The sling-back stiletto
now being modeled by our fashion-forward Administration
is the so-called flypaper theory – the idea
that we should stay the course in Iraq because it
is better to confront the terrorists there than here
One of its leading proponents has been Andrew Sullivan,
who argued back in 2003 “that more violence
in Iraq may not in some circumstances be a bad thing.
It may be a sign that we are flushing out terror and
confronting it, rather than passively waiting for
it to attack again. (President Bush) has to remind
people that this war is far from over, that the mission
is still very much unaccomplished, and that this is
not Vietnam. Right now he looks defensive, reactive
and not in full control. That must end. And articulating
the flypaper strategy might just help end it.”
And articulate it he did, even as the bombings in
London showed that the definitions of “there”
and “here” were, shall we say, fluid.
Now it is unquestionably true that Al Qaeda has not
attacked on U.S. soil since 9/11. If you aren’t
familiar with the catalog of logical fallacies, you
will take this as proof of the wisdom of our “fight
them there” strategy. If you know what “post
hoc, ergo propter hoc” means, you know that
the recitation of these two facts proves nothing.
Causation is not proven by the calendar; a terrorist
attack could come tomorrow. And if the toxic clusterfuck
formerly known as New Orleans proves anything, it
shows that we are even less capable of dealing with
a major tragedy than we were four years ago. Thousands
of National Guard resources that should have been
in Louisiana and Mississippi weren’t, because
they were propping up our overextended military in
Iraq. Our economy, already groaning under the strain
of massive increases in government pork barrel spending
with no tangible benefit, is further hobbled by the
nearly $6 billion per month cost of Dick and Donald’s
All of which raises a critical question: if Iraq
is indeed flypaper, who, exactly, is the fly? We have
no idea how many Al Qaeda operatives are really in
Iraq, but it is estimated that only 4 to 10% of the
insurgents are non-Iraqis. If Al Qaeda is really behind
the insurgency in any meaningful way, they seem to
have been far more successful than we have been at
assembling a “coalition of the willing.”
There seems to be a waiting list of people –
Iraqis? foreigners? does it matter? – willing
to be soldiers, or perhaps more accurately, ordnance,
in the war against the U.S., the Shiites, and whatever
else they are fighting against.
The inherent asymmetry of urban guerrilla warfare
is now making life easier for the insurgency and harder
for us. Destroying order in a stable society is, we
hope, difficult; accelerating chaos in a failed state
is basic thermodynamics. The entropy in Iraq seems
to have reached critical mass, so that the chain reaction
will continue without further prodding from on high.
My guess is that if Al Qaeda has any meaningful presence
at all at this point, they could pull out without
changing the outcome.
Administration propaganda to the contrary, today
Al Qaeda appears untrammeled in its reach and prospects.
Like virtually all guerilla warriors before them,
it adapts its tactics to the weaknesses of its adversaries.
With the possible exceptions of flying airliners into
large buildings and a frontal assault on Kabul, it
is hard to see what options our self-inflicted wound
of a strategy forecloses for them. While the bulk
of our fighting strength plays Whack-a-Mole with an
ill-defined enemy that can effortlessly melt into
the general population, that enemy grows in strength
and numbers, and watches as our every move strengthens
Al Qaeda’s own dreams of conquest.
We, on the other hand, are paralyzed. Whether for
the stated reasons (finish what we started, honor
the sacrifice of the fallen, last throes, etc.) or
the real ones (oil, building fourteen permanent military
bases takes time, oil, Dubya’s Oedipal rage,
wealth transfer to Halliburton, oil), we stubbornly
remain, and there seems to be no fact or body count
that will extract us from this nightmare.
The result, of course, is utter emasculation of our
status as a superpower. Does any potential enemy or
rival fear us more now than they did before “Mission
Accomplished?” Certainly Iran, the target of
our latest round of saber-rattling, sees us as largely
hamstrung by our two-quagmire military strategy. Even
if our military was not overextended by our current
adventures in Iraq, our ability to take on Iran without
stunning losses is doubtful at best. (Read this
stunning piece about Iran’s missile advantage
– that’s right, advantage – and
be very, very afraid.) When Condi puffs up like a
fugu in front of the Security Council about Iran’s
nuclear ambitions, the snickering in Tehran must be
loud enough to echo in Washington.
Iraq may indeed be the flypaper that our President
and his henchmen assert it to be. But it is hard to
avoid the conclusion that we are the ones with our
wings stuck to the Shell No-Pest strip.
John Steinberg is a Senior Recidivist with the
Poor Man Institute for Freedom and Democracy and a
Pony. He bloviates regularly @ www.bluememe.blogspot.com.