Monday, April 10, 2006

Why are we puffing up a two bit bully?

We now see a report that the US is Exaggerating the role played by Jordanian born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.

The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In Iraq, the hope is to agitate the Iraqis against 'foreigners.' Leaving aside the obvious hypocrisy in this effort coming from the foreign nation that invaded the country in the first place, it is true that most Iraqis don't support Zarqawi or al-Qaeda. However, most of those fighting the insurgency are fighting to free their country from American and British occupation. Wouldn't you, if a foreign power occupied America (the 'Red Dawn' scenario?) That is something that we don't get. Just as the Judeans rebelled against the Romans, the Spanish guerrillas harrassed Napoleon and the occupied nations of Europe all had resistance movements against Hitler, people don't like being occupied by a foreign power. True, in some cases, Zarqawi's band has taken control of some neighborhoods, but the main occupying force remains the United States.

The other reason I think we are exaggerating his role has to do with our own domestic politics. It has always been this way-- in order to justify aggressive action against another country, we have to have a bad guy to go after. Thus Vietnam was not Vietnam, but it became Ho Chi Minh, Panama was not Panama but Noriega, Yugoslavia was not Yugoslavia but rather it became Milosevic, Iraq was not Iraq but Saddam Hussein, and Iran is not Iran but Ahmadinejad. It is much easier to stir people up to support action against a man than against a land.

There is no question that Zarqawi is a bad man, as bad as they come. His indiscriminate attacks against civilians and other atrocities make that pretty clear. But it is a mistake to try and oversimplify the Iraqi insurgency and claim that it is all Zarqawi's doing, in fact that would be giving what amounts to a small time operator way too much credit. Most estimates put the number of men available to him at any given time at around five hundred or less, and to claim that our occupation force in Iraq of over 130,000 Americans plus thousands more from Britain, South Korea and other countries has been unable to defeat a group of five hundred men with no local support would suggest that our military is incompetent, while in fact our military is exceptionally competent at every level except the highest level of command (where unfortunately, competence has not been a mainstay).

It may also be that they are drawing a bead on Zarqawi and want to pump him up so the trophy will look bigger. I actually hope that this is the case because if we catch or kill him, then 1) the world would be better off without him, that is just the plain truth of the matter, and 2) it will, depending on whether Bush takes the opportunity or not, either give us the cover to get out, or increase the pressure to get out even if he doesn't want to, since he would have joined Saddam as a 'mission accomplished.' And anything that gets us out of Iraq, is a good thing.

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