The Leg question

by Daniel on October 26, 2004

Apparently, we are bombing the town of Fallujah. Apparently, we are doing this because the residents refuse to co-operate with our wishes by not “handing over” the notorious terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. Apparently, we will continue to bomb them until they do so.

I am, as a result haunted by a nightmare in which I am flying in a helicopter gunship above the town of Fallujah, looking down on the wrecked buildings and bodies below. I find myself having a conversation, through a megaphone, with one of the residents:

Me: Just hand over Zarqawi and we’ll let you live!
Resident: OK! OK! We’re having a bit of trouble finding him!
Me: A likely story! Bomb them again, Lurch!
Resident: Could you just give us a hand? Like maybe tell us where in Fallujah he’s staying?
Me: I don’t know. But we have excellent intelligence that tells us that you’re harbouring him! Bomb that coffee shop, Lurch, it looks like an ammo dump!
Resident: Well, what does he look like?
Me: Everyone knows what Zarqawi looks like! You’re just playing for time! Bomb him again!
Resident: Well, how many legs does he have? Give us something to work with here!

And at that point I wake up, screaming.

It strikes me that if your level of information about someone is not sufficient to answer the question “how many legs does he have?”, it would be a good idea to not express any strong opinions on the subject of that person. It also strikes me that if we’re reforming the intelligence process, then we might profitably include a question about “number of legs” on any checklist we propose to use to sift good intelligence from bad.

{ 20 comments }

1

Kieran Healy 10.27.04 at 12:07 am

Me: A likely story! Bomb them again, Lurch!

Obviously a dream — you couldn’t afford to pay Lurch as well as “John”:http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002733.html, even if you are an international financier.

2

dsquared 10.27.04 at 12:10 am

No, this is actually Jim-Bob, who joined up to the army because it seemed to be the only way to get decent healthcare benefits. I just call him Lurch as an affectionate nickname.

3

Carlos 10.27.04 at 12:24 am

Less than three.

4

Rob 10.27.04 at 12:29 am

See? Now Carlos just opened up the avenue for a dirty joke. If we had better intelligence such impure thoughts wouldn’t occur.

5

jet 10.27.04 at 3:42 am

rob,
Well now I’m for cutting intelligence if it means higher quality jokes. And stories about three legged men certainly qualify as high quality jokes.

But to focus on the question of does the guy have a false leg or not and by merit of that question, disqualifying any other intelligence, seems extremely contrived. I suppose if the US was unsure of how many testicles he had, or toes, or maybe if he had a fake left ear, that would also qualify as a disaster of intelligence?

On the other hand, one of Zarqawi’s lackey’s was sent to work out the realities of metaphysics with Allah today. So maybe the intelligence people don’t consider three legged men all that funny.

6

anon 10.27.04 at 5:13 am

Whoa, hold on. That Google groups search doesn’t point to any articles which say what you say they say.

I agree that if your statement is accurate, the US’s behavior in this instance is more despicable than it has generally been in the prosecution of this war. But is it?

7

John Quiggin 10.27.04 at 5:31 am

This Times article is a better link. See also this

8

nick 10.27.04 at 6:32 am

The public is not yet ready for a one-legged interpretation of this historic role.

9

bad Jim 10.27.04 at 7:45 am

What if al-Zarqawi is something like the dread pirate Roberts, a terrorist franchise rather than a vicious figurehead? Landing such a miscreant becomes rather more difficult, like teasing out the genealogy of a victory when success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan.

10

nick 10.27.04 at 7:59 am

What if al-Zarqawi is something like the dread pirate Roberts, a terrorist franchise rather than a vicious figurehead?

That’s my gut sense. Very postmodern. Very Luther Blissett.

11

Jack 10.27.04 at 10:25 am

What if al-Zarqawi is something like the dread pirate Roberts, a terrorist franchise rather than a vicious figurehead?

Also like Ned Ludd, Captain Swing, Nicolai Bourbaki and Arthur Besse.

12

Michael Mouse 10.27.04 at 11:17 am

Date of birth:  October 30, 1966
Place of birth:  Zarqa, Jordan
Height:  Unknown
Weight:  Unknown
Hair:  Dark
Eyes:  Dark
Sex:  Male
Complexion:  Olive
Number of legs:  Unknown

Apparently he looks like this, but inexplicably they don’t give a leg shot.

13

dsquared 10.27.04 at 11:43 am

christ, I think he works in my tobacconists!

14

Jim Henley 10.27.04 at 2:07 pm

You are a god to me, Daniel.

15

Detached Observer 10.27.04 at 4:06 pm

Don’t you think your argument is rather dishonest? The stated rationale for the bombing is that Fallujah has been a staging ground for insurgent attacks elsewhere. You focus on one speech by Allawi, where he offers to cease the attacks if the residents turn over Zarqawi, and pretend it accurately represents the U.S. motivation in this case. But the US has stated its intentions here – to rid the insurgency of a base to launch further attacks.

16

Detached Observer 10.27.04 at 4:08 pm

Don’t you think your argument is rather dishonest? The stated rationale for the bombing is that Fallujah has been a staging ground for insurgent attacks elsewhere. You focus on one speech by Allawi, where he offers to cease the attacks if the residents turn over Zarqawi, and pretend it accurately represents the U.S. motivation in this case. But the US has stated its intentions here – to rid the insurgency of a base to launch further attacks.

17

abb1 10.27.04 at 4:10 pm

Fallujah is now the symbol of resistance, so they think they have to destroy it to make the point that resistance is futile. And they will. Simple as that.

18

abb1 10.27.04 at 8:06 pm

The AP reports:

A series of policy mistakes by the U.S. military and the Bush administration have transformed Fallujah from a shabby, dusty backwater known regionally for mosques and tasty kebabs into a symbol of Arab pride and defiance of the United States throughout the Islamic world.

Could this be a reason to bomb them every day; y’know – to subtly make the point that resistance is futile?

Nah, what a ridiculous idea: clearly it’s the one-legged guy they want. They’ve gotta have’m.

19

Donald Johnson 10.27.04 at 8:36 pm

The NYT had an article on October 12 about how the Pentagon saw civilian casualties as useful in driving a wedge between the residents of Fallujah and the insurgents. Jeanne at Body and Soul wrote a piece about this on that day, and cites the relevant quote.

This is probably an opportune time to cite another quote, the one by Orwell about how nationalists never even hear about the atrocities committed by the home team.

20

Robin Green 10.28.04 at 3:07 am

You focus on one speech by Allawi, where he offers to cease the attacks if the residents turn over Zarqawi, and pretend it accurately represents the U.S. motivation in this case.

Even if it was only Allawi saying that, wouldn’t it tell us something rather unpleasant about the man the US picked for the job, and hence the US’s own goals?

However, you can’t have it both ways. Either:

(a) (contrary to all the avilable evidence) Allawi is in control and he was in a position to make such a demand,

or (b) Allawi is not in control; the demand was calculated nonsense because he was in no position to make such a guarantee (and he if he was, it would be only on US say-so); and furthermore, he is an American pupp.. *cough* – sorry, I should use the more “polite” formulation: “subordinate to the Americans”. Clearly, the latter is the case.

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