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Impearls: 2005-06-19 Archive

Earthdate 2005-06-22

BBC World confirms the Flypaper Strategy

It was Canadian essayist David Warren who in 2003 originated the concept of the so-called “Flypaper” strategy with regard to the war in Iraq.  As Warren wrote in his first essay on the subject:

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 U.S. President actually relishes having his soldiers take casualties.  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.

Nothing that has occurred since in Iraq and elsewhere has invalidated the fundamental correctness of this doctrine.  Warren himself has written considerably further on this topic, most recently during this last month here, where he says:

I do feel sure, that while the continuing terrorist carnage in Iraq, especially, but also in Afghanistan, must disturb us as conscientious human beings, we have less reason than ever to be alarmed by it.  We are witnessing what amounts to the purposeful bleeding of a septic wound, as the most fanatic Islamist incendiaries from within Iraq and abroad take their best, hopeless shot at bringing down the new Iraqi constitutional order.  It is a matter of life or death for their cause, and we could hardly expect them to abandon it easily.

As the author of the much-mocked “flypaper theory” — the phrase I used to describe the implicit strategy behind the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan — I am more and more persuaded it has worked.  All ground indications are that large numbers of Islamist terrorists who would otherwise remain dangerously under cover, not only across the region but in Europe and elsewhere, are irresistibly drawn towards these theatres of action, where they sooner or later get themselves killed.

As terrorists, they were, almost invariably, in a position to be more effective where they were.  They are lured away for emotional reasons, or “spiritual” if that word can be applied to something that is essentially not Godly but demonic.  It is the Islamist analogy to the way young socialists, anarchists, and adventurers from across Europe were drawn to Spain during its Civil War in the 1930s.

In addition to being annihilated, themselves, they deflate their cause by showing it to be losing.  And what began as a recruiting inducement, soon becomes the opposite.  For the near-certainty of getting killed oneself, in the cause of murdering (mostly) defenceless civilians, is not as attractive a motivator as the incendiaries make out.

Many other analysts have commented on this strategy, most recently James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal's editorial OpinionJournal page, where he runs a daily feature the “Best of the Web Today.”  Yesterday, in a piece called “Red on Red,” Taranto notes a report from that day's New York Times revealing that insurgents in Iraq are now fighting each other as some local Iraqis, otherwise opponents of the Coalition's presence in the country, seek to forestall the imported foreign jihadists' proclivities towards blowing up Iraqis right and left in their campaign to prevent the newly installed elected Iraqi government from consolidating its hold on power and completing work on the new democratic Iraqi constitution.

As Taranto says, “it would seem to vindicate both Vice President Cheney's much-maligned view that the indigenous insurgency is in its ‘final throes’ and the ‘flypaper’ theory that liberating Iraq is drawing in terrorists and forcing them to face the U.S. military.”

In this regard, a report from the BBC just a week ago thoroughly reinforces this point of view.  While the BBC has been almost unremittingly negative with respect to the war on terror, including its Iraqi theater, even a stopped clock gets it right occasionally, and the BBC now and then does partially make up for its “sins.”

On June 15, 2005, BBC World broadcast a remarkable story (carried in the U.S. by PBS outlets) illustrating how fighting the terrorists in Iraq is making both America and Europe safer.  They reported, “Police in Spain say they've arrested sixteen suspected Islamic militants in raids across the country.  Eleven of them are said to be linked to Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.”

As BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner (who was crippled a year ago incidentally by gunmen in Saudi Arabia) narrates:

Under cover of darkness, Spanish police move into position.  In five different locations around the country, more than 500 officers broke into the suspected hideouts of Islamist militants.  Sixteen men of North African origin were arrested, in what's said to be one of Europe's biggest ever counter-terrorist operations.  Spain's Interior Minister spoke today of jihad and would-be suicide bombers, but their targets, he said, were not in Europe, they're in Iraq.  Investigators believe they have uncovered an international network of extremists, financed and supported by robbery, drug dealing, and false documents.  They say most of those arrested in Spain are linked to a cell of Islamist recruiters in Syria dedicated to sending volunteers into Iraq to fight the US-led Coalition.  Five of those arrested are accused of links to last year's Madrid bombings.  The remainder are accused of connections to Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, the Al Qaeda operative who's been driving the insurgency in Iraq.

A BBC interviewee, Jeremy Binnie of Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, put it thusly:

The war in Iraq has minimized the threat to Europe [emphasis added] because everyone who's Jihad-inclined wants to go fight over there.  So even though some of these… the guys suspected of involvement in the train bombings have reportedly gone over to lodge themselves in Iraq.  So there are these radicals sort of coming out of Europe and actually going to a different theater altogether.

Gardner concludes his report, noting:  “Spain has seen terror-related arrests like these before, but despite early claims by the authorities, insufficient evidence has often seen them result in embarrassing acquittals.”

As one might expect from the BBC, the written report at their web site concerning this incident has been sanitized of all such stuff as “The war in Iraq has minimized the threat to Europe.”  However, the report does include some other very interesting tidbits, to wit:

Twenty-four men charged with terror offences recently appeared in court, three of them accused of involvement in planning the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US [!].  The BBC's Katya Adler says interior ministry sources say one Madrid train bombing suspect who escaped police is believed to have carried out a suicide attack in Iraq last month.

Thus, the importance of the war in Iraq for keeping terrorists at bay from the centers of civilization.  The BBC broadcast piece shows how the “flypaper strategy” for attracting terrorists to Iraq is working.  Instead of subverting European countries or attacking America, potentially at the cost of thousands of civilian casualties as we've seen before, jihadists are flocking to Iraq, where our military can kill them in detail.

It's also worth observing how the suicide bombers we hear about every day in the news from Iraq are actually arriving from abroad.  From the reports I've seen, essentially none of the fanatics willing to blow themselves up taking many Iraqis along with them are Iraqis themselves.  So much for the idea that it's primarily the Iraqis who hate Americans and the Coalition and want us out; rather it's radical Islamofascist foreigners from around the world who are desperate to prevent Iraqis from taking destiny in their own hands to establish a modern, decent democratic society in the heart of the Muslim world.

UPDATE — Follow-up article:  2005-06-29 17:50 UT:  A follow-up article to the original posting above, entitled “Flypaper Strategy II,” has been posted.

UPDATE — Reader's Write:  2005-06-26 17:30 UT:  A number of readers sent in their comments:

Got here from Instapundit.  It's a good read, but, and this is not directed at you, this is historically old news.  Not like old news last week, but more like old news 150 years ago.  The ole US fought what many historians now consider the first mechanized war (trains, repeating rifles, gatling guns, airships, mobile canon) during the Civil War.  We fought it on our soil.  And we learned a very valuable lesson — Better that the next war be an away game, than played here at home.

The long grey line has held to that maxim for nearly two centuries.  So the flycatcher strategy is just an outcome of making sure US involvement is always somewhere else.  The irony is, lacking perspective, much of the press as you reported it assume this is a new idea, which it is not.  Sigh.

Just my sense of it.

John McGinnis
Arlington, Texas

Good point.  Here's another letter:

I wanted to send you a thank you for your article on the “fly paper” theory.  I had gotten into a debate with my boss at the start of the Iraq war and this theory was essentially what I stated was the reason for going there.  I'm not by any means making a claim you took my idea, rather I am extremely pleased to see my perception of the war shared, posted and displayed for others to read and digest.  At the time of the war, this theory that until now I thought I only believed in, was the only logical reason for the war.  Sure, WMD's, that's great, but we need to find a place to allow this conflict to take place and Iraq was it.  Iraq was not the U.S. or Europe, it was a vast desert wasteland smack dab in the middle of this ideological fueled menacing region of the world.  To this day I still stand by going to Iraq post 9/11, and this theory actually gives me a name to call it by and with the recent BBC reports, I know have an actual resource to send my liberal friends to that they will accept.  Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Patrick Gordon
Malden, Massachusetts

Thanks for your reply, Patrick.  Your appreciation really should go to David Warren, however, rather than to me, as he's the one who originated the “Flypaper” concept.  I agree that his idea also chimes pretty well with my own thoughts on this issue.

I think TigerHawk's article that Glenn Reynolds linked to in that same posting as he did to mine is also quite significant in this regard.  I've always thought that Iraq's placement next to Saudi Arabia, as well as Iran, was a factor in the selection of Iraq as the next target after Afghanistan.  Not only would holding Iraq give the U.S. a much larger and broader footprint than Kuwait in its border against Saudi Arabia, but Iraq's oil producing capability (once ramped up adequately after the war) would help shield the developed world against too great a shock (which otherwise might cause collapse of the world economy) in case Saudi Arabia were to cut off oil supplies in a new boycott of the West as a result of too much pressure being placed on it to reform its terrorist-abetting ways.

And another letter along the same lines:

Congratulations and thank you!  Your ‘Flypaper’ piece is the most cogent, articulate, and truthful presentation that I have seen yet.  Your piece shows what my grad school mentor, Theodore Ropp, called ‘a firm grasp of the obvious,’ or something that is very simple in its complexity.

I have been saying essentially the same thing, but without the documentation, for months to anyone who would listen, in reference to all the whiners about the on-going terrorist insurgency.  Someone should forward your article to the clowns in Congress, as well as the media, who want a timetable for withdrawal — you know, like the timetable we had in Vietnam, which is where the Democrats' and the media's collective memory seems to have stopped.  What I see today is an administration that consciously has made the decision NOT to make that mistake again.

Iraq is like the Tet Offensive on a continuous loop — the longer it goes on, the more terrorists, jihadists, unreconstructed Baathists, and assorted other fanatics are drawn into the kill boxes to die in the slums of Baghdad and assorted other Arab gothams, while the other regimes in the neighborhood continue to sweat the ‘are we next?’ ponderable.  Meanwhile, the hand-winging Europeans, along with too many misinformed Americans, remain blissfully unaware that they are safer indeed, mourning instead, in the case of the Europeans, the lost economic opportunities to sell those same terrorists the weapons they would have eventually turned on them anyway, our devoted friends, the French, Germans, and Russians.

And if, perchance, some terrorist in the future decides to launch another attack against a symbol of decadence and corruption in the United States, we can only hope they choose that high-rise beside the East River.

Tom Fairfull
Honolulu, HI

This reader, on the other hand, finds the article an occasion for mirth:

My friend George sent me your column re: The “Flypaper Strategy.”  He knows how much I enjoy satire, being a lifelong devotee of media such as National Lampoon, Spy Magazine, Saturday Night Live, Firesign Theater, Monty Python, etc.

For future column subjects you may wish to consider the following:

The Bubonic Plague — How it solved the Medieval housing shortage.  [You might be surprised at how many historians actually talk that way. –Ed]
The Fall of the Roman Empire — The foundation of today's entertainment industry.
Pompeii — Farsighted Italian tourist development.
The Great Chicago Fire — Urban renewal's first success story.

Although none of these columns could match the “Flypaper” for pure fun and absurdity, I know as a satirical writer you have to keep the laughs coming.  Someday Bush will be gone and you may have difficulty finding material.

Thanks for the laughs,
Your new fan Joe

P.S.  I have not seen flypaper in use for quite a while.  Do you think kids that are eligible for the draft today even know what it is?

Always glad to provide comic relief to the readers of Impearls.

UPDATE — Links to the piece:  2005-06-23 15:00 UT:  Glenn Reynolds the Instapundit linked to this article, with the comment, “the ‘Flypaper Strategy’ is getting strange new respect.”  The posting by TigerHawk that he links to in the same posting is very much worth perusing in this connection as well.

Winds of Change links to the article twice: once (by Colt) in the “Thursday Winds of War” section, and again in a piece by Bill Roggio specifically about Iraq called “Training Grounds, Magnets, and Hunters in Iraq,” commenting:  “Michael McNeil from Impearls cites an unlikely source for confirmation of the Flypaper/Magnet theory: the BBC.  Not only has Iraq become a magnet, but it has increased Europe's security by redirecting fighters from their European soil.

Marc at USS Neverdock also linked to the piece, noting “It's been said many times that the war in Iraq makes Europe and America safer.  The flypaper strategy is proof of that.”

UPDATE — Links to the piece:  2005-06-29 17:45 UT:  Many more blogs have linked to this article:

Cold Fury in a posting amusingly but aptly titled “Snatching victory from the jaws of Democrats,” quotes David Warren and links to this article, commenting:  “Warren as usual is perfectly correct, and all the handwringing defeatism the Democrats and their Old Media poodles can possibly muster won't change it.  (Via Michael McNeil — and this is a fine post as well, btw, and well worth your time if you haven't seen it yet — and Insty.)”  Cold Fury has an active comments section, with leftists reacting to the article with their usual hyperbolic outrage, and the blog's regulars coolly taking them on.  I'll reply to some of the leftist points in comments to the Cold Fury piece in a separate posting.

The Happy Carpenter, in a piece called “The "Fly Paper" strategy, vindicated,” links to the article, commenting:  “Well, duh, of course it's working.  How could it not?”

Russ Mitchell at Boxing Alcibiades, in a posting entitled “Flypaper for asshats…,” writes:  “Over at Impearls, an interesting article: BBC confirms the flypaper strategy.  This has long been suspected, of course.  It's what the soldiers speak of when they talk about how it's better to play “an away game” than a “home game.”

Clayton Cramer at his blog, in a posting titled “The Flypaper Strategy,” writes:

This blogger links to several reports that suggest that even the BBC is beginning to recognize that the flypaper strategy — of attracting deranged jihadists from all over the world to Iraq to blow themselves up — is making the rest of the world safer.

This isn't great for the Iraqis, who are bearing the enormous burden of civilian and police deaths, but if the jihadists are intent on mass murder, I would prefer it somewhere far away from the United States.  Unfortunately, I don't see any alternative; there is no reasoning with the jihadists.

“Ace” at Ace of Spades HQ, in an article called “Flypaper Revisited: Even the BBC Acknowledges The War In Iraq Has Made Europe Safer,” links to my piece and quotes from the BBC broadcast, calling it “stunning.”  He goes on to say:

The whole thing is worth reading.  The left jeers at the “flypaper” theory, but the fact is, the world's terrorists are flocking to Iraq — rather than Israel, Bali, or Los Angeles — because they understand, better than the left does, how crucially important Iraq is to their cause.  If Iraq “falls” — that is, if Iraq succeeds in becoming a peaceful, democratic pluralist semi-secularist decent regime — the jihadist cause suffers a powerful defeat.

As a side benefit, of course, these rotten bastards are going up against well-trained and well-equipped soldiers and Marines rather than 103-lb. flight attendants.  Which is not their forte.

“Winds of Change” in The Command Post, in its “Thursday Winds of War” column, passes along the earlier mention from Winds of Change, noted here before.

“Firehand” in his Irons in the Fire blog, in a piece called “All you need to know about Gitmo,” links to a column by James Lileks on that subject, and also to this article, noting:  “And an interesting bit on the ‘flypaper strategy’ and how, among other things, it's been saving a lot of Europeans from themselves, here.”

Brad Lips at the Lips Brothers, in a piece called “The Iraq Project,” links to this article, writing:  “When I put my finger to the wind, even among conservatives, there seems to be a growing exhaustion over Iraq.  I'm still very pleased with how well things have gone.  Is this stubborn clinging to a position, or (as I like to think) having a sense of perspective about the inherent challenges and costs of war that a lot of other observors lack?  All I know for sure is that this post about the ‘Flypaper’ strategy of bringing war to Iraq resonates with me as mostly true.”

“antimedia” writing in Media Lies, in a lengthy piece called ‘Rethinking the Downing Street memo,” links to this article in an update at the end, noting:  “For a different point of view on the strategy behind the war, read about the ‘flypaper strategy.’  I confess, I wasn't aware of David Warren's essays, but I've written essentially the same thing before myself.”

“Mr. B” in New Optimates, in a posting titled “What's the most efficient way to kill lots of flies?,” answers his own question (and links to this article) presenting the solution, “Lay down some flypaper….”

Pierre Legrand, in Papa Doc's Pink Flamingo Bar & Grill blog, posts a piece mainly about an Ann Coulter article entitled “Coulter gives out some much needed perspective on Gitmo,” ending it with a link to this article, writing:

Are we committed to defending ourselves or not?  Are we as soft as our enemies have believed?  Will we crumble and end up fighting these madmen here at home?

We are winning folks.  But we cannot stop now.  Iraq is drawing the Islamic fanatics into fighting our soldiers who are the best prepared and most able soldiers to have ever picked up a weapon.  Do we want to cripple our efforts by listening to the pollyannas like Andrew Sullivan?

Even the BBC understands that Iraq is drawing people who would otherwise be attacking us in the US or Europe.

Another post on winning.  And check these posts out to see how we are winning.  Here is a related article at the NYT.

The latter New York Times article that Legrand points to illustrates yet another instance where a Muslim conspiracy in a Western country (Britain in this case) maintains links and provides support (including yet another suicide bomber connection) with the jihadists in Iraq.

Jay Fitzgerald at Hub Blog, on the other hand, in a posting entitled “Stabilization vs. Fly-trap, Part II” (he'd earlier written about the subject here, in a posting criticizing Austin Bay for having the temerity to mention the “Flypaper” theory), follows up on his previous piece with a link to this article, writing:

Now here's a good Austin Bay column (via Instapundit) that concentrates on what's been accomplished in Iraq (i.e. stabilization).  Notice no mention of the Fly-trap nonsense, a desperate rationale periodically pulled out of the argumentative drawer when things aren't going well in Iraq. …

Update – 9:40 p.m. — Oh no.  The ‘flypaper’ strategy is getting a new airing (via, sadly, Instapundit) and is now called a ‘doctrine.’  You see, Iraq was always envisioned as a ‘playground’ in which we'd shoot 'em up while at the same time trying to build a stable democracy.  Yeah, that was the plan.  Oops.  ‘Doctrine.’ …

Impearls: 2005-06-19 Archive

Earthdate 2005-06-20

Map of Mars

Altitude-encoding legend for Mars map False-color altitude-encoded map of Mars, from Mars Global Surveyor's MOLA altimeter

While on the subject of Mars (see the next posting for that earlier piece), above is a strikingly beautiful, relatively recent (from a few years ago) map of the Red Planet, that I suspect few people have as yet encountered, derived from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft's MOLA (Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter) instrument, which for the first time puts together a detailed look at how the elevations of the terrain on Mars stack up with respect to each other.  The color-coding legend shown at the top of the map extends from −8 kilometers (−5 miles) below the standard “datum” to +8 km above that level, while latitude and longitude on the map proper are indicated in 5° increments for the Mercator projection portion, and 10° for the polar projections (left one is south, right for north).

Click on the map to link to a larger version at NASA with surface elements labeled (I like it better without the labeling, frankly).  See also this link to the NASA “MOLA” homepage, and this one for the MOLA Image Gallery.  On the Image Gallery page, don't miss the large scale maps, particularly here (at 1,080 × 620 pixels), and here — for 12,032 × 6,912 pixels (careful, it's a 17.6 MB file!).

Using the MOLA data, researchers can now discern, for instance, how the descending altitude of apparent streambed valleys really could have conducted water down their courses back during warmer-wetter days on Mars; and it's also possible to compute how three-quarters of the martian terrain during such earlier times would have drained down to the “northern lowlands” (purple-blue along the top portion of the map), where oceans — if ever there were any on Mars, as seems increasingly likely — would have resided.

Taking inspiration from Edgar Rice Burroughs' “John Carter of Mars” stories of our youth, those northern lowlands (plus the enormous impact basin in the southern hemisphere known as Hellas) would have constituted the martian “dead sea bottoms” of yore and lore!

Also, for illustrative purposes, below is a view of our own planet using a similar altitude-coding representation (not precisely the same altitude scale).  Notice how Antarctica appears red, not due to some weird false-color rendering of its coldness, but because the continent is so high altitude-wise: it's covered by an average of 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) thickness of glacial ice.  (Click on the map to link to John Walker's “Earth Screen Saver for Windows,” the source of the image.)

Altitude-encoded view of Earth, from John Walker's "Earth" screen saver v2


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