Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Did Bush Bother to Read the NIE?

The national news is focusing in on a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the war on terrorism that pits the Iraq War as a major instigator, as opposed to deterrent, of the global jihadist movement.

The political damage of this report for the Republican Party is clear. The White House has been leading a last ditch effort by the GOP to get the public's mind off the Iraq War and onto the broader war on terrorism. This report indelibly connects the two, and not in the way the Bush Administration has tried to connect them over the years.

Rather than say the Iraq War has aided the war on terror by simply creating a centralized front to fight the jihadists, as the White House has claimed the war does, the recently leaked NIE makes it very clear that the Iraq War has served to actively fuel terrorist activities around the world.

Sensing the damage the report was having on its election year strategy, the White House began to claim that things aren't as bad as the leaked portions of the NIE made them appear.

According to a statement from National Intelligence Director John Negroponte released earlier in the week, "the conclusions of the intelligence community are designed to be comprehensive, and viewing them through the narrow prism of a fraction of judgments distorts the broad framework they create."

Gathering that the media wasn't buying the White House spin, Bush made the somewhat surprising decision yesterday to de-classify "key judgments" from the NIE so that "everybody can draw their own conclusions about what the report says."

Four pages of the NIE were released late yesterday, and here's the assessment of them by the LA Times: "[The] release of its principal findings appeared likely to fuel the election-season debate over the impact of the war in Iraq, and provided scant support for the president's position that the U.S. occupation of the country has made America safer."

According to a key conclusion stated in the released pages: "We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives."

And there's also this: "The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement."

The pre-September 11 Bush's unwillingness to read most intelligence reports to cross his desk is widely known. You'd think he would've learned his lesson, especially for those reports he intends to de-classify.

What's most eye-opening is that these four pages were supposed to include the aspects of the NIE that were most favorable to the White House's position. It makes you wonder what the rest of the report says.

To be fair, there are aspects of the released portion of the NIE that suggest leaving Iraq before securing "victory" would similarly fuel terrorist aspirations around the world.

But that's really the crux of the predicament that Bush has placed the country in with Iraq.

Staying the course breads terrorism, as does leaving an unstable Iraq. Considering there is no clear plan from anyone on how to secure true "victory" in Iraq, at least in any reasonable amount of time, it's really a lose-lose situation.

Perhaps the answer comes down to picking the lesser of two evils. Would it fuel terrorism more to have more of the same -- which is the GOP position -- or would it fuel it more to cut the existing losses (exactly when is up for debate) and re-focus anti-terrorism activities elsewhere, which is the Dem position?

However that debate unfolds, it's clear this NIE release doesn't do the GOP's election strategy -- which was to avoid any debate at all on Iraq -- any favors.

UPDATE: Word came out yesterday that there's another NIE that focuses specifically on Iraq. Insiders who have seen the report have called its assessment of the Iraq War "very bleak."

Think Progress is reporting that in a conference call with reporters last night, the White House said this report would be de-classified, as well...as soon as the elections are over in January 2007.

ANOTHER UPDATE: It appears the Iraqi people have decided which route they want the US to go. According to a survey by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, 71 percent of Iraqis want US troops out of Iraq within the year, and another 20 percent want them out within two years.

Only 9 percent want the US to stay until "the security situation improves," mostly because Iraqis seem to feel the US presence in Iraq is causing more problems than it's solving.

As the report notes, "An overwhelming majority [of Iraqis believe] that the US military presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing. More broadly, most feel the US is having a predominantly negative influence in Iraq and have little or no confidence in the US military. If the US made a commitment to withdraw, a majority believes that this would strengthen the Iraqi government."

Here's a chart on what the Iraqis feel the effect of a US withdrawal would be:


You can read the full report here. It's eye-opening, to say the least.

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