Flypaper Once More

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I used to annoy one of my former colleagues at story meetings by asking where the proof was that Iraq had turned people who weren’t terrorists into terrorists. Not because I didn’t believe it, mind you—I certainly did—but just because I had never seen anyone point to an actual person and say, “Look! This Jordanian or Egyptian or Saudi would never have become a terrorist had we not invaded.” (Obviously there’s the homegrown Iraqi insurgency, but that’s different.) But over the weekend, the Boston Globe came up with the smoking gun I’ve been looking for:

New investigations by the Saudi Arabian government and an Israeli think tank — both of which painstakingly analyzed the backgrounds and motivations of hundreds of foreigners entering Iraq to fight the United States — have found that the vast majority of them are not former terrorists and became radicalized by the war…

[I]nterrogations of nearly 300 Saudis captured trying to sneak into Iraq and case studies of more than three dozen others who blew themselves up in suicide attacks show that most were heeding calls to drive infidels out of Arab land, according to a study by Saudi investigator Nawaf Obaid.

So the “flypaper” thesis—that idea that we could use our soldiers to lure all terrorists from around the world to Iraq and then kill them there—is in fact the dangerous delusion we all knew it to be. And Peter Bergen was absolutely right when he wrote a year ago in Mother Jones that Iraq had ignited a global jihad. This isn’t flypaper; it’s more like flinging dog crap all over the place: the flies will come, enjoy themselves, breed, we’ll kill a few, and the rest will fly off, ready to strike at some other time. But it looks like we’re creating more terrorists than killing at the moment. Plus, there’s something more than a wee bit immoral about using another country, along with its constantly-bombed civilians, along with our own soldiers, as “bait.”


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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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