in my daily surfing, i’ve been reading about the so-called “flypaper” theory. that is, one of the latest post-hoc justification for the war in iraq. the theory is attributed to andrew sullivan. sullivan came up with this theory to defend the president when he was criticized for his “bring it on” comment. sullivan described what later was coined the flypaper theory as follows:
Being based in Iraq helps us not only because of actual
bases; but because the American presence there diverts
terrorist attention away from elsewhere. By confronting
them directly in Iraq, we get to engage them in a military
setting that plays to our strengths rather than to theirs'.
Continued conflict in Iraq, in other words, needn't always
be bad news. It may be a sign that we are drawing the
terrorists out of the woodwork and tackling them in the open.
the beauty of this theory for pro-invasion types is that the continuing attacks of u.s. troops are now neatly explained away as “all part of the plan.” the flypaper theory essentially allows us to survey the carnage and say we meant for this to happen all along.
on its face, this theory is so flimsy and seems like such an obvious a post-hoc attempt to justify the chaos we have created in that country. but now i am disturbed to see that the theory seems to be catching on. as the new york times reported earlier this week:
Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of coalition ground
forces, told CNN that "we still have a long way to go" before.
eliminating resistance Iraq had become "a terrorist magnet,"
drawing some anti-American extremists from abroad to
"a target of opportunity."
then glenn reynolds took that quote as a confirmation that the flypaper theory is correct. while tom tomorrow dismisses it as nothing more than
“a bedtime story for Bush sycophants” that is not an actual policy of anyone in power in the bush administration (and i think he’s right about that), bloggers on the right for some reason are taking this as if it were a logical reason not only for the war, but also for the u.s.’ continued engagement in iraq. perhaps that only shows how desperate they are for some justification, any justification, in the face of mounting american casualties.
the objections to the flypaper theory are obvious, but, to do my very small part to explain to the other side why the theory is such crap, here are some of the major flaws that pop immediately to mind:
(1) the theory was never mentioned by the bush administration in the months and weeks leading up to the war. (i challenge anyone to find anyone in the administration floating such a theory prior to may 1, 2003) the fact that bush and co. never used this as a justification is even more remarkable when we consider just how many justifications they did use with the public.
so even if it wasn’t mentioned prior to the war, what if the flypaper theory was the real reason bush pushed for an invasion. in my mind that makes it worse. if it’s the real reason for the invasion, than bush hid the real reason for invasion from the american public. the flypaper theory does not save the bush administration with the current allegations that it misled the american public, it makes it worse.
(2) the flypaper theory is an endorsement for the ongoing deaths of american soldiers. after all, the theory means that the u.s. is intentionally putting american soldiers in harms way so that they can be attacked. the attacks are not an unfortunate side effect of the policy, but rather the whole point for our invasion in the first place.
consider this: what if bush had secretly contacted osama bin laden after the 9-11 attacks and said “look, these attacks on u.s. soil are no good. if you want u.s. blood, fine. how about if we send you one young american a month to be executed and in return you stay out of north america.” if the flypaper theory is correct, we are effectively doing that now by going into iraq. it’s the is functionally equivalent to throwing virgins into a volcano to appease the gods. and just as effective.
(3) the theory assumes that the people who are attacking u.s. troops are terrorists who would otherwise be attacking americans elsewhere. there is no basis for believing this. indeed, this assumption directly contradicts the administration’s current insistence that all of the attacks are coming from iraqis loyal to the former regime. in all of the reported arrests of alleged al-qaeda members around the world in the past two years, i have yet to hear of any who were iraqi, they seem to be from all over the rest of the arabic world. maybe there have been some iraqi al-qaeda members that i have not heard about, but it is pretty clear that most members of al-qaeda are not from iraq. on the other hand, all of the attackers whose capture or death has been reported to date have been iraqis. while there have been plenty of reports that foreign fighters are wandering in iraq, no proof that any of the attacks have come from them has surfaced. so where are all the non-iraqi terrorists? apparently this flypaper isn’t doing a good job of attracting them.
(4) the theory directly contradicts any humanitarian justification for being in iraq. if that is why were are there, we cannot be trying to improve the lives of iraqis, we need their society to remain in chaos for this to work. if a free peaceful democratic iraq emerges, our flypaper will lose its stick. the only way to keep it working is to keep iraq a mess.
(5) we already had a perfectly good piece of flypaper flapping around the region before we invaded iraq. remember afghanistan? u.s. troops are still there. if the flypaper theory really worked, iraq is completely superfluous.
(6) this is somewhat of an extension of #4 above, but this theory means the u.s. cannot leave iraq. flypaper only stops flies for as long as it is hanging on the wall. assuming the theory is correct, if we ever try to pull troops out of iraq the terrorists will no longer be attracted to the troops there and will swarm over to somewhere else. so we have to stay there. indefinitely. currently that costs $3.9 billion a month, not to mention the human costs of the soldiers who are taking those bullets for us over there. ironically, if the flypaper theory is true, it means one criticism of the war in iraq is dead-on correct. we have no exit strategy.
(7) the flypaper analogy also is based on another assumption commonly made around conservative circles theses days. the best explanation for it i have seen was in a comment by andrew brown to this essay on billmon’s blog:
The maddest, saddest thing about the neocons is that they
believe that 'terrorism' is an ontological category, not a
tactic. So they reckon there is a fixed number of terrorists,
and, once they are all dead, there won't be any more. But it
doesn't work like that. For every civilian you kill, you make
another two terrorists. And the more you kill, the more there
will be. The British know this. the French learned it in
Algeria. Even the Israelis know it now. But Bush and his
voters are going to have to learn it all over again, very slowly,
very painfully; and the whole damn world will pay the price this
the flypaper theory also rests on this fallacy; it assumes that there are a fixed number of terrorists that can be attracted to iraq which means that there will be less terrorists elsewhere in the world. it ignores the effect that u.s. occupation of iraq will have in creating terrorists, not only in iraq, but all over the world. some of those people enraged by the u.s. occupation may travel to iraq to attack u.s. troops, many more will probably go for easier targets–an embassy or mcdonalds closer to their home. a third group may even decide to take it to the source–attack people in america. the u.s. occupation of iraq can act as a powerful recruitment tool for new terrorists and these new terrorists will not necessarily feel like restricting their attacks to americans in iraq. (note: a version of this argument with a better analogy was made by joshua marshall)
as i said, these are just the one’s that pop immediately to mind. (see also leah’s discussion at atrios)