2004/09/02

The "Flypaper" theory revisited

President Bush tells us:

I tell people all the time, "We will stay on the on the offense. We will bring
them to justice in foreign lands so we don't have to face them here at home,"
and that's because you cannot negotiate with these people.


I've already dealt with the idea that “You just can't negotiate with certain people” by pointing out that the certain people that one “can't negotiate with” are a small part of the whole problem and that it's a terrible error to ignore the rest of the picture.
The suggestion that we must deal with the bad guys over there or deal with them here is known as the “Flypaper” theory. It's actually a pretty old idea.

From a 5 Jul 03 Canadian article:

What the media, and U.S. Democrats affect not to grasp, is that the soldiers are
now replacing targets that otherwise would be provided by defenceless civilians,
both in Iraq and at large. The sore thumb of the U.S. occupation -- and it is a
sore thumb equally to Baathists and Islamists, compelling their response -- is
not a mistake. It is carefully hung flypaper.

This idea was extended in 6 Sep 03 article:

If the terrorists leave us alone in Iraq, fine, he said. But if they come and
get us, even better. Far more advantageous to fight terror using trained
soldiers in Iraq than trying to defend civilians in New York or London. "Think
of it as a flytrap," he ventured. Iraq would not simply be a test-case for
Muslim democracy; it would be the first stage in a real and aggressive war
against the terrorists and their sponsors in Riyadh and Damascus and Tehran.
Operation Flytrap had been born.

Crooked Timber contested what it called the “lump of terrorism” fallacy:

Similarly, the ‘flypaper’ theory implicitly assumes that there’s a fixed amount
of al Qaeda terrorism sloshing around in the international system, so that it’s
a good1 idea to divert it from the US to Iraq - more terrorists attacking
troops in Iraq would mean less terrorists attacking the homeland. But there
isn’t a fixed amount - instead, US actions in Iraq are almost certain to affect
the ‘supply’ of al Qaeda terrorists. Indeed, the WP article suggests that the US
occupation is leading to a substantial increase in the willingness of potential
fighters to take up arms, so that the invasion isn’t just drawing existing al
Qaeda combatants to Iraq; it’s creating new recruits
.

Which was confirmed by a later article on Iraq's borders:

Ten days ago, Col. David A. Teeples, who is part of General Swannack's command,
said only a small number of the foreigners were among the 500 to 600 people his
forces had captured in attacks on coalition forces.

After the Battle of Falluja, an Iraqi general made himself disliked by the Americans because:

American commanders say 200 foreign fighters are holed up in Falluja and have
demanded that the city hands them over. But Gen Saleh, an ex-Republican Guard
officer who has been promoted to run a 1,000-strong local security force, has
refused. "There are no foreign fighters in Falluja and the local tribal leaders
have told me the same," he said.

And no, there is no evidence that other sites in the world are now off-limits or any safer than they were before the Iraq War. Saudi Arabia was bombed on 9 Nov 03. Spain’s railroads were attacked on 11 Mar 04. Other attacks have taken place as well.

So the theory that, by sending soldiers to Iraq, America has made the rest of the world or even just the US safer, is apparently just so much wishful thinking.

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