Wednesday, September 27, 2006

And this you call Intelligence?

Following the furore over parts of the latest National Intelligence Estimate which were leaked to the MSM, a summary of the whole estimate has been made public (via Instapundit). The main part that regards the Iraq war reads:
We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.
The Iraq conflict has become the "cause celebre" for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.
This assessment has been sprung upon by the opponents of the war, to claim that the war is failing, and by implication, that the Allies should pull out of Iraq. I find it hard to conceive that one could come up with a more peculiar idea.
Robert Kagan notes in the Washington Post:
For instance, what specifically does it mean to say that the Iraq war has worsened the "terrorism threat"? Presumably, the NIE's authors would admit that this is speculation rather than a statement of fact, since the facts suggest otherwise. Before the Iraq war, the United States suffered a series of terrorist attacks: the bombing and destruction of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998, the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since the Iraq war started, there have not been any successful terrorist attacks against the United States. That doesn't mean the threat has diminished because of the Iraq war, but it does place the burden of proof on those who argue that it has increased.
Probably what the NIE's authors mean is not that the Iraq war has increased the actual threat. According to the Times, the report is agnostic on whether another terrorist attack is more or less likely. Rather, its authors claim that the war has increased the number of potential terrorists. Unfortunately, neither The Post nor the Times provides any figures to support this. Does the NIE? Or are its authors simply assuming that because Muslims have been angered by the war, some percentage of them must be joining the ranks of terrorists?
In fact, the question of what actions make us safer cannot be answered simply by counting the number of new terrorist recruits those actions may inspire, even if we could make such a count with any confidence. I would worry about an American foreign policy driven only by fear of how our actions might inspire anger, radicalism and violence in others. As in the past, that should be only one calculation in our judgment of what does and does not make us, and the world, safer.
Do read the whole thing. Also see what Condoleezza Rice has to say:
Asked about recently leaked internal U.S. intelligence estimates that claimed the Iraq war was fueling terrorist recruiting, Rice said: "Now that we're fighting back, of course they are fighting back, too."
"I find it just extraordinary that the argument is, all right, so they're using the fact they're being challenged in the Middle East and challenged in Iraq to recruit, therefore you've made the war on terrorism worse.
"It's as if we were in a good place on Sept. 11. Clearly, we weren't," she added.
"These are people who want to fight against us, and they're going to find a reason. And yes, they will recruit, but it doesn't mean you stop pursuing strategies that are ultimately going to stop them," Rice said.
The summary NIE also underscores that the US has a problem with its intelligence, as Glenn notes:
While we should fire the leakers on general principles, we should probably also fire whoever wrote this -- for producing a meaningless document full of empty bureaucratic twaddle. If the jihadists win, they'll have more prestige! And they will probably use the internet! Do tell. Jesus Christ, if this is the quality of intelligence we're getting, no wonder we haven't won yet.
A thorough critique of the CIA and its problems, by Gabriel Schoenfeld, appeared in the March 2006 issue of Commentary magazine (requires subs.; see here for free version). For further comments see here.

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