September 09, 2003

Sullivan and Flypaper Andrew Sullivan's

Sullivan and Flypaper

Andrew Sullivan's weblog is likely the best in the entire blogosphere. I, like thousands of other folks, turn to it daily for an intelligent precis and analysis of the key events of the day. Most of the time I'm reading his blog I think he's pretty much spot on regarding myriad issues. But on the entire flypaper issue--he's way off base (see too an earlier, related post I had up on this topic).

Sullivan has a piece up on the whole flypaper meme in the latest Sunday Times (UK). He gets it wrong right off the get go in the title of his piece: ""Flypaper: A Strategy Unfolds."

Let's stop kidding ourselves and spinning like a Paul Begala. We went into Iraq to forcibly disarm Saddam of his WMD and unseat his regime. Not to have foreign jihadis and al-Qaeda open up fronts in Iraq so we could (allegedly) mop them up outside of Tel Aviv, London and NYC. There was no such strategy. There still isn't. And it wasn't (and isn't) unfolding. To so intimate is to be lapping up Pentagon propaganda without rational antenna up and about.

Sullivan then goes on and trots out Bush's "bring 'em on" quote. For Sullivan, this was a purposeful White House declaration meant to egg on the bad guys to mount terror operations in Iraq so as to keep Grand Central and Big Ben safe and sound. More plausibly, it was a braggodocio-infused Texism meant to warn Baathists die-hards, Saddam Fedayeen, assorted foreign fighters and criminal gangs that the U.S. would ultimately prevail over them.

I had no problem with the Presidential locution then or now--we all like flavorful, tough rhetoric emanating from the White House now and then in these perilous times. But for Sullivan to argue that this passing phrase uttered by Dubya was meant as a formal enunciation of a "flypaper strategy" is laughable.

Next, Sullivan quotes Rummy and Wolfy to the effect that Iraq now constitutes the central battlefield in the war on terror, ie. the flytrap is scooping up the bad guys in the Sunni Triangle and, if we win there--we will have ostensibly dealt near mortal blows to al-Qaeda and other assorted terror groups.

Instead, as observers of international terrorist organizations realize, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, PFLP-GC, DFLP, Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, Chechen separatists (and other groups besides) are not rushing their forces into Iraq to fight the American Satan near Paul Bremer's offices. They, of course, have got their own battles to wage in Indonesia, Israel, Chechnya, and points beyond.

That's not to say that Iraq has not become a key front in the war on terror. (BTW, be careful how you define terrorism. Bombing the Jordanian Embassy or the UN HQ in Baghdad constitutes terrorism. Killing combat-ready U.S. troops in Iraq doesn't. You wouldn't readily have picked up on that distinction listening to Dubya's speech last night). But we won't solve the problems of global terror simply because we prevail in Iraq. The phenomenon is much broader and involves territorial disputes and national liberation struggles from Aceh to Kashmir, from Chechyna to Palestine.

To be sure, the fact that al-Qaeda is opening up a front in Iraq is worrisome and we certainly need to soundly defeat them there. But note, it's just one front, among many others. Sure, al-Qaeda knows that killing over 200 U.S. GIs in a massive bombing in Iraq would have a major impact on the American psyche akin to the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut in the '80's. They think (but are wrong, because someone like Dubya rather than Clinton is in office) that such an attack might push the U.S. out of Iraq. They would doubtless love to pull such an operation off.

But UBL and his henchmen know too that a mega-terror attack on the scale of 9/11 in a London, New York or Chicago would have a hugely larger impact. You can place the flytrap from Casablanca to Jakarta and al-Qaeda operatives will still be trying to hit major Western metropolises. And, as Tom Ridge would likely tell you, it's a matter of time before the homeland is struck again--no matter what is going on in Iraq.

Sullivan goes on (regarding recent U.S. moves to attempt to internationalize the force component in Iraq): "It was a move designed to liberate the U.S. military machine from peace-keeping in order to concentrate on war-making - against the terror network they had come to destroy."

Come again? The reason we're asking for more troops is because we don't have enough on the ground, period, whether for hunting down various resistance forces (terrorist or other) or for more traditional peacekeeping duties. And the terror network we came to destroy was the Ace of Spades and a few other key figures specified in the deck of cards occupying the pinnacle of the neo-Stalinist, brutish Baathist ruling class--most of whom have been disposed of already--not fictititious personages born of some catch-all bogus flytrap chimera that has foreign fighters swarming into Iraq from around the globe.

Sullivan: "The extra beauty of this strategy is that it creates a target for Islamist terrorists that is not Israel. A key objective of the current U.S. strategy is to show that Israel is not the fundamental cause of instability and mayhem in the Middle East - but a victim of the same kind of pathological religious extremism that has destroyed Iran, brutalized Afghanistan and blackmailed Saudi Arabia. Before the Iraq war, the U.S. could do little to counter these maniacs directly. Now they have a theater of war - and it isn't the West Bank."

Folks, Islamists terrorists have already found myriad targets that aren't Israel. They've found them in Riyadh, Moscow, Bali, Casablanca, NYC, Paris, Tunisia, the Pentagon and airliners criss-crossing the world for decades.

And since when has it become a "key objective of the current U.S. strategy to show that Israel is not the fundamental cause of instability and mayhem in the Middle East"? Maybe Doug Feith has given this some thought--but a Presidential policy priority it ain't.

And does anyone really think this inscrutable flytrap is going to lessen terror attacks on Israel in the coming days--especially if Sheikh Yassin is killed and Gaza become embroiled in anarchic, self-destructive rage for many weeks--with the attendant (and predictable) vicious rash of suicide bombings such an action will set off in large number?

Again, Sullivan: "One possibility is that better and more aggressive policing in urban areas (by Iraqis and foreign troops) will enable U.S. soldiers to leave the cities and fight a guerrilla war against al Qaeda and Hezbollah in the Iraqi hinterland, putting extra pressure on Iran and Syria at the same time. That would be an elegant solution. But at the moment it's a somewhat optimistic one."

Hezbollah in the Iraqi hinterland? But wait, I thought these guys were based in Lebanon, no? That's not to say an immaterial amount (perhaps a few score or hundred) Hezbollah fighters haven't crossed the Syrian border with Iraq (that Bashar Assad could, and should, make less porous) but to argue that Iraq is now a "flytrap" for Hezbollah is absurd. We'd need to march into Syria, Lebanon and Iran to deracinate Hezbollah. Any takers right now?

Sullivan concludes:

"At some point, I'd argue, the president therefore has to make this strategy more formal. He has to tell the American people 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. He 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."

With all due respect to Andrew Sullivan, the vast majority of judicious observers realize that more violence in Iraq is most assuredly not a good thing--even, frankly, if you bought into this entire flytrap argument--as the nation-building effort would be imperiled spawning failed state conditions that would produce more terrorists to replace those we caught up in the supposed flytrap.

Here's hoping Bush doesn't make flypaper his strategy. I know that George Kennan isn't manning the helm at Policy Planning at the State Department anymore. But surely the collective intellectual might of the American foreign policy elite will come up with a better strategy than something called flypaper. Or so one hopes.

Posted by Gregory at September 9, 2003 12:39 AM
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