Another woodpecker has taken up residence in my neighborhood. Regular PWB readers will immediately grasp the significance of that statement. For those of you just signing on, let me provide some background.
It was a few short months ago that a different yet equally destructive woodpecker arrived at my house intent on banging holes into every shingle attached to my home. I am surrounded by trees and numerous other houses made of wood, yet my nemesis judged my shingles the tastiest in town and proceeded to drill into as many as possible. Clearly this could not go on.
My neighbors, wise in the ways of woodpeckers, offered up several possible remedies. As it turns out, several neighbors had been busy likewise trying to remove the pecker threat. This they appeared to do successfully by chasing it over to my property.
Their recommendations… tin foil, plastic owls, wind chimes, all seemed somehow lacking in both expediency and, uh, permanence. Nothing worked and I soon realized I was dealing with an extremely cunning enemy. So I shot the wily little turd one morning after finally spotting him in the act of destruction. It was, if I may say so, one hell of a shot.
Weep not for the woodpecker, I intimated in my column that week. He, or she, never knew what hit him. Or her. I, on the other hand, was hit with a shingle repair bill in the 4 digits. Watching the contractor tear the damaged shingles off the house somehow reduced my feelings of guilt over slaying the bird. And the neighborhood rejoiced in the knowledge that the roaming pecker was no more.
Until two days ago, when I heard the familiar sound of bird banging on shingles. If you’ve never heard this sound before, go to the bathroom, lift the lid on the toilet seat, throw in a bunch of 10 and 20 dollar bills and flush. That’s the sound.
Within 24 hours I was approached by various neighbors all asking pretty much the same thing; “Hey Sheriff, whaddaya’ gonna’ do about the new woodpecker huh?” I’m not sure why they call me Sheriff. Apparently I’m the hired hand called in to clean up the town.
With the theme song from The Magnificent Seven playing in my head I now spend my days strolling down the street while the townsfolk peek out their shuttered windows, hiding their women and children inside as the bell atop the old mission rings ominously in the distance. At some point in the near future the bird and I will do battle. Only one of us can walk away. Or fly. Whatever.
And so, we move on. If you’re the sort who reads newspapers, watches news on the telly and pays attention to the current campaign for president, you’ve likely heard the seductive little fairy tale that’s been making the rounds lately. It’s become very popular as we move further into the general election season.
As an aside, scientific research, most of it carried out by the PWB staff in concert with major think tanks located up and down the Eastern Seaboard, indicates that grown adults become more susceptible to fairy tales the closer they get to voting booths. The connection isn’t completely understood but we’ve applied for government funding to carry out further research.
This particular tale, told on the campaign trail and repeated anywhere loyal supporters gather to swap Senator Obama trading cards, has a moral just like any good fairy tale. The moral to this story is that if we hadn’t been sidetracked by the war in Iraq, we could have beaten Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. And if we had done that, concludes the tale, we would not be facing a reconstituted Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and the border region of Pakistan.
What a lovely, comforting load of crap. This is the ultimate armchair quarterback play. Damn it, if we hadn’t screwed the pooch by going into Iraq we’d be all done with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Why, we should have stayed focused on Afghanistan, which everyone knows is the good or right war, and not wasted national treasure and risked lives in Iraq.
Right. If it makes you feel better to say Iraq was a mistake and Afghanistan is where it’s at, fine. There’s truth in that. But don’t believe the crap some are trying to sell you that we would’ve won in Afghanistan if it hadn’t been for Iraq. Odds are, if we hadn’t gotten involved in Iraq, we’d still be mired in Afghanistan fighting a war that looks a lot like it does right now only with more extremists hunkered down in the Frontier Provinces of Pakistan, no allied troops and more violence.
Mind you, this conversation isn’t about Iraq, the manner in which we arrived there and how the war has been conducted. The point here isn’t whether Iraq was a mistake or could’ve been handled better. We’re there and we have to deal with it.
This is about the way in which Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror get packaged and spun for voter consumption. It’s about the way in which many folks appear to have bought the theoretical argument that Iraq kept us from victory in Afghanistan and the war on terrorism.
On the one side stand the Republicans, somewhat coalescing behind Senator McCain and his well known position on Iraq. On the other, Senator Obama and the Democratic Party, eagerly looking to exploit McCain’s support for Iraq with voters who have grown tired of the war. But the Democrats have a conundrum… they realize that simply saying they are against the war in Iraq possibly makes them look weak on national security. It’s a stance that appeals to some, but not others.
What’s needed is a position that appeals to all, particularly at a time when there is evidence that the security and political situation in Iraq may be stabilizing somewhat. Hmmm… how to appeal to the anti-war voters while also appealing to those who think we might be soft on national security and terrorism? How to walk that line using an argument that’s not only comforting but patriotic and darn near impossible to disprove? What’s a candidate to do?
That’s where the good war-bad war comes in. This position requires flexibility, dexterity and a public willing to swallow whatever pablum gets chucked their way. Here’s the windup and the pitch… “The Iraq war prevented us from winning in Afghanistan, which is, after all, where we should have been focused.”
And now, a hypothetical question; If we hadn’t gone into Iraq, but were still waging a war in Afghanistan, how many politicians would be suggesting Afghanistan is the good or right war? Do you think the people who right now are bemoaning the fact that we didn’t “focus” on Afghanistan would still be supporting the war in Afghanistan? If you answered “yes” to the last question, you are either delusional or a Democratic strategist.
I know it’s a nice warm fuzzy feeling to predict we would’ve kicked the crap out of Al Qaeda and the Taliban if only the evil Bush administration hadn’t duped us into marching on Iraq, but frankly history and the realities of the conflict aren’t on the side of that argument. On the one hand, if we hadn’t gone into Iraq, which of course would’ve been something worth exploring further, we would have dumped additional resources into Afghanistan in an effort to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban. That’s the truth.
Where I part ways with the fairy tale is that, based on history and experience, I believe at this point we would still be in Afghanistan, still battling the Taliban and foreign extremists, still frustrated by our inability to operate successfully in the Pakistani border region, watching as Al Qaeda regroups somewhere else and listening to politicians at home moan about the war in Afghanistan and the evil Bush administration. Color me simple, or a simpleton, but that’s my take on it.
We don’t have enough space to fully recount the history of Afghanistan and its people, but suffice it to say it’s got a turbulent history mostly involving foreign nations arriving to exert influence and ultimately leaving in defeat. Somehow, according to the fairy tale, we could’ve bucked historical trends if only Iraq hadn’t happened.
The fairy tale also belies a naiveté about the nature of the enemy we face… as if somehow, with enough resource, we can do away with the threat of extremism in just a few short years. I hate to sound the alarm, but we’re in this for the long haul. While the fairy tale implies there could have been a quick happy ending, the reality down here on planet Earth is that we’ll be fighting this enemy in multiple locations for some time to come. As much as I like happy endings, and really who doesn’t, this one’s still a ways down the road.
It’s a bit like my woodpecker problem. I am under no illusion that offing this latest intruder will somehow end my war on woodpeckers. There are too many of them, they are very motivated and, to be honest, some of my neighbors are soft on the threat and view my methods as too harsh. As long as some neighbors are willing to harbor the little peckers, there’s only so much I can do to protect my own home. I’ll take the fight to them when possible, but for the most part, it’s an operation designed to minimize, disrupt and prevent.
And yes, I believe I am the first person to compare terrorists to woodpeckers. If either campaign uses the analogy in the future, please remember you heard it here at the PWB first.
Till next week, stay safe.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures and two new BBC drama series finishing production in the U.K.