Tuesday, September 26, 2006

NIE summary released

The Bush administration has declassified and released (pdf) the summary of the National Intelligence Estimate that was partially leaked last week.

I'm not sure why Bush thinks this validates his strategy, or demonstrates that the leak was misleadingly narrow.

Here's the summary of the summary.

Good news
1. We've seriously damaged the leadership of Al-Qaeda.

2. The ultimate political aim of jihadists -- conservative Sharia government -- is opposed by the vast majority of Muslims.

3. Prominent Muslim clerics have begun condemning Islamic violence with increasing punch and frequency.

Bad news
1. Al-Qaeda remains a serious threat to the U.S. homeland and has grown less centralized, making it harder to penetrate.

2. The number of jihadists is growing, both in numbers and geographic reach.

3. Expect more attacks in Europe, often from home-grown radicals.

4. Iraq is proving a great training and breeding ground for terrorist leaders, breeding a "deep resentment" of the United States and increasing support for jihadist movements.

5. The factors fueling terrorism currently outweigh the factors restraining it, and will continue to do so for the forseeable future.

6. Sunni extremist organizations other than Al-Qaeda are likely to expand their reach unless countered, perhaps obtaining the ability for large-scale terror attacks. However, they pose little threat to the U.S. homeland itself.

Predictions and suggestions
1. Addressing the underlying factors that produce terrorism -- autocratic governments that are corrupt and unjust, fear of Western domination, Iraq, lack of social and economic reforms and pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment -- will help fight it. But the instability inherent in such transitions will provide jihadists with short-term advantages.

2. If jihadists feel they have lost in Iraq, it will dampen their fervor and hinder recruitment.

That's it. Anything strike you about that list? Like, you already knew everything on it? Maybe it's because all the really good stuff remains classified, but there's really nothing new in it; it's all stuff we've known about for a very long time -- including the leaked bit about Iraq helping to breed terrorists. I'm not a CIA analyst, but I've been making much the same points -- including the need to address the factors that breed terrorism -- for years.

That aside, however, what does it mean?

I'm sure war supporters will latch on to the first item under "Good news" and the last item under "Predictions" to say "We're beating Al-Qaeda, and Iraq is where we'll break the back of terrorism."

But that's misreading the document. We've done great harm to Al-Qaeda, true -- and good for us. But that has almost nothing to do with Iraq. And the gist of the NIE is that Al-Qaeda is resilient and still our biggest threat.

As for Iraq, let me break the report down for you.

The NIE first states what is: Iraq is a breeding and training ground for terrorists, and inspiring growth in jihadi ranks worldwide. This is likely to continue for the forseeable future, and the report lists "Iraq" as one of the four underlying factors fueling militant Islam.

It then adds a truism: That if we somehow manage to "win" in Iraq -- whatever that means -- it will be a blow to the jihadists.

Well, no kidding. Besides being blatantly obvious, it is an assessment of what could be -- not what is, not even what is likely to be. In fact, the NIE points out that the situation favors continued growth in the jihadist movement for the forseeable future.

So this is a bit like General Paulus at Stalingrad musing, "Yes, the Russian encirclement is getting stronger every day. But if we could somehow break out, we'd be fine."

Given that it is becoming increasingly obvious that we are not even remotely serious about winning in Iraq, I think it's unlikely we will "win" in the sense suggested by the NIE. But that's beside the point. The point is that war supporters will try to counter the NIE's "what is" assessment with the NIE's "what could be" truism. That's comparing apples to oranges to try to put a brave face on what is a pretty pessimistic NIE.

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Blogger J Thomas said...

Glad you read the document (which is more that many commentators are doing).

I found the doc a bit confusing, jumping from one thing to the next.

See this interactive categorization of the NIE Doc:

For example, below are all of the "forward looking" statements in the NIE doc. We can talk about blame and status until the cows come home. The reality is we need to make sure that we win in Iraq or the game is really over.

"Perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere."

"Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight."

"Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit. Over time, such progress, together with sustained, multifaceted programs targeting the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movement and continued pressure on al-Qa’ida, could erode support for the jihadists."

"Concomitant vulnerabilities in the jihadist movement have emerged that, if fully exposed and exploited, could begin to slow the spread of the movement."

"The jihadists' greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari'a-based governance spanning the Muslim world is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists' propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade."

"Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror."

"Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require coordinated multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders."

"If democratic reform efforts in Muslim majority nations progress over the next five years, political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives."

9/26/2006 11:29 PM  

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