June 8 was a particularly bad day for The New York Times. The very first paragraph of its lead editorial that Thursday read, in full, as follows:
"Almost six months after Iraqis voted for their first full-term government, two of the most essential jobs in that government remain unfilled: the interior minister, who oversees the police, and the defense minister, who oversees the army. That would be a serious political crisis in any country. It is little short of calamitous for Iraq."
On the opposite (or Op Ed) page, columnist Bob Herbert, who easily wins the title of Calamity Jane among the Times's herd of liberal propagandists, complained for the umpteenth time that "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's man in Iran, remains at large."
The trouble, of course, was that Times readers, digesting these sage observations over their morning coffee, could also learn (if the television was on) that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had just been killed by an American air raid on one of his supposedly "safe"-houses, and that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had that very day named the country's new interior and defense ministers.
Such, to be sure, are the vicissitudes of daily journalism. But it was kind of fun to see the Times upended twice in the same issue, as it made its daily trip to the Wailing Wall.
Of the two events, the ministerial appointments may well turn out, in the fullness of time, to be the more important. They are indeed crucial posts, and the viability of the new Iraqi government may well turn on how successfully they are administered by the new appointees -- one a Shiite and one a Sunni, as befits a regime poised precariously between rival Islamic sects. All we can do is wait and see, but certainly the filling of these final, critical portfolios was a major step in the right direction. If the Iraqi government survives and succeeds, everything that has gone wrong there in the past three years will scarcely matter -- a major triumph indeed for President Bush.
The death of Zarqawi is obviously welcome, for a whole host of reasons. It removes from the scene a formidable leader of the insurgency, whom it will be difficult if not impossible to replace. It pokes a huge hole in the scabrous reputation of the insurgents for irresistability. And it makes monkeys out of the bug-out advocates in the Democratic party, like Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, whose advice, if America had followed it, would have left Zarqawi alive and well in Iraq today, joyfully watching our craven departure.
But it would be foolish to hope too much from the death of one man, however evil and however competent. Perhaps the most damaging effect of his death will be the poisonous uncertainty his colleagues must now feel, in the light of the assertion that his whereabouts were betrayed by a disloyal supporter. True or false (and the statement may well have been a deliberate act of disinformation), the worm of suspicion has now been inserted in the apple.
The Washington Democrats reacted to the double dose of good news in a rather ingenious way. They have responded to each piece of bad news from Iraq in recent months by suggesting, with growing confidence, that it merely strengthened their proposal that we begin withdrawing our troops. What, then, about the good news? According to John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi, it merely strengthens their proposal that we begin withdrawing our troops!
On the contrary, it demonstrates that bad news is not inevitable; that with persistence, successes are still achievable; and that the Iraq invasion is by no means doomed to end in disaster. It may yet be the central development in a process that will transform, democratize and pacify the Middle East.