Papering over the flypaper theory

Byline: | Category: Iraq, Media, Military | Posted at: Monday, 19 November 2007

President Bush made several arguments for our involvement in Iraq. The two that the anti-wars most often highlight are these:

Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. (Which, the antis love to point out, were never found)

A stable and democratic Iraq would be a beacon of modernity and hope to a severely troubled region. (The new mantra is, “Sure, you may be able to defeat Al Qaeda, but Iraq is still ungovernable.)

There was another argument for the war in Iraq: defeat them there so that they can’t attack us here. Remember the “Flypaper Theory”? Every day, that goal comes closer to being realized. Yet few in the media seem to have noticed.

From Jack Kelly:

We’re floundering in a quagmire in Iraq. Our strategy is flawed, and it’s too late to change it. Our resources have been squandered, our best people killed, we’re hated by the natives and our reputation around the world is circling the drain. We must withdraw.

That’s not America that Kelly is talking about, but Al-Qaeda. Kelly adds, “It may have been a mistake for the United States to go to war in Iraq. But it’s pretty clear now it was a blunder for al-Qaida to have done so.”

Read the whole thing.


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23 Responses to “Papering over the flypaper theory”

  1. david Says:

    I support the troops and wish them all success. In fact I’m in training to enlist with an option 40 (Ranger) contract. I will be giving up a 90k a year job to do so.

    There are many reasons to justify Iraq but this one – while strategically sound – is ethically dubious.

    I know that the world is harsh and sometimes a lot of bad has to happen to see any good. But my problem with this argument is this: What gives us the right to export our problems to a foriegn country? How do we justify the deaths of thousands of Iraqis to save thousands of Americans? Morally, this argument strikes me as nothing less than cynical and bankrupt.

    I would like to see you make this argument to a bunch of Iraqis. Thier response would be most interesting.

  2. other bob Says:

    The missing point here is that AQ in Iraq didn’t exist in any significant form before we invaded. It gained strength for a while by pulling in local insurgents, and now those insurgents are leaving it (and in some cases, leaving it in exchange for weapons and training from us and with their solemn promise not to turn around again and use those weapons against us, but that’s another story). But they were local insurgents for the most part, not imports from other countries.

    So it’s not so much the flypaper theory, as the theory of feeding maggots and then killing some of the flies and getting the rest of the flies to stop calling themselves “flies.”

    But it’s been highly successful operation from that point of view.

  3. Ron W Says:

    What about the 700 WMDs that were found in Iraq? How to explain away those?

  4. Bob K Says:

    Other Bob, You might want to do some research on just how much of the Iraqi carnage was instigated by home-grown terrorists. You’ll be surprised.

    David does raise a good point. In fact, President Bush never advanced the flypaper theory. As Kelly says in his article referenced above, the flypaper theory was advanced by a Canadian columnist. Still, it is a ethically dubious strategy. Not necessarily a bad strategy, but certainly one that you wouldn’t want to advertise to your allies. Except for the Russians in 1812 and 1940, I can’t think of any other nations over the years that have been happy about luring an enemy into their homeland so that they would fall into a trap.

  5. Jay Says:

    David, AQ was heading into Iraq from the Afghanistan theatre, and in the words of Tony Blair, “We will fight them where ever they go.”

    Altho niether of us can speak for Iraqis, here are some who are glad we helped chase Zarqawi out of thier small town, where he turned thier mosque into a toilet.

  6. Bob K Says:

    As much as I’d like to believe that there’s been a media conspiracy to cover up evidence of WMDs in Iraq, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, so I’d like to see your evidence of these WMDs.

  7. newscaper Says:

    Bob K,
    No URLs here, but but smaller lots of WMD *were* found here and there — just no big stockpiles.

    What WAS absolutely confirmed, which the ‘no WMDs’ complainers like to overlook, was that the big WMD reports which said there were no more stockpiles ALSO proved that the Iraqis WERE holding onto WMD tech and scientists for rebuilding once sanctions were dropped.

  8. JorgXMcKie Says:

    WMD covers stuff besides nukes.

    Maybe we should ask the Iraqis which they prefer: Saddam remaining and killing 100,000+ Iraqis per year, or; the US liberating them and then fighting AQ (plus recalcitrant Baathists, etc) with a cost of thousands of Iraqis per year.

    Just how many would have died had we removed Saddam then left because we couldn’t find a nuke program? Who wants to take the credit/blame for the ensuing activity?

  9. DWPittelli Says:

    In fact, President Bush never advanced the flypaper theory.

    Perhaps not before the war. But his “bring ‘em on” quote was a pretty clear endorsement of flypaper. (I thought the criticism of Bush for saying “bring ‘em on” was itself ill-founded. Deaths of US troops in Iraq are of course a bad thing, but the kill ratio would probably be 1 or 2 orders of magnitude worse for us in the US or Europe.)

    As to the morality of it: if flypaper were the only or primary reason to invade a country like Costa Rica, it would indeed be immoral. But the invasion of Iraq was overdetermined, and the AUMF had something like 23 bases for war.

  10. otherbob Says:

    because we couldn’t find a nuke program?

    … because there wasn’t a significant nuke program to find …

    Other Bob, You might want to do some research on just how much of the Iraqi carnage was instigated by home-grown terrorists. You’ll be surprised.

    Are you saying it’s not home-grown terrorists doing most of the damage? First of all, AQI isn’t and never has been the source of most of the carnage in Iraq. Far more has been due to insurgents and organized militia that didn’t align with AQI. Plus organized crime on top of the sectarian conflicts. AQI gets attention not because it’s the source of the most carnage in Iraq, but because it’s the one source that fits the way the pro-war side prefer to frame the arguments. But there’s no doubt that most of the carnage in Iraq is due to Iraqis fighting us and Iraqis fighting Iraqis, and if you have evidence to the contrary I’d certainly like to see it.

    Maybe you’re saying that members of AQI are mostly non-Iraqi? I wasn’t able to find any source saying anything like that. Here’s a WaPo quote saying the opposite, FWIW:

    Although AQI’s top leader, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, is thought to be Egyptian, most members “are Iraqis, both in terms of leaders and foot soldiers,” said one counterterrorism official. He and other officials estimated that Iraqis make up 90 percent of AQI’s several thousand fighters.

  11. bob Says:

    i said “instigated” not “perpetrated”. thanks for doing my research for me.

  12. aaron Says:

    Don’t forget we’re training terrorists, who cares that we’re training ourselves– by more than an order of magnitude– more.

  13. otherbob Says:

    i said “instigated” not “perpetrated”. thanks for doing my research for me.

    Sorry, that’s too cryptic for me to follow.

    You’ve got lots of Iraqis who want us out of there and/or want the sort of Islamic fundamentalism that Saddam so brutally repressed and/or hate those who are part of a different branch of Islam, etc. Those are the source of most of the violence. Those are the factors, the motives, that drive the violence. If some random Egyptian hadn’t shown up to start group X, they’d have followed group Y.

    Are you suggesting otherwise? That if Abu Ayyub al-Masri hadn’t come in from Egypt, the Iraqis now aligned with AQI would be sitting at home peacefully minding their own business, rather than simply attacking US troops and other Iraqis under the umbrella of any one of dozens of different organizations?

  14. bob Says:

    There’s a huge difference between having a discontented, unorganized rabble and an trained and equipped insurgent force that was organized by the most competent radical islamic terrorist organization in the Middle East. Kind of like the difference between a mob and an army.

    Hope that’s not too “cryptic” for you.

  15. david Says:

    Jay, I dispute the notion that AQ would have set up much of a base in Iraq with Saddam still in place. Yes, they had communication, and yes, they trained together to a limited degree. But Saddam was not so foolish as to invite a well funded external group into Iraq to challenge his rule. At best he saw them as a tool to tweak common enemies like the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

    The bottom line is we created a power vacuum and AQ tried to fill it. I have no doubt that many Iraqis feel that what we did there was correct despite the hardships they have had to endure.

    I also have no doubt that there are better justifications for our enterprise there. Yes, WMD is a justification. Yes, we got it wrong. So did the rest of the world’s intelligence agencies and the UN. Nevertheless Bush was WRONG and leaders who make bad calls on important matters deserve whatever they get from the public. In Bush’s case he lucked out running against the useless John Kerry. I personally wanted nothing more than to punish Bush for getting it wrong, but Kerry was no option whatsoever. Other justifications both humanitarian and economic can be made.

    I just think the flypaper justification reeks. This is serious business and I expect that those in power will without hesitation sacrifice innocent foreigners to save US lives. Such is the brutality of the world. Doesn’t make it smell any better.

  16. david Says:

    I might add that I personally witnessed an underinformed neocon collegue try the flypaper justification on some Iraqis I worked with. Why he would do that is beyond me, I don’t talk politics with people who pay me, but whatever. Thier reaction is best described as nothing short of rage.

    “So I stay awake all night in fear for my relatives just so you can sleep well? How dare you treat my family this way? How dare you? I have no respect for you anymore. I thought you were an intellectual.”

    Rarely have I ever seen anyone dressed down in public so brutally. I felt bad for the guy even. He had to work with them afterwards and later he apologised very convincingly by admitting that he was flat out ethically wrong. He simply had not thought to walk in thier shoes for even a minute.

    They’re happy Saddam is dead. They just want the killing to stop. They’re not interested in setting traps for AQ that get them and thiers killed just so the US can feel safe.

    The plural of anectdote is not data but I thought I’d throw that out there.

  17. blaster Says:

    Bob K -

    Here’s a URL for you:


    That you haven’t heard of HUNDREDS of WMD in Iraq speaks volumes.

    Hundreds of people independently working toward the same goal are indistinguishable from conspiracy.

  18. AST Says:

    Given the amount of time and warning we gave him, Saddam would have been a pretty lousy dictator if there were any trace of WMD left when we got there. Somehow, nobody ever takes that into account. We went to the U.N. and debated the thing in the Senate. You can put an awful lot of stuff in a few cargo planes in the time we gave Saddam.

    The reason we had to get rid of him is that he was still firing on our planes and those of the Brits patrolling the no-fly zones. If we were willing to impose no-fly zones on the sovereign territory of Iraq, why should anybody think it was “illegal” to go in and clean out the source of the problem in the first place?

  19. third bob Says:

    Wow! 500 DEGRADED chem weapon shells? Get a life and stop with the crazy conspiracy stuff. It turns out that Clinton’s bombing run in the late 90′s significantly degraded Iraq’s capability to pursue WMD in any meaningful and effective way. Rummy said we knew just where the stockpiles were – over a hundred sites. None checked out. Aluminum tubes – oops, not for centrifuges after all. Niger yellowcake? Complete fabrication. Mobile chem labs? Nope. (Curveball was aptly named.) So you rest your case on these 500 DEGRADED shells? As a case for war? To prove a conspiracy? To justify 4000+ American dead and 20000+ injured? Have you not merely lost your sense of proportion but also your mind?

  20. bob Says:

    Third bob,
    Niger yellowcake was not a complete fabrication. However, Joe Plame’s story was.

  21. Ron W Says:

    First hit on Yahoo. Don’t know how Bob K could have missed it. I searched “700 wmd chemical iraq”. There were a lot more, but you can look for yourself is you like.Yahoo reported 281,000 pages that match.

    Chemical and biological weapons have always been classed as WMDs. Iraq wasn’t supposed to have them at the time we invaded. So, we did find WMDs that Sadam hid.

    Just because we didn’t find nukes doesn’t mean he wasn’t trying to get them. I think the evidence is clear. Joe Plame Wilson has been proved to be a liar.

  22. third bob Says:

    I suppose Niger is an actual country, and they do have yellowcake, so you’re right – it’s not a complete fabrication. Read Hubris if you dare. I know that the authors don’t have the right wing seal of approval, but I haven’t seen a refutation of the evidence the authors present. If you have, let me know.

  23. bob Says:

    The WaPo doesn’t have the “right wing seal of approval” either, but they also seem to indicate, along with a bipartisan Senate Intelligence committee that Iraq did seek Nigerian yellowcake. It’s not new news either. Joe Plame’s treachery has long been known.