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Who you calling a fly?


The Bush team goes through justifications for occupying Iraq the way Imelda Marcos collected shoes. Whenever one rationale goes out of fashion, they are back in the spotlight a few days later with a more fashion-forward idea. WMDs? That’s so 2003. Saddam-Al Qaeda links? As passé as Michael Bolton’s mullet.


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 at home.

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 Excellent Adventure.

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 @


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