TCS Daily

Exit Strategy for the Mean Streets

By Russell Seitz - November 19, 2003 12:00 AM

Even hard-bitten tax collectors have been overtaken by epiphany in the Middle East. On the eve of the war in Iraq, the last act of Saddam Hussein's sons was to strip the national treasury of several billion dollars in ready cash. What goes around comes around -- now the remnants of the Ba'ath dictatorship are offering it to any and all willing to take shots at peacekeeping forces.


But the Ba'athist bad guys are only offering chump change -- a thousand for an attack, plus tips for inflicted carnage. This is in the best tradition of Oriental Despotism -- solitary brutish, nasty and cheap.


Rumsfeld's people reckon there are some 5,000 wise guys on the Iraqi street. If they all remain willing to try a hit a month at a thousand a pop, the cash flow will only be $60,000,000 a year, and Saddam's hidden minions could go on paying them for decades. Since in addition to blood, the Iraq end game is costing America hefty percentage of the federal budget, maybe we should get a second opinion from some Runyonesque accountants in South Boston or Palermo.


The price on Saddam's head is twenty five million dollars, but he is ready and willing to top that offer -- little wonder there have been no takers. But if he yet lives, his truncated command structure is at most eight levels deep. The top three are staff and life support -- it's what's below that matters. Suppose his 4 closest capos have 16 each of their own, and each of those 64 lieutenants can issue orders and dispense cash to 4 confederates -- the 256 trusted sergeants who interface with those who do the shooting. At 4 corporals to a sergeant, that's a thousand compartmentalized, squad-sized cells at the bottom of the chain of command.


This modest pyramid would encompass the 5,000-villain figure being cited in the media. Even in the poorer nations of South Asia, $1,000 is not much of an incentive to mayhem -- the relatives of manslaughter victims and soi disant martyrs can reckon on $25,000 as the bottom rung of the social contract. So compared to the 87 billion dollar annual premium on our sticking around the neighborhood, thousand dollar pot shots are an astronomically cost effective tactic.


It's time to turn the tables. There have been quite a few takers for the mid-level megabuck rewards for the lesser cards in the Iraqi most-wanted deck. What would happen if we went all in, and even-handedly offered six figures and a passport to every low level bagman and wannabe wise guy left in circulation, and almost as much to those willing to finger them? The prospect of reward posters backed up by a cool billion in cash would be enough to give Whitey Bulger the Willies. 


Five billion dollars is three weeks worth of $87,000,000,000 a year. Three weeks is pretty much the mean time between truck bombs while these 5,000 cold fish keep on swimming in a population that views them with shallow regard, and fear that's not as deep as it used to be. So perhaps it's time to up the ante, and pull the plug on the small fry. Not the least of the attractions of such a scenario is that once the lower ranks thin out, it will be easier to spot the isolated flopping of the remaining big fish in the pond.


In the last few generations, America has welcomed tens of thousands of refugees from wars we haven't won, as well as millions who have come in peace to seek prosperity. The first mosque in America was built in Cedar Rapids Iowa in 1934, and a day's drive north of it are some of the largest Muslim and Chaldean Christian communities in the New World.


They've been quietly integrating thousands of new arrivals a year for decades, and can peaceably welcome as many more. Sometimes the best of all exit strategies is to see to it that your former enemies have one of their own.



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