Skip to comments.Bush's Strategy in Iraq - Flypaper (My Title)
Posted on 09/10/2003 7:55:29 PM PDT by Tom Jefferson
Flypaper A Strategy Unfolds
Some time before the Iraq war, I found myself musing out loud to someone close to the inner circles of the Bush administration. We were talking about the post-war scenario, something that even then was a source of some worry even to gung-ho hawks like myself. I don't recall the precise conversation but I voiced some worries about what might happen if an occupied Iraq became a target for international terrorism. Wouldn't U.S. soldiers become sitting ducks? What was to stop al Qaeda using Iraq as a battleground in the war against the West? Or Hizbollah? Or even Hamas? Not to mention the Syrians and Iranians, who would persumably be terrified at the thought of an actual living, breathing democracy emerging in the monolithically repressive Arab world.
And what he said surprised me. 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 Ryadh and Damascus and Tehran. Operation Flytrap had been born.
I subsequently aired this theory on my blog, and received incredulous responses. Readers chimed in with objections. Wouldn't that mean essentially using U.S. soldiers as bait? Isn't this too cynical and devious a strategy? Isn't there a limitless supply of jihadists just longing to mix it up with the U.S. in a terrain they know better than we do? What on earth are you talking about?
But as the weeks and months have gone by, that conversation has stuck by me. It wasn't a retroactive justification of the mixture of progress and chaos we now see in the Sunni regions of Iraq - so I couldn't dismiss it as desperate post-hoc spin. If it wasn't a central part of the strategy from the beginning, it was surely a Plan B. And from statements from key Bush officials in the past couple of months, it's clear that it's now very close to Plan A.
What else did president Bush mean when he challenged the terror-masters to "bring 'em on," in Iraq? Those are not the words of a man seeking merely to pacify a country, but to continue waging war against terrorism. On August 25, Donald Rumsfeld said to a group called the veterans of Foreign Wars: "In Iraq moreover we¹re dealing not just with regime remnants but also with tens of thousands of criminals that were released from the jails by the regime before it fell, as well as terrorists and foreign fighters who have entered the country over the borders to try to oppose the Coalition. They pose a challenge to be sure but they also pose an opportunity because Coalition forces can deal with the terrorists now in Iraq instead of having to deal with those terrorists elsewhere, including the United States." Opportunity knocks.
Last week, Paul Wolfowitz chimed in with a piece in the Wall Street Journal, specifically citing the occupation of Iraq as a central part of the war against terror. "Even before the bombing of the U.N. headquarters, if you'd asked Gen. Mattis and his Marines," Wolfowitz wrote, "there was no question in their minds that the battle they wage - the battle to secure the peace in Iraq - is now the central battle in the war on terrorism. It's the same with the commander of the Army's 1st Armored Division, Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who recently described that second group as 'international terrorists or extremists who see this as the Super Bowl.' They're going to Iraq, he said, 'to take part in something they think will advance their cause.' He added, 'They're wrong, of course.' Among the hundreds of enemy that we have captured in the last months are more than 200 foreign terrorists who came to Iraq to kill Americans and Iraqis and to do everything they can to prevent a free and successful Iraq from emerging. They must be defeated - and they will be."
The reason the Bush administration went to the U.N. last week to seek more troops from foreign countries for peace-keeping and security purposes was therefore not merely an admission that they had goofed in estimating the number of troops required to pacify the country. 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. Listen to U.S. Army Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq. He just opined on CNN that attacks against U.S. forces have increased in "sophistication, especially in the improvised explosive devices that they are using, and we're working to learn from that and to be able to counter them." He went on, critically: "This is what I would call a terrorist magnet, where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity... But this is exactly where we want to fight them. ...This will prevent the American people from having to go through their attacks back in the United States." You won't find a better description of the "flytrap" strategy anywhere - or from a more authoritative source.
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.
Will this strategy work? Its obvious disadvantage is that it's tough to fight an escalating terrorist war in the same country you're trying simultaneously to nudge toward civil order and democracy. Terrorism undermines civil society even in countries with very advanced traditions of democracy, let alone a country like Iraq. Certainly, that internal contradiction helps explain why the U.S. is now desperate for more help in pacifying Iraq as well as waging war within it. 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.
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.
Even before the war started, this strategic opportunity was evident.
It's a spider's strategy -- attract the prey into the web and kill them. Better there than here.
At the same time, the terrorists cannot afford to stay clear. They cannot afford to have a democratic and economically successful Iraq in their midst. They must come into the web...
I also suspect there is another reason for the international peacekeeping force, beyond freeing up American forces for hunting down and killing terrorists in Iraq.
There is still unfinished business elsewhere. And some of the combat units will be pulled out, rested, refitted, retrained...then sent to kill more of the enemy in another location.
Iran, anyone? Syria? The Phillipines?
Kill them all.
Until Congressman BillyBob announced his Exploratory Committee, my tagline read:
None are so blind as those will not see. Or think...
Bingo - he flat out told all the terrorists if Iraq doesn't succeed, then the terrorists win. Please don't throw me in that briar patch.
Really? It's the same strategy used in Vietnam. It's called attrition, and it hasn't been notably successful. It's the same strategy Israel pursued in Lebanon before they were chased out. This is the stuff of fantasy.
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