Just Above Sunset
August 28, 2005 - Some Conceptual and Practical and Moral Issues

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Gregory Djerejian in London is the vice-president and general counsel of a financial services company that specializes in commercial real estate projects, alternative investments, and company acquisitions. So? He also helps manage a philanthropic organization that has supported a number of projects in the Republic of Armenia including a loan program for small and medium sized enterprises undertaken in conjunction with the Washington-based Eurasia Foundation. Before that he was a corporate lawyer in New York. He also worked with our State Department in Bosnia, and had worked at the US Mission to the United Nations and with the congress. His full bio is here, and he publishes The Belgravia Dispatch. He brings an interesting perspective to things, and doesn't rant, and doesn't wear the conspiracy tin-foil hat you find so often on the web. And by the way, Belgravia is the neighborhood in London where you find all the embassies - as you recall from the Sherlock Holmes stories. That's where this fellow lives.

Thursday, August 25, you will find on the site an item that considers the "flypaper theory" of why we have to fight on in Iraq at the same level, if not at some increased level. The theory has its problems - call them logic problems - and they interest me because I have heard this justification for what we're doing in Iraq from any number of those I know now posted there, and from their friends and relatives.

The theory, in the president's words –


Our troops know that they're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy. They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war, and they know we will prevail.


We all have heard that repeated by those who want to explain how things really are to those "others" - who think the Iraq operations were and are a diversion from the main task at hand, and make us no safer, and squandered our resources. The idea posited is that this Iraq business is a clever way of creating a new front in the larger war, a contained area where we lure the bad guys and take care of them - Iraq as flypaper to trap them, if you will.

Put aside the problem that this explanation appeared late in the justifications for the war, after the WMD business fell apart and nothing could be established connecting the regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks of September 11, 2001 - it came much later, along with the idea we were there to establish an Jeffersonian democracy with full rights for all, including women, and with a deregulated free-market capitalistic-entrepreneurial economy. That too is now in question as we see a budding Islamic theocracy is quite possible, with its implicit repressions, and the arguments over the new constitution drag on.

Why we have to fight on in Iraq at the same level - why we have to "stay the course" - has now devolved into two contentions - all we have left for justification.

One is the flypaper concept, and the other - ''the way to honor American troops killed in Iraq is to complete their mission and bring freedom to the region.'' If we change course now we dishonor those who have died.

As mention previously, this second idea is why so many are now angry. The idea is now floating around that someone betrayed those almost two thousand good people - and they are dead. And they are dead for no good reason. That is, in some minds, criminal - unless there is a clear explanation of why their deaths were necessary. More and more Americans just don't get it. Allowing more to die makes no sense to them. It doesn't address the issue of what the first two thousand died for.

Putting aside the we-sacrificed-so-many-so-we-have-to-continue-simply-to-make-those-initial-deaths-meaningful argument, there's this flypaper business.

That is what is examined in The Flypaper Fallacy: 10 Reasons Not To Believe the Hype in The Belgravia Dispatch.

Here, Gregory Djerejian explains "the main reason I supported Bush's re-election was because I felt he wouldn't precipitously draw-down from Iraq like Kerry all but declared he would" - but he is troubled. Partly it's that he senses Americans "are smelling out something rather simple" - we are not successfully achieving our strategic objectives in Iraq, which he identifies as the "creation of a viable unitary and democratic state." He cites "dismally poor post-war planning run out of the Pentagon."

But there is this:


That is not to say we are condemned to fail. Far from it. Let's recall some basics. George Bush unseated perhaps the cruelest, most odious leader on the world stage in ridding Iraq of Saddam. Some 8 million Iraqis braved fascistic violence to come out and vote last January. Zal Khalizad is making a yeoman's effort in cobbling together a workable compromise on a constitution that could, just perhaps, help breathe new life into forging a unitary, democratic Iraq -ideally striking a deft balance between central authority (which is critical so as to avoid the specter of ethnic cleansing and the concomitant imperiling of minority rights) and some degree of federalism (Shia, especially in the south, and the Kurds, of course, will demand it). And, to Bush's credit, despite the increasingly loud calls from various quarters, he appears (I say appears as we hear too much of troop draw-downs from points Pentagon) to be continuing to stand up with the Iraqi people during this hugely arduous process.


But there are problems.

What problems? Try this - after more than two years after "the end of major combat operations" you have the daily attacks right in the middle of Baghdad, in broad daylight.

And this list –


- "Towns abutting the Euphrates in Anbar Province are once again becoming insurgent sanctuaries."

- "Largely unregulated Kurdish militias more or less rule the north with impunity, and they are said to be detaining extra-judicially myriad Arabs in detention centers."

- "Strategically critical towns like Kirkuk remain potential tinder-boxes."

- "There is a possible intra-Shi'a schism brewing, and Moktada al-Sadr looks set to start causing trouble again, though he continues to step back from the precipice as is his wont."

- "And while the constitution might yet be agreed, it is unclear what, if any, real impact its passage would have on both on the insurgency and your typical Iraqi on the street, worried more about security and, also, bread and butter related issues like jobs and the state of reconstruction efforts (unemployment is sky-high and reconstruction continues to seriously lag)."


Other than that? Things are fine.

Of course we are getting tired of "the easy, stump lines, especially when they've been repeated over and over and over for several years now" - "I understand freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is an Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world." –


You know, I don't really care anymore, if I ever did, whether freedom is God's gift or the US's gift or France's gift or God knows whose gift "to the world." But I do know 'freedom' is not exactly flowering in Iraq, and so hasn't quite arrived as yet, which while eminently understandable given how massive an enterprise securing freedom there entails, nevertheless leaves us with the nagging problem of whether we have a persuasive 'success strategy' to achieve said freedom there - whether via the work of some benevolent omnipotent deity or, more realistically, the brass-tacks, hard work achieved via the expenditure of the blood and treasure of a great nation.


It was the gift of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, by the way.


But putting aside the great gifts of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, what about this flypaper business?

We learn there was just no mention of it before the war - it's a post-war explanation of why we did this - "a convenient theory first cooked up by a David Warren many moons ago." You cannot find any "unambiguous administration statement before the war in Iraq specifically stating that the precise policy goal, strategic objective, and principal rationale for war in Iraq was to fight terrorists 'over there' so they wouldn't come 'over here.'" Djerejian did his homework. Nothing.

The Warren statement is here:


The US occupation of Iraq has done more to destabilize Iran than the ayatollahs could hope to do in Iraq; and then something. This "something" has befuddled the various "experts" on regional security, trapped within their Pavlovian assumptions. They notice that the U.S. forces in Iraq have become a new magnet for regional terrorist activity. They assume this demonstrates the foolishness of President Bush's decision to invade.

It more likely demonstrates the opposite. While engaged in the very difficult business of building a democracy in Iraq - the first democracy, should it succeed, in the entire history of the Arabs - President Bush has also, quite consciously to my information, created a new playground for the enemy, away from Israel, and even farther away from the United States itself. By the very act of proving this lower ground, he drains terrorist resources from other swamps.

This is the meaning of Mr. Bush's "bring 'em on" taunt from the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday, when he was quizzed about the "growing threat to U.S. forces" on the ground in Iraq. It should have been obvious that no US President actually relishes having his soldiers take casualties. What the media, and US Democrats affect not to grasp, is that the soldiers are now replacing targets that otherwise would be provided by defenseless 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.


Ah, so THAT'S why he said "bring 'em on" - all part of the plan!

The problems with that, as Djerejian sees it?


1) It's assumes a finite number of jihadis willing to die.

2) Indeed, and related to 1, it ignores that Iraq may be creating more jihadists - not all of whom are rushing to Damascus en route to parts Anbar.

3) It further ignores the fact that some jihadists, terrorists and fundamentalist radicals are gaining valuable experience in terror tactics in Iraq, as CIA reports have indicated, and then heading back out of country to theaters like Europe to pursue attacks there.

4) Flypaper, of course, also ignores dozens of terror attacks outside of Iraq since the advent of hostilities there in early 2003, witness (and this is not a comprehensive tally): [click on the link for items (a) through (mm)] - Bottom line, people: The "carefully hung" flypaper is K-mart quality, I guess, cuz it's not working too well...

5) As serious observers of international terrorist organizations well realize, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, PFLP-GC, DFLP, Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, Chechen separatists (and quite a few other groups besides) are not rushing their forces into Iraq to fight the American Satan near the Green Zone or in Anbar Province - as they've got their own battles to wage.

6) It follows, of course, that Warren's argument that flypaper acts to protect Israel is risible (leaving aside, of course, why American policymakers should be hugely pre-occupied with creating "a good, solid, American excuse, from which Israel has been extracted" (Warren's words) as the very center of a war strategy ostensibly, one would think, primarily concerned with the U.S. national interest, rather than any other countries--yes even including close and important allies).

7) UBL and his henchmen know full well that a mega-terror attack on the scale of 9/11 in a London, New York or Los Angeles would have a hugely larger impact than dozens felled in the latest car bombing of a Shi's shrine near Karbala. You can hang the flytrap from Casablanca to Jakarta and al-Qaeda operatives will still be trying to hit major Western metropolises. Bank on it, as they well see how the intense media coverage of a half-assed 7/7 operation compares to that of terror attacks that kill two or three times as many in Iraq with some routineness. They are still coming after us, and they are not all in Iraq. Not by a long shot. This is because they realize hitting us in our towns and cities smarts much, much more, and also because people trained for operations in Western cities might not be the best kind of jihadis to send to the banks of the Euphrates.

8) Dare I even raise it, as so few seem to give a shit, the moral angle - [see below]

9) [What if] Flypaper is really happening. It's true! Iraq is jihadi central, big time, and they are pouring in in massive numbers. And what if, just, we lose Iraq, with more and more Iraqis radicalized (or cowed by insurgents and/or militias) because we have failed to provide security there because of said influx? Then what?

10) A final problem with flypaper. It's a lie, and it will fly back and smack the President hard in the face when the inevitable next terror attack occurs in the U.S. Those listening and relying and believing his stump speech, credulous people in the heartland, who really think 'we are fighting them there so we don't need to here' - well, they will feel profoundly deceived. That's not good when you are already languishing at 40% in the polls.


That'll do.

So what's the moral issue? A self-identified arch-conservative explains, just after the July 7 London bombings, here:


... has anyone thought about why we're justified in using another nation as flypaper in the first place, even if it was a viable, effective strategy? What gives us the right to use a sovereign nation as a catch basin for carnage so we can go on blissfully consuming and merrily flipping real estate here? Instead of flypaper, this should be called the "Night of the Living Dead Nation" strategy - using the undead, zombie-like carcass of a failed state for our own benefit. Beyond the sheer selfish immorality of it, has anyone thought about the potential for blowback? How would you feel if we were invaded by the Chinese on a false pretense, and they stated openly that their strategy was to attract and fight the scum of the earth in the streets of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago so they did not have to fight in Beijing?


Good question! And curiously, are we seeing the blowback right now on the streets of Baghdad?

This is the first time I've seen this argument, and can you imagine a reporter asking the president, at one of those infrequent press conferences, "Sir, what gives us the right to use what remains of Iraq as our catch basin for the scum of the earth, so we don't have to be bothered with them here? Is that fair to them?"

That won't be asked. But it would be cool.

Djerejian ends with this:


Look, we don't need to make fake arguments about why we are in Iraq. We went in because Saddam was a uniquely dangerous individual whom was commonly believed to be in possession of WMD. In a post 9/11 world, caution demanded that the burden of proof that he had disarmed be on him. He never convincingly showed the world his regime didn't possess WMD, and Bush acted pursuant to various UN resolutions to bring him to task. But we were wrong, and he didn't have WMD, yet History had marched on by then. In turn, of course, the goal was not to disarm the regime, in the main, but now to create a democratic Iraq. We are flailing, currently, in achieving this goal. And, if we fail, the ramifications will be immense. A splintering of Iraq could lead to interventions in that country by Saudi Arabia, by Iran, by Turkey. Ethnic cleansing within the country is a real possibility even if neighbors don't stir up too much trouble. Terror havens may take root in a prospective Sunni para-state.

Thus the critical need for honesty and serious thinking and fortitude. The stakes are immense. Failure is not an option. And the chances of success will be bolstered if we have a President who appears, not a broken record spouting bromides about 'staying the course', or 'fighting them there so we don't fight 'em here' or 'god's gift of freedom' - but who is instead spelling out a convincing war strategy to win this conflict. What do I want to hear? Well, it's more what I don't want to hear.

... unfortunately, the President is not explaining the stakes or the duration of this war frankly to the American people. Nor are his key surrogates. His Vice President said the insurgency was in its "last throes", and then his Secretary of Defense said insurgencies typically last 12 years. One report says troop-rotation planning is underway for 100,000 troops in theater for four more years, another says troops out by end '06. Is it little wonder the American public is confused? We need clarity and leadership Mr. President. And you are not providing it in requisite fashion at this juncture, in my view, and I say this as a prior and current supporter of this administration. Step up to bat and talk Texan plain and simple - but the real deal - not spin and empty bromides. The time is now.


Funny thing - that is, in a way, just what Cindy Sheehan has been saying.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....