Among the Intellectualoids

Flypapers

Progressive explanations that fail to stick.

By 7.11.05

Send to Kindle

The email alluding to the bombings in London whose victims were still being pulled from the rubble where they died arrived Friday morning. It was a single sentence from my friend, Ann. "Gosh, I'm so happy Bush's plan to 'fight terrorists in Iraq so we won't have to fight them in...oh...say, England?' is working so well," she wrote.

That indictment says more than Ann probably intended about her outlook. I marked the statement for its unstable foundation, misplaced attribution, and turd-in-a-punchbowl sarcasm. But before chivalrous readers rise to decry an "ad feminam" argument where I mean none, let me add that Ann's reaction differs in degree but not in kind from opinions expressed by other progressive pundits.

In a logical world, her sentiment would be as rare as allergies to tennis balls among Golden Retrievers. But you're more likely to see a polar bear in a fez driving a go-cart for the Shriners at a Fourth of July parade in Havana than to find an intelligent discussion of "flypaper" strategy among doctrinaire Democrats.

Want to use events in the sceptered isle to justify leftist bile over flyspecked tile? If so, your quarrel is as much with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Fearsome Neocon Establishment (tm) as with President McChimpy Bushitler, whom we're told has no gift for "strategery" anyway.

"Fine," runs the rejoinder, "but the buck stops with the president, competent or not." All well and good in the realm of abstraction which the progressive mind calls home. But to apply that to what happened in London last week is to misunderstand American power, Islamist motivation, and European politics.

In the first place, American military might cannot alone defeat terrorists throughout the world any more than one piece of flypaper can trap every flying insect within a square mile of Aunt Irma's potato salad. We're good, but we're not that good. One example of many: investigating last year for the New Yorker magazine, Lawrence Wright reported that planning for the bombings in Madrid of March 2004 had started even before President Bush sent American Special Forces operators into Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11/01.

In the second place, the testimony and sacrifice of people in the Sunni Triangle edition of Flypaper Central makes clear that non-Iraqi terrorists play a significant part in the carnage there. In other words, the flypaper strategy is working, and it's reinforced by the Islamofascist predilection for what the U.S. military calls "red on red" violence between co-religionists. More scrupulous murderers wait for fatwas to embolden their trigger fingers. Less scrupulous murderers invoke the Koran while blowing up rival mosques, not to mention trains, buses, planes, buildings, and infidel Zionist toddlers.

In the third place, as Andrew McCarthy wrote recently for National Review Online, "when parliament enacted a tough anti-terrorism law, the House of Lords threw out the provisions permitting national-security detentions," because "detaining terrorists without trial violated European human-rights
standards."

One hopes the House of Lords didn't have postmodern nihilism or Dutch sanction for euthanasia in mind when it emoted about European notions of human dignity, but on this side of the Atlantic, one is also grateful for things like the Second Amendment and the detainee camps in Guantanamo Bay. Safeguards like those complicate logistics for the death cultists whose business cards identify them as al Qaeda party planners.

Try this on for size: the flypaper metaphor describes an effective strategy now being used in the hottest theater of the war on terrorism. It's shorthand for "their turf on our terms," which by definition is more desirable than our turf on their terms.

We do well to remember, as Christopher Hitchens does, that the grievances of jihadists predate and transcend Anglo-American war with Saddam Hussein. One online friend of impeccable judgment speculates that the president himself may inadvertently be a kind of insurance policy for American cities, so long as jihadists share the progressive fear that he's crazy enough to drop the hammer on Mecca if Dick Cheney or Karl Rove is provoked too much.

The obvious but under-appreciated point is that Anglo-American military prowess doesn't relieve the rest of us of our duty to be vigilant. Progressive critiques of current policy seem laughable not only because they bring no credible alternative to the table, but because people who distrust or condescend to the martial and conservative culture of the U.S. military almost invariably invest both that military and its commander-in-chief with ridiculous powers, if only to put a respectable veneer on their own abdication of responsibility.

I'm willing to concede that the flypaper metaphor for combat strategy along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has a problem. As metaphors go, it's too tame. In flattering light, progressive caterwauling of the kind that provoked this essay represents a cry for help, and a rebellion against flypaper's benign image as genteel pest control near the mint juleps in the dog days of summer.

Given the bombings in England, Indonesia, Israel, Iraq, Russia, Spain, and the United States itself, it shouldn't be hard to push progressives to the recognition that we're in a worldwide war on multiple fronts with nonuniformed adversaries whose religious fanaticism neither asks for nor gives any quarter, but many still fail to see that the only coherent response to Islamofascism is Churchillian. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds; we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. Some pundits don't see that, but then conservatives have long maintained that the education, litigation, and medical marijuana lobbies have lots to answer for.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Patrick O'Hannigan is a writer in North Carolina.