The Director of National Intelligence has released the key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism, and as expected the media spin was both a selective reading of the conclusions and a distortion of its actual position. The actual conclusion was:
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.
That’s a fair assessment. Leaving Iraq half-finished (as the Democrats would have us do) would signal to the jihadi community that the US is a paper tiger that can be defeated by a vastly inferior force as well a signaling to the Muslim world that our support for pluralism and democracy is essentially a sham. That isn’t acceptable to us on any level. The price of success in Iraq was always going to be high — successfully transitioning from autocracy to democracy is not a project that can be done on the cheap or on a set timetable. However, the price of the status quo was already too high, and Iraq presented the best possible way to deal with a perceived security threat and advance a new agenda for the Middle East that would draw out the oxygen that was feeding the fires of terrorism.
The NIE is quite honest in its assessment of how well we’re doing: al-Qaeda the organization has been severely disrupted, but we’re not doing nearly enough to fight the jihadi ideology at its core. The NIE indicates that the ultimate goal in Iraq of a tolerant and pluralist society would have profound implications for the jihadi ideology, but that the pace of reforms in Iraq and elsewhere are still so slow that it’s encouraging more resentment.
If anything, the biggest problem with the Bush Administration is that we’re being too timid in advancing our ends. We should be putting more pressure on governments like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to enact democratic reforms. We should be spending far more on public diplomacy, including covert funding of democratic opposition groups across the region. The NIE makes it clear that the military strategy has worked, but that it is insufficient on its own for defeating this ideologically-based movement.
There’s not much particularly new in the NIE to those who have been paying attention — but what this does show is that the media is more interested in showing off their biases than in casting light on the single most crucial issue in today’s world. Victory in this war requires a strong and bipartisan commitment to win — and when unelected members of the bureaucracy begin a covert campaign to undermine the public policy of elected decision-makers, then there is a critical problem that must be addressed. The bureaucracy should not be setting our national security policy — that’s one of the biggest reasons why the Clinton Administration’s anti-terrorism policies were so feckless. President Bush needs to use this leak as a moment to strongly push back against intelligent leaks and ensure that the CIA acts as an instrument of policy, not as an unelected branch of government unto itself.