"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."
In addition, we have witnessed adolescent debates about the lack of end-game planning. And the revolt of retired U.S. generals demanding the firing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. And, in a long reach back to the Vietnam years, an enterprise to undercut Allied battlefield success via television - in the living rooms of America - and through the asinine antics of a defeatist pacifism personified by the likes of Cindy Sheehan.
Terrorism and sectarian horror will persist in Iraq and around the world. The dialecticians of terror are demanding it. In the words of Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, the Spanish-Syrian al-Qaidist author of the 1,600-page Call for a Global Islamic Resistance - in which he appeals for the use of nuclear and chemical weapons against infidels: "Let the American people - those who voted for killing, destruction, the looting of other nations' wealth, megalomania, and the desire to control others - be contaminated with radiation. We apologize for the radioactive fallout." Further, the late al-Zarqawi spawned at least 60 known terror groups in Iraq alone. And wannabe martyrs continue to infiltrate Iraq from Syria and Iran.
But Pakistanis captured Nasar in October, al-Zarqawi is dead and Saddam in jail. Afghans are taking control of their own destiny, and Iraqis seem to be following that path. Gen. Abizaid may be right, that the allied effort is not coming unglued. A hapless America is not hopelessly in a hopeless place.
Persistence may be paying off - if the severest critics among us will but let it. And persistence, as the rarely verbal Calvin Coolidge reminded, is the essential ingredient for success:
"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent cannot: Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius cannot: Unrewarded genius is almost a cliche. Education cannot: The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are invincible. The phrase 'press on' has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race."
Especially so, when that "problem" is liberty - the ultimate cause.
Oh: And now, let's off Osama.