In the Arena

The Wire War

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Andrew Sullivan notes the similarity between The Wire and the actual intelligence campaign to get Bin Laden. But there were also striking similarities to the war in Iraq, oft-noted by some of my intelligence sources back when that war was flaming: In the tv show, the conflict between the slow-moving, hierarchical, unimaginative Baltimore police department and the horizontal, guerilla-like, constantly innovating drug gangs. Sound familiar?

In Iraq, success–such as it was–only came when the US military flattened out its decision-making structure, began dealing directly with (that is, buying) tribes and instituting a form of community policing (counter-insurgency) that provided security for the locals who in turn provided information about where the bad guys were. The special unit in The Wire was a classic, counterinsurgency/special ops force–down to the quirky, creative personalities of the team’s members. The drug dealers were a classic guerrilla insurgency, down to the chaotic, murderous rivalry among factions.

That’s one of the reasons I loved the show so much–it mirrored the reporting I was doing on the Iraq war. Another reason was that it was the first TV show that reflected the urban realities I’d reported on in New York during the 1980s and 90s. The final reason was that it was just so damn good–the 21st century equivalent of the grand, intricate 19th century novels. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing one of the great cultural achievements of the past decade. And it never won an Emmy. Arrgh.