In the 1970s, an old bachelor named Jacob Radishkover used to hang around the Hebron Yeshiva in Jerusalem and entertain the students with anecdotes and witticisms. It was well known that one of the deans of the Yeshiva had a happy marriage while the other dean’s was more, shall we say, attritive. One day, Jacob came in and said to the boys: “I have a Biblical question and I think I can predict what each dean would answer.” Naturally, everyone clustered round.
“My question is from the Book of Job (2:6), where God tells Satan that he can do anything he wants to Job except take his life. Afterwards, Job lost his children, his money, and his health. The question is: how come his wife was not taken?” The students pondered; it was a valid question. “If you ask the first dean,” Jacob continued. “He will answer that a man’s wife is his life, and Satan could not take his life.” “Excellent answer,” the boys said. “But what do you think the second dean would answer?”
“The second dean would answer that leaving Job with his wife was part of the torture.”
This perfectly limns the schism between the Republican and Democrat perspectives of the war in Iraq. If you ask Republicans why our forces are still on the ground in Iraq, they will explain: “Because of our great success in defeating Saddam, we need to midwife the emergence of a historic new democracy. Because of our great success in luring the terrorists out of their hidey-holes, we now get a chance to mow them down far from our home turf.”
Ask a Democrat that question, he will aver: “Because of our great failure in mistaking a tinpot kvetch for a fearsome tyrant, we’re stuck babysitting the various corrupt and violent elements of a provincial society. Because of our great failure in waking a sleeping giant, we have spawned a new generation of terrorists that would not otherwise have existed.” Whether this originated in sincere ideology or partisan one-upmanship, the fact is that we are witnessing a radical divergence of worldviews; to be honest, the chasm between the two positions looks to be unbridgeable.
And yet, startlingly enough, neither side is comfortable mentioning the name of Zarqawi. There is almost a cognitive dissonance here: on the one hand, every Jordanian knows enough to shout “Death to Zarqawi” when bombs explode in their capital, while Americans of both parties hardly ever mention his name. How did his name achieve ineffable status in the American dialogue?
THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE, although surpassingly ironic. The Democrats cannot refer to him because he is the single greatest proof to the Administration’s case for the legitimacy of the war. He was the al Qaeda man who was cited by name in Colin Powell’s address to the U.N. before the war. Powell argued that Saddam had admitted this important figure into Iraq, thereby showing real support for al Qaeda. And sure enough not only was this man in Iraq then, he is still there now, and he continues to be the single most dangerous al Qaeda operative in the world.
On the other hand, the Republicans are forced to keep that ace face down on the table. They have to forgo their best argument, their trump card, in the debate about starting the war — simply because he is a humiliation to their execution of the war. If this were more a battle against Zarqawi than Saddam, then we have been losing the war from Day One. We have been in there for thirty months, and this man is not only alive, not only still in the country, but he seems to be leading a Hydra-headed insurgency that never lacks for volunteers or armament.
So in an ultimate irony, the guy we claim we fought — because he’s the one guy we beat — had no weapons, no army, no energetic defense structure. We hear about his heinous crimes but all we see are his Hanes. By contrast, the guy we can’t really point to very much — because we don’t want to remind folks that he’s winning — is the al Qaeda terrorist who shows incredible resiliency and depth in strategy, manpower, financing, and ordnance.
For goodness’ sake, our predicament is clear as a bell. We need to get this guy. Forget about bin Laden, forget vague talk about “the insurgency,” forget about Iraqi elections, forget about inky fingers, forget about constitutions, forget about Saddam’s trial, forget about developing Iraqi security forces, forget about a democratic revolution in a New Middle East: plenty of time for all of that later. Listen to the Jordanians. They get it. Get Zarqawi. Dead or alive. Presto. Then suddenly, retroactively, everything will make perfect sense, and there will only be room for one point of view.
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