If Iraq is flypaper, what does that make us?

So, these two flies are cruising around when they find an open window. Naturally, they go on in, because that’s what they do. Smelling something tasty, they land to check it out. They’ve landed on flypaper and can no longer go home, if they wanted to. Their days numbered, they ask why they did it and struggle to free themselves, fighting against the industrial society that is now holding them while they were trying to find a free bite of food, perhaps because the wild food is gone…

Using the flypaper analogy to describe the growing collective of ‘insurgent’ in articles such as Flypaper, Supply, Demand and the Economics of Jihad paints an incomplete picture. Are the flies the jihadis looking for a ‘good time’ killing infidels because some radical cleric told them to do so (wouldn’t they be lemmings in that case)? Or are they crusaders and American soldiers (and Iraqi civilians, Brits, NGO workers, contractors) are dying at the hand of their merciful god promising virgins and paradise to cleanse the Islamic lands of the unholy? Who are these guys and why have they made another acronym (IED) universally known?

Parables of flies may be interesting but what of proper context and predecessors. The flies, er ‘freedom fighters’, um ‘insurgents’, came through an open window, we can’t forget that. Or have we disregarded the window because we’re bored of (trying) to place blame on the real Teflon President and his Administration? With everything but engraved invitations and arranged transportation insurgent-wanna-be’s came to pick up the weapons that either had been left for them (unguarded weapons depots) or given to them (defecting troops of the poorly paid and protected police and reconstituted army).

Iraq was largely secular under the previous, evil regime. Saddam had done a masterful job relegating religion to the back seat and co-opting (largely unsuccessfully) religion for his own use. The imams stepped into a power vacuum. The population, many who simply wanted electricity or water or somewhere to work or to simply walk the streets without fear of abduction or car bomb, found themselves in the cross-hairs of what happens to any society that suddenly loses its law enforcement and all other basic civic services. Think about the riots in Los Angeles (who says Los Angeles doesn’t have seasons? we have earthquake season, fire season, flood season, and riot season) in the sixties (Watts) and nineties (Rodney King) and their causes.

So, was the opportunity for the flies created by simple delays in resurrecting civil services? Not quite, contributing was the way in which the delays came about. This was not just about the ‘when’ but largely about the ‘how’ and ‘who’ with a lot of ‘what’ mixed in. Reconstruction was attempted in a manner challenging and probably surpassing the corruption of the Southern Reconstruction after the Civil War. While there are success stories in the rebuilding of Iraq, there are far too many failures in process and end-product. Leaving cronyism and no-bid (or improperly awarded or written) contracts aside, companies were selected to perform rebuilding tasks without knowledge of the job (CACI and Abu Gharib and the Dept of the Interior for one; SAIC and the new Iraqi radio and TV) or accountability to see the job through or reasonably (Bechtel and incomplete school rebuilding; RTI and (s)elections). The aggregate effect was a giant shove on the window, perhaps a breaking of the glass, inhibiting and reversing the progress of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the Iraqis.

For those looking and wondering how this could be true and reading the WSJ’s periodic item on ‘things gone well in Iraq’, consider this: When did the post-war construction discussions take place? After ‘mission accomplished’ for the most part. Military strategy was laid out but apparently nothing about the ‘day after’. Each failure to successfully take a step forward was a nudge to the window and sugar left on the counter. Each project that was supposedly to help build Iraq and instead lined the pockets of foreigners (Indian cooks, Kuwaiti drivers) deprived Iraqi civilians (moderates or otherwise) an economic infusion.

The flypaper theory may have some application in that those seeking opportunity to commit crimes or practice religious extremism (McVeigh and Koresh come to mind) were attracted to lawless Iraq. It was our responsibility to head them off at the pass. This flypaper was our (this Administration’s really) creation. This was not and is not a Yugoslavian-style descent of ethnicities fighting for independent lands until after the religious leaders became entrenched in the vacuum.

Before talking about Saudi-issued fatwas, look at the opportunity that was created for them to issue those instructions. Consider the opportunitists, including those issuing the fatwas, that are ‘natural born killers’, criminals, or power-seekers without regard for the nation of Iraq, if it even existed as a ‘nation’ (consider the history of the region and origination of the state of Iraq before declaring it a nation and using the phrase ‘nation-building’).

Posted in War