Friday, September 19, 2008

Despise the Sound of Shaking Paper

Matt Duss highlights some salient aspects of the recent attack on the US embassy in Yemen:

The use of two vehicle bombs — one to breach the perimeter of a compound, a second to drive inside and explode — is a tactic used by the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. […]

He said a new, less-compromising generation of al-Qaeda leaders emerged, many of them moving into action after escaping from a Yemeni prison that year, he said.[…]

The new leaders have found followers among al-Qaeda fighters returning from Iraq
. “The quieter it is in Iraq, the more inflamed it is here,” as Yemeni fighters travel back and forth, said Nabil al-Sofee, a former spokesman for a Yemeni Islamist political party who is now an analyst. [emphasis Duss's]

Looks like that trillion dollar flypaper lacked the proper adhesive:

Those who have been following the Iraq debate might remember “flypaper theory,” which was one of the earliest exponents of the “incoherent post hoc justifications for the Iraq war” genre. The idea was that there was some limited number of terrorists in the Middle East, and the presence of an occupying U.S. army would lure them to Iraq, whereupon they could all be conveniently killed, presumably as soon as they stepped off the bus.

This plan was prevented from working only by the fact that it was staggeringly dumb. The U.S. occupation radicalized scores of young Muslims, many of whom traveled to Iraq, where they learned terror warfare and were galvanized in the global jihad. And now they’ve begun returning home, to share the tactics and technology developed in a laboratory we provided for them by invading Iraq. The violence in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon in May 2007 was one instance of this. Yesterday’s attack in Yemen is another.

There have also been instances of such blowback in Morocco, Jordan, Somalia and Afghanistan - to name a few. Unfortunately, more will come.

The flypaper theory was always easy to debunk, even if it had a certain gut-level, intuitive appeal. As Duss notes, the number of terrorists in the world is not fixed. That is, the number can increase or decrease depending on various radicalizing stimuli. The invasion of Iraq increased the number of radicalized individuals willing to take up the cause of perverted jihadism. While many such radicals were killed in Iraq, their overall numbers swelled to such size that we were never really making a dent in the totals at any given time.

In addition, even some members of the larger Muslim world that were not motivated to become "terrorists" per se did adopt more sympathetic attitudes toward such causes which makes it easier for radicals to operate. This more generalized radicalization occurs, in part, as a result of the dissemanation of images of civilian carnage (something that American audiences have largely been shielded from, which only adds to our inability to grasp the source of anti-American attitudes). As Bill Maher noted wryly, "They don't hate us for our freedoms, they hate us for our airstrikes."

The good, if grim, news is that the terrorists themselves have caused something of a backlash by their own penchant for brutality. Not that this should provide any comfort to the Iraqis, whose thousands of corpses were the evidence necessary to make the case against al-Qaeda. Regardless, the boon provided to al-Qaeda through the invasion, and the blowback that we will encounter in the years ahead, is still highly problematic.

Not only have we radicalized more individuals, but the invasion provided an ideal training ground for tactics, weapons and strategies - not to mention a networking hub and source for indoctrination (many that traveled to Iraq were inspired by a general desire to expel a foreign invader but have since become seduced by the larger al-Qaeda mission/ideology). That is no way to weaken your opponent.

Besides, we've seen this movie before and we know how it ends. The last great effort at annihilation by flypaper occurred in Afghanistan during the 1980s. In that conflict, fighters from around the Muslim world streamed into Afghanistan to fight an invading super power. Predictably, after that war ended there were plenty of radicals left over - only now they were battle hardened, well-connected with each other and indoctrinated with a potent radicalism.

Some of those remnants went on to form al-Qaeda, and the rest is a history that we risk repeating in our ignorance. And to think, some people actually tried to sell the invasion of Iraq as a way to strike a blow against al-Qaeda. Seriously.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?