Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Flypaper Theory

A couple of stories in the news this morning reminded me of a salient fact, one that you can throw in the face of any conservative who believes the invasion of Iraq keeps us "fightin' 'em over there, so we don' have ta fight 'em here."

Item 1:
Sept. 5 (Bloomberg) -- German police arrested three people suspected of planning ``massive'' terrorist attacks on U.S. and other targets in the country, preventing the deaths of ``many, many people,'' the Chief Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms said.

The suspects, two Germans and a Turkish national, were arrested yesterday at a house in Oberschledorn, a village in the western state of North-Rhine Westphalia, officials said. Bomb- making materials and military detonators were also seized. The trio are alleged members of a local cell of the Islamist terrorist organization Jihad Union, which has links to al-Qaeda, Harms told reporters in the southern city of Karlsruhe today.
And Item 2:
Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Danish police arrested eight ``militant Islamists'' with alleged al-Qaeda links on suspicion of plotting a ``major'' attack.

Police held the men, whose ages are between 19 and 29, in the Copenhagen area today, Jakob Scharf, head of the Security Intelligence Service, told a news conference in the capital.

``With the arrests, we've prevented a major act of terrorism,'' Scharf said. The suspects are ``militant Islamists with international connections including ties to al-Qaeda.''

Danish intelligence-gathering efforts and security were stepped up when the Nordic country was singled out as a target by al-Qaeda after the July 7, 2005, London bombings. Today's arrests mark the third time in two years Danish police have detained terrorism suspects.

The men, of Afghani, Pakistani, Somali and Turkish origin, are suspected of having produced ``unstable explosives,'' Scharf said. Police will seek to charge them under Denmark's terrorism law, which can carry a life sentence.
Denmark, you may recall, was the site of an uproar over political cartoons which depicted the prophet Muhammad, thus putting itself squarely in the crosshairs of any Islamist organization that might consider bombing Western interests.

Germany, long a hot bed of Islamist fundamentalist activity (Mohammed Atta went to engineering school in Frankfurt, where he was recruited into Al Qaeda), is home to the largest American military presence on the European continent.

That distinction explains why the Danish arrests were of aliens, while the German plot involved German nationals.

And item 3:
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Police stepped up security and put this capital on high alert Tuesday after apparent twin suicide bombings in a nearby army garrison city killed 25 people and injured more than 60.

The double blasts struck at the heart of Pakistan's military establishment in Rawalpindi, which adjoins Islamabad and is home to President Pervez Musharraf and other senior government figures.

Although there was no claim of responsibility, officials suspect that the morning bombings were linked to the volatile situation in the region along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, where government forces have been battling Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
"Battling" is a curious word to apply to a government that has capitulated any time Al Qaeda has whined that it's coffee was too cold.

The phrase "Fighting them there..." has its roots in the Flypaper Theory, a military strategy that presumes one can draw one's enemy to a particular venue to wage a battle there. This works particularly well on an enemy as dispersed and insulated as guerillas or terrorists, small cells spread out over a wide geographic area.

In theory. In practice, not so much.

The Flypaper Theory presumes you understand the scope of the opposition, particularly their numbers, and that you can count on those folks rising to the bait, and allowing themselves to be trapped and "expedited". The bait had better be pretty damned attractive.

The prima facie evidence that this theory has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan is the simple statistic that, every year since the invasions, there have been more deaths in more places from terrorist attacks than the year before, even after factoring out Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bait is insufficient, and probably would have been unless Bush himself rode out in a tank during the fall of Baghdad. (/snark)

The gray area in this repudiation of the Flypaper Theory is whether we've failed to attract the existing population of terrorists, or if our actions have accelerated the creation of new terror cells worldwide.

Clearly, the latter has some traction: when homegrown cells begin to operate within the borders of their home countries, places where presumably those people are safe from suspicion of being anti-American terrorists or Al Qaeda members, you're creating new terrorists, as the German case demonstrates.

And of course, let's not forget that the spate of terror attempts in England over the past two years.

What we're seeing is a rejuvenated Al Qaeda begin to marshall forces and do dry runs for attacks directly at its enemy, much like a boxer who's been injured will first spar with some easy partners, then take some lower level tune up fights before challenging the champ for the title.

Too, the timing of these arrests (and the plots themselves) serve as reminders for the US: next week is the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Al Qaeda will strike again, it's just a matter of when and how and if they can.

Right now, the administration is whistling past the graveyard, praying that the attacks can be delayed until the next administration, so that the spinmeisters of Satan can pin it on the Democrats somehow even if the next President is a Republican. It clearly will never be Bush's fault.

Unless the attacks happen on his watch, something I'm sure Al Qaeda is keenly aware of.

Meanwhile, instead of flypaper attracting a bunch of the enemy to a slaughter, it looks more and more like Bush took a stick and smacked a hornets' nest in order to draw them out for the battle. Surprise, surprise, the world is getting stung in the ass.