(HOST)This morning, commentator Barrie Dunsmore has some thoughts on the death, in an American air attack, of the infamous terrorist Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.
(DUNSMORE) As every commentator on this subject must acknowledge, killing the number one terrorist in Iraq is a victory for the U.S. military and a great political lift for President George W. Bush. But it still leaves us with the question, how is this likely to change the progress of both the War on Terror and the Iraq War?
The safest answer to that is the old journalistic clich – only time will tell. But commentators can’t use that cover, so here are some of my thoughts.
If you look to fairly recent history, there are some clues as to what the death of a dictator might mean. If, for example, the assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler had been successful – particularly one that occurred before World War II actually began – it can reasonably be argued that there never would have been a war – or that the war would have ended once Hitler was dead. The reasoning to support that notion is that Hitler’s National Socialism was not an ideology or doctrine that had been totally embraced by all Germans. Nor, except for Italy and Spain, had fascism really taken root elsewhere. It was symbolized almost entirely by Hitler himself, and if he was gone – his movement would not be far behind.
In contrast, the death of the Soviet Union’s dictator Josef Stalin in 1953 – which at the time was rumored to have been an assassination – had no immediate bearing on the influence of the doctrine of Communism. The end of his despotism might ultimately have changed the nature of some of Communism’s most extremist elements, but not its basic direction. It had already taken hold as an international ideology that went far beyond Stalin.
In the case of Zarqawi and the War on Terror, I see him more in the Stalin mold: a product of a new ideology – not its personification. And, as Communism rolled on after Stalin’s death, so too will terrorism after Zarqawi’s demise. He may have been the number one terrorist in Iraq – but he became so only because of the American invasion of Iraq. He was not the international symbol of Islamic extremism – nor the inspiration for young Moslem men like those in Canada recently arrested for plotting major terrorist attacks in Ontario. Therefore I do not see his death stunting the growth of the new extremist Islamic ideology that is motivated, not by an individual, but by hatred of the culture of the West.
As for the situation in Iraq itself, Zarqawi, especially recently, exploited the split between Sunni and Shiite Moslems and was responsible for the killings of countless Shiites. But he was by no means the cause of this division, which has its roots in ancient Islamic history, reinforced by decades of suppression of the Shiites by the Sunnis under Saddam Hussein. That sectarian split, which is behind most of the recent killings in Iraq, is not likely to end because Zarqawi is dead.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.