Ross Mackenzie

"Right now, I would say our general plan is not unhinged by current events." So said Gen. John Abizaid, the senior U.S. commander in the Middle East and Central Asia - in April. What does Wednesday's offing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi say about General Abizaid's observation?

Pictures of the lifeless al-Zarqawi took the mind back to similar ones of the macabre, malignant sons of Saddam Hussein - and pictures of the great Saddam himself scrabbling crablike from a hole. And you can bet there will be future morgue shots of other advocates for Allah undraped by the promised bevy of paradisiacal virgins.

Al-Zarqawi is dead. Long live a free Iraq.

But there can be no guarantees of that - or of liberty's success in the larger war against terror's long night.

The offing of al-Zarqawi tells us - what? Among many, these things:

- That as it has a habit of doing, persistence may be paying off. Iraq has meant untold horror, unconscionable mayhem and death. It has given the vocabulary such lamentable lapses as Abu Ghraib and - now - perhaps Haditha and Hamdaniya. It has resulted in too many bare ruined lives. Yet

- That liberty still may be able to put another notch in its pistol. Iraq has a democratic government. People - even women - are voting. The young are back in school. Indigenous security forces are ramping up. The infrastructure and government administration are under repair. And

- That allied force reduction can proceed as the Iraqis take on more responsibility for protecting themselves. Already it's happening. Allied troop strength stands at 132,000 - down from a 300,000 peak. The alliance consists of 26 countries, down from a peak of 38. The allies have closed or turned over to the Iraqis 30 bases. The U.S. is moving toward small-unit support of Iraqi military and police - combined with logistical and air support plus quick-reaction teams if the Iraqis need help.

Yes, it's happening - and despite the best efforts to sabotage the allied enterprise and prevent its success.

Many American swells who favored going in now say the administration misled them, even lied about Saddam's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. And many who opposed going in now are boasting of their insight and acumen: Sen. Edward Kennedy, for one, last week declared his vote against liberating Iraq the best, most commendable, most astute, most personally rewarding of his 44-year career. "And my call more than a year ago - more than a year ago - to bring our troops home is one of my proudest moments."

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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