President Bush says the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi offers an opportunity for Iraq's new government to "turn the tide in this struggle."
But, in contrast to his triumphal claims in 2003 about "mission accomplished," Bush has no illusions that the war is over.
Abu Hamza al-Muhajer -- the successor to the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi -- already has warned that his predecessor left "lions behind" him to carry on the fight.
After al-Zarqawi's death from a June 7 airstrike north of Baghdad, Bush showed he has become aware that his credibility about victory claims is almost nonexistent. The president has even said future presidents will have to deal with Iraq.
The giddy headlines about the death of al-Zarqawi have been mired in other reports that do not reflect well on the United States, such as the alleged Marine massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha and the three detainee suicides at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Bush, who made a surprise quickie trip to Iraq Tuesday, said the "difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues," and he expects no let up in the violence.
He also covered his tracks by repeating that the death of al-Zarqawi was "not going to end the war."
At the same time, Bush got a jolt of good news that there is an improvement in public confidence that the war is winnable, according to a USA Today-Gallup poll.
The new poll said 48 percent now believe the United States probably or definitely will win the war, compared with 39 percent in April.
According to the survey, 47 percent of those polled believe things are going well in Iraq, a boost from 38 percent in March.
There is no doubt that the U.S. military also is buoyed by the death of the terrorist leader and has embarked on an aggressive drive against insurgents. U.S. soldiers have been raining bombs on Iraqis, raiding 140 sites, and killing 32 people in the resistance, including a baby boy and a 4-year-old boy.
Bush also has made some diplomatic efforts to bolster support for the war.
He provided Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen with the rare hospitality of Camp David last week. Rasmussen told reporters he "shares the same ideology" with Bush about liberty, freedom and democracy.
But Rasmussen demonstrated that friendship goes only so far when he took a slap at alleged human rights abuses by U.S. forces.
"When unacceptable events happen in Abu Ghraib (the notorious prison near Baghdad)," Rasmussen said "and when allegations are made about horrific events in Haditha, it is not only a tragedy for the victims, it is damaging to our own efforts and an offense to our very own values."
There also have been many calls in the international community to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The three prisoners who hanged themselves in their cells at Guantanamo used sheets and clothing for nooses. All left suicide notes in Arabic.
Speaking of the suicides, Rear Adm. Harry Harris Jr. commander at Guantanamo was quoted in The New York Times as callously saying: "They are smart, they are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."
Colleen Graffy, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, matched Harris, saying: "Taking their own life was not necessary, but it was a good PR move."
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the president has expressed "serious concern" over the suicide deaths.
To prove it, Bush should start by abiding by the international law on humane treatment of prisoners.
That way the United States will be able to shine in the triumph over al-Zarqawi. And Bush will have learned the wisdom of Winston Churchill's dictum: "In victory, magnanimity."
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.
© 2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer