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Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The End of "Flypaper"

When George Bush announced to the world that the U.S. was invading Iraq, he provided a very simple rationale:

The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.

This analysis made sense at the time, if you believed that Iraq actually possessed "weapons of mass murder". Of course, we learned in short order that they didn't, which completely obliterated this justification for the war. But Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, leader of the ground forces for the invasion of Iraq, made an ex post facto effort to revive it in July 2003, in what may have been the first instance of the administration's "if it's bad, it's really good" spin on the war:

This is what I would call a terrorist magnet, where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity, if you will. But this is exactly where we want to fight them. We want to fight them here. We prepared for them, and this will prevent the American people from having to go through their attacks back in the United States.

This notion that U.S. soldiers in Iraq were a "terrorist magnet" drawing potential attackers away from the U.S. came to be known as the Flypaper Theory, and has become a favorite of war hawks everywhere. The only problem is, it makes no sense. Prior to 9/11, the U.S. had soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia for years. If U.S. soldiers in the Middle East are an irresistible target for terrorists, why did 20 al Qaeda members infiltrate the U.S., spend months taking flying lessons and planning the attacks, then launch a coordinated assault on four targets, two of them civilian? U.S. government figures from 2005 show conclusively that terrorist attacks worldwide have multiplied since we invaded Iraq. By its very definition, terrorism is generally understood to mean unanticipated, devastating attacks on civilian targets, yet the Flypaper Theory assumes that al Qaeda has a conventional military mindset, which is demonstrably false.

However, Lieutenant General Sanchez naturally has a conventional military mindset, which might explain why he originated the theory. It might also explain why former Marine Colonel John Kline presented it to the Star Tribune in a June 28, 2004 interview (emphasis mine):

ST: Do you think the war in Iraq and the toppling of Saddam has made America safer?

Kline: Yes, I do. It's recognized by everybody, on both sides. . . . Everybody in the civilized world understands that Saddam Hussein is a really bad guy. He's a mass murderer, torturer, on a scale that's hard for us to envision. But more than that, if you're prosecuting a global war on terror, going after them where you can find them, well, there's a concentration now. Iraq is the focal point in the world in the war on terror. So we're able to hunt them there and concentrate, and that's a good thing. It does make us safer.

ST: Considering the costs to the United States - both in treasury and life - do you think it has been worth it?

Kline: Absolutely. You don't like to lose one life. But we were all going about our business on Sept. 11, 2001, and we were attacked. War was brought to us. Thousands died. It should have convinced all of us that we were at war, and that they were going to come after us. So you have to keep it in that context, of how we're going to fight this war, with the money we've spent and casualties we've suffered in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa and other places. It's much better than fighting it here.

Kline made this statement more than five months after chief U.S. investigator David Kay announced that not only had no "weapons of mass destruction" been found, but "I don't think they existed". So when Kline argues that the cost of the war in dollars and lives is still preferable to "fighting it here", he's clearly invoking the Flypaper Theory.

But now Kline himself is promoting data which disprove the Flypaper Theory, on his brand-spanking-new congressional website, which calls out a single issue of national importance: Terrorists in America!! Kline insists that, among other things, "Over 515 individuals linked to the September 11th investigation have been removed from the United States" and "212 individuals in the United States have been convicted or have pleaded guilty to terrorist charges".

I will devote greater focus to the particulars of Kline's site in future posts, but one thing is for certain: Kline's insistence that hundreds of terrorists have been apprehended in the U.S. over the past 4 years drives an unambiguous stake through the heart of the Flypaper Theory. We'll keep an eye out to see whether Kline attempts to resurrect it during the campaign.


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