iraqi turnout, Rice asked her audience, by their dedication to the democracy that we may take for granted but that was worth risking their lives for after the long and brutal years of Saddam Hussein's rule?
She reminded her French listeners that Europeans and Americans had achieved historic victories together, in supporting Lech Walesa and Solidarity in Poland, in outlasting the Soviet empire and toppling the Berlin Wall –“Yet that day of freedom in November 1989 could never have happened without the full support of the free nations of the West,'' she stressed.
"Time and again in our shared history, Americans and Europeans have enjoyed our greatest successes, for ourselves and for others, when we refused to accept an unacceptable status quo -- but instead put our values to work for the cause of freedom,” she said. “Development, transparency and democracy reinforce each other. That is why the spread of freedom under the rule of law is our best hope for real progress.”
“History will surely judge us not by our old disagreements but by our new achievements,'' Rice went on, formally burying the hatchet. “America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda, and Europe must stand ready to work with America. It is time to open a new chapter in our relationship and a new chapter in our alliance."
Rice’s speech was intended to secure her President a warm welcome in Europe on his own visit in ten days time. It signals America’s readiness, which will be matched by the Europeans, to move on from the rows over the war and see how far they can cooperate on the peace. Even more important, Rice made a point of stating that the U.S. support of an integrated and united Europe, which dates from the end of the World War Two, was still in force, despite conservative voices warning that the new European Union was becoming a potential rival.
"America has everything to gain from having a stronger Europe as a partner in building a safer and a better world,” Rice stressed. “So let each of us bring to the table ideas, experience and resources, and let us discuss and decide -- together -- how best to employ them for democratic change."
That is exactly what the European leaders wanted to hear. And they will have a chance to prove it later this month when the Americans now confidently expect the other NATO allies to sign up for serious contributions to train and support the new Iraqi security forces.
So once again, thanks to al-Zarqawi, who now takes a lowly and squalid place at the feet of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin as another of the ogres who helped unite the West, and reminded the quarrelsome European and American democrats just what it is that unites them.