Jay Reding.com

The NIE: Not Much New

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.

8 responses to “The NIE: Not Much New”

  1. Mark says:

    You continue to have a huge problem here.

    “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.”

    Only people like yourself, eternally committed to validating your pre-conceived worldview through the kind of fancy footwork that would get you perfect 10’s on “Dancing with the Stars”, could weave that kind of conclusion from this ruling….

    “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.”

    Even if you are somehow able to persuade people, contrary to the core thesis of the NIE report, that “staying the course” in Iraq is the only acceptable way of scaring off Islamic terrorists, how much longer do you think that argument is gonna stick before a war-weary public insists upon withdrawal. Bottom line: we are only one “REALLY bad day in Iraq” away from a wholesale public abandonment on the war in Iraq. Given the state of things in Iraq right now, the odds are high that that day is gonna come in the not too distant future.

  2. Jay Reding says:

    Only people like yourself, eternally committed to validating your pre-conceived worldview through the kind of fancy footwork that would get you perfect 10’s on “Dancing with the Stars”, could weave that kind of conclusion from this ruling….

    So you would argue that a withdrawal from Iraq wouldn’t be viewed by al-Qaeda as a sign of weakness and by the Muslim world as a repudiation of our rhetoric about democracy? Because that would be a phenomenally dumb argument to make.

    Even if you are somehow able to persuade people, contrary to the core thesis of the NIE report, that “staying the course” in Iraq is the only acceptable way of scaring off Islamic terrorists, how much longer do you think that argument is gonna stick before a war-weary public insists upon withdrawal. Bottom line: we are only one “REALLY bad day in Iraq” away from a wholesale public abandonment on the war in Iraq. Given the state of things in Iraq right now, the odds are high that that day is gonna come in the not too distant future.

    Except there’s absolutely no evidence that such a thing is true. 49% think that going into Iraq was the right thing to do. The country may be split, but there’s no consensus that we need to pull out now. 42% support staying in Iraq until the job is finished. Only 17% support the idea of an immediate withdrawal. And that’s with a clear majority thinking that Iraq is already in a state of civil war.

    The media’s been so relentless in their drumbeat of negativity on Iraq that people have basically tuned it out. The fact is that we don’t really care all that much about Iraqi casualties (and Iraqis are taking the brunt of the terrorism in Iraq, as they have been for years), and the “insurgency” doesn’t possess the ability to inflict the kind of damage on us that would shift public opinion from 17% supporting immediate withdrawal to a majority supporting immediate withdrawal.

    This isn’t Vietnam. There’s no draft to motivate public sentiment, and our military remains firmly behind the mission. Iraq will always be controversial, but not enough so to make people demand that we pull out now. The American people don’t support the Democrats on Iraq any more than they support the Republicans, so the result will likely be a continuing presence of US troops until the Iraqis are able to stabilize their own country and finish the job we started.

  3. Mark says:

    “So you would argue that a withdrawal from Iraq wouldn’t be viewed by al-Qaeda as a sign of weakness and by the Muslim world as a repudiation of our rhetoric about democracy?”

    I’m arguing it wouldn’t matter. If we stay in Iraq it will continue being a breeding grounds for terrorism. If we leave Iraq, it will continue being a breeding grounds for terrorism. Only those viewing the world through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses still believe we have any hope of achieving our original goals of democratizing Iraq in the next generation, and I can assure you that the American public will not be willing to referee a generation-long civil war into the 2020’s. It’s a matter of if, not when, we “cut and run”.

    “49% think that going into Iraq was the right thing to do.”

    Ah, yes. The same Gallup poll that indicated the Republicans and Democrats were at 48% parity in the generic ballot preference for the fall. You don’t suppose they oversampled Republicans, do you? Nah, Gallup would never do that. I could link you to the more recent CBS News poll showing support for Iraq at least 10 points lower and with Bush still at 37% approval, but I choose not to demagogue outlier polls as a potshot debate tactic.

    “42% support staying in Iraq until the job is finished.”

    And when, exactly, would that time be? It’d be amusing to ask that question of that 42% and watch them scratch their heads trying to come up with a cogent answer.

    “The media’s been so relentless in their drumbeat of negativity on Iraq that people have basically tuned it out.”

    Ah yes, the conditions on the ground in Iraq as we see them are all a construct of “mainstream media” beezlebubs when in fact we’re still being showered with roses on the streets of Baghded three years after our initial greetings as liberators. You’re right that many people have tuned Iraq out, but only because this is the “silent war” of no sacrifice where we’re not only encouraged, but demanded, by our elected officials to carry our with our normal routines as if were still September 10, 2001…..or March 18, 2003, for that matter. It’s easy for the majority of that “42%” to wanna stay the course until “the job’s done” since the war is nothing more to them than a matter of flag-waving national pride.

    “The fact is that we don’t really care all that much about Iraqi casualties”

    Wow, a rare moment of honesty from you. Kind of hard to take seriously the war defenders’ breathless claims of bringing Iraqis democracy when they don’t even care if Iraqis live or die, no?

    “the “insurgency” doesn’t possess the ability to inflict the kind of damage on us that would shift public opinion from 17% supporting immediate withdrawal to a majority supporting immediate withdrawal.”

    I’m sure you would have said the same thing about al-Qaeda five years and one month ago. One patiently orchestrated collective assault on U.S. military barracks resulting in dozens of dead American troops, or a barbaric “Black Hawk Down”-style moment involving multiple troops that is caught on camera, and the fragile support for continued presence in Iraq will be wiped out.

    “There’s no draft to motivate public sentiment”

    There likely will be with any additional military engagements. And with Bush’s “axis of evil” propoganda, further engagements seem likely to materialize long before you’d have us leave Iraq.

    “The American people don’t support the Democrats on Iraq any more than they support the Republicans”

    That’s because the Democrats are divided on the issue. It’s hard to support “the Democrats on Iraq” when the Democrats are all over the map on the issue amongst themselves. Given the number of timid and conservative Democrats in their caucus, it’s likely the party will be unable to present a unified position on Iraq, and they will suffer for it.

  4. Jay Reding says:

    I’m arguing it wouldn’t matter. If we stay in Iraq it will continue being a breeding grounds for terrorism. If we leave Iraq, it will continue being a breeding grounds for terrorism. Only those viewing the world through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses still believe we have any hope of achieving our original goals of democratizing Iraq in the next generation, and I can assure you that the American public will not be willing to referee a generation-long civil war into the 2020’s. It’s a matter of if, not when, we “cut and run”.

    And if we leave before the job is done, then al-Qaeda will have a victory. If we don’t, al-Qaeda still has to stand in fight in the Middle East rather than elsewhere. The resources of the enemy are finite, the more resources they devote to (and lose in) Iraq, the fewer resources they have here.

    A counter-insurgency take an average of 9 years to complete. That’s how long it took the Moro Rebellion to be squelched, and that’s how long it may take to pacify Iraq. The idea that Iraq is unwinnable is nothing more than defeatism – there’s no reason why Iraq must be a haven for terrorism except for the fact that the Democrats don’t have the guts to finish the job.

    Ah, yes. The same Gallup poll that indicated the Republicans and Democrats were at 48% parity in the generic ballot preference for the fall. You don’t suppose they oversampled Republicans, do you? Nah, Gallup would never do that. I could link you to the more recent CBS News poll showing support for Iraq at least 10 points lower and with Bush still at 37% approval, but I choose not to demagogue outlier polls as a potshot debate tactic.

    Except CBS always undersamples Republicans. Nearly every reputable poll shows an increase in Republican support for the President, so no, it is not at all unreasonable for there to be parity in voter ID. And in fact, it’s the CBS poll that’s an outlier in this case.

    And when, exactly, would that time be? It’d be amusing to ask that question of that 42% and watch them scratch their heads trying to come up with a cogent answer.

    The whole point is that we can’t have an arbitrary timeline for withdrawal. Already two provinces have been completely handed over (Muthanna and Dhi Qar). The idea that we just have to leave now is patently ridiculous. If we don’t have the ability to finish the job in Iraq, then we can’t expect to win this war and should start negotiating our surrender now.

    Ah yes, the conditions on the ground in Iraq as we see them are all a construct of “mainstream media” beezlebubs when in fact we’re still being showered with roses on the streets of Baghded three years after our initial greetings as liberators. You’re right that many people have tuned Iraq out, but only because this is the “silent war” of no sacrifice where we’re not only encouraged, but demanded, by our elected officials to carry our with our normal routines as if were still September 10, 2001…..or March 18, 2003, for that matter. It’s easy for the majority of that “42%” to wanna stay the course until “the job’s done” since the war is nothing more to them than a matter of flag-waving national pride.

    Those straw men keep the crows away? That utterly delusional demonstration of faulty liberal logic doesn’t even remotely acknowledge the reality of our situation: losing Iraq would hand al-Qaeda the greatest victory in their history. The only ones still stuck in the world of September 10, 2001 are the Democrats who still want to treat this problem as one of law enforcement and try to retroactively justify their failed policies. If we fail in Iraq, we stand a damn good chance of losing this war in its entirety, and that is absolutely and categorically unacceptable.

    Wow, a rare moment of honesty from you. Kind of hard to take seriously the war defenders’ breathless claims of bringing Iraqis democracy when they don’t even care if Iraqis live or die, no?

    No, I said we — as in the American public. And sad as it is, it remains true. US casualties are down as Iraqis take the forefront of this conflict. Despite the fact that 75% of the American people think Iraq’s in a civil war yet only 17% support the idea of immediate pullout reflect that attitude.

    I’m sure you would have said the same thing about al-Qaeda five years and one month ago. One patiently orchestrated collective assault on U.S. military barracks resulting in dozens of dead American troops, or a barbaric “Black Hawk Down”-style moment involving multiple troops that is caught on camera, and the fragile support for continued presence in Iraq will be wiped out.

    Except, again, the enemy doesn’t possess the level of coordination necessary to do that. The US military isn’t a soft target, and it would take an exceptional amount of skill for the terrorists to execute such a maneuver. The tactics they’re using are uncoordinated and based on simple ambush techniques. If the enemy could pull off that kind of coordinated attack, they’d have done so before.

    There likely will be with any additional military engagements. And with Bush’s “axis of evil” propoganda, further engagements seem likely to materialize long before you’d have us leave Iraq.

    Which assumes, incorrectly, that such conflicts are forthcoming. No one sane is suggesting that they are at this point. Neither Iran nor North Korea are liable to be invaded at any time in the near future.

    That’s because the Democrats are divided on the issue. It’s hard to support “the Democrats on Iraq” when the Democrats are all over the map on the issue amongst themselves. Given the number of timid and conservative Democrats in their caucus, it’s likely the party will be unable to present a unified position on Iraq, and they will suffer for it.

    The majority Democratic position is to cut and run on an arbitrary timetable — it’s just that some Democrats are smart enough to realize that such a position is political suicide.

  5. Mark says:

    “And if we leave before the job is done, then al-Qaeda will have a victory”

    I’ll defer to my peeps at the NIE. Al-Qaeda already has a victory by us being there. It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other at this point. I don’t see any inevitable crisis being averted in Iraq by continued U.S. military presence…unless of course the current troop level is tripled.

    “A counter-insurgency take an average of 9 years to complete.”

    I’ll bet you money that the American people won’t have the patience to wait another 5 1/2 years for the war in Iraq to end.

    “Except CBS always undersamples Republicans. Nearly every reputable poll shows an increase in Republican support for the President, so no, it is not at all unreasonable for there to be parity in voter ID. And in fact, it’s the CBS poll that’s an outlier in this case.”

    That was my point. Apparently you didn’t read what I wrote. CBS’s poll is an outlier that undersamples Republicans and Gallup is an outlier that regularly oversamples them. Four weeks before the Gallup poll you cite, Gallup had a poll showing a generic Democratic advantage of four points (shockingly low at the time). Two weeks later, the margin grew to a 12-point generic Democratic advantage. Two weeks after that, it’s a tie! And half of the American people now support the war in Iraq! Do you still believe in the tooth fairy too?

    “Except, again, the enemy doesn’t possess the level of coordination necessary to do that.”

    Sunni insurgents and Shi’ite theocrats don’t by themselves, but if the conventional wisdom is correct that al-Qaeda is now alive and flourishing in Iraq, why not them? If they were able to coordinate what they did on 9/11, why couldn’t they do it against much softer U.S. military targets in Iraq?

    “The majority Democratic position is to cut and run on an arbitrary timetable — it’s just that some Democrats are smart enough to realize that such a position is political suicide.”

    It’s imperfect and incomplete, but the idea of perpetually propping up Iraq with a welfare army and a welfare government gives them no incentive to make things right on their own soil. With the war in Iraq now being a charity mission to improve the lives of an Iraqi people that will be increasingly viewed as ingrateful, the American people are souring on the battle every day just as they soured on giving welfare checks to single mothers in the ghettos. Of course, if we do “cut and run on an arbitrary timetable” as public opinion will most certainly necessitate, the public will blame the politicians who take their advice if conditions there further deteriorate and your doomsday scenario plays out. On that end, you’re probably right that the Democrats will suffer long-term in the event of a withdrawal that they orchestrated, ironic as that may be considering the Decider started the quagmire in the first place.

  6. Jay Reding says:

    I’ll defer to my peeps at the NIE. Al-Qaeda already has a victory by us being there. It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other at this point. I don’t see any inevitable crisis being averted in Iraq by continued U.S. military presence…unless of course the current troop level is tripled.

    The NIE is a document, not an agency. Secondly, it says the exact opposite of what you claim. Again, the relevant language:

    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. (Emphasis added)

    I’ll bet you money that the American people won’t have the patience to wait another 5 1/2 years for the war in Iraq to end.

    Our troop levels will undoubtedly reduce as Iraqi troops take over security duties from us — which is already happening, and is already complete in two provinces. We’ll keep a presence in Iraq for as long as it takes, but that presence will be increasingly supportive in nature.

    That was my point. Apparently you didn’t read what I wrote. CBS’s poll is an outlier that undersamples Republicans and Gallup is an outlier that regularly oversamples them. Four weeks before the Gallup poll you cite, Gallup had a poll showing a generic Democratic advantage of four points (shockingly low at the time). Two weeks later, the margin grew to a 12-point generic Democratic advantage. Two weeks after that, it’s a tie! And half of the American people now support the war in Iraq! Do you still believe in the tooth fairy too?

    The internals of the Gallup poll are consistent with other polls which have shown a similar bounce for Bush and the war.

    Sunni insurgents and Shi’ite theocrats don’t by themselves, but if the conventional wisdom is correct that al-Qaeda is now alive and flourishing in Iraq, why not them? If they were able to coordinate what they did on 9/11, why couldn’t they do it against much softer U.S. military targets in Iraq?

    Actually, al-Qaeda in Iraq has been severely degraded since the massive rollback of al-Zarqawi and his associates. They lost a massive chunk of their leadership in that raid. Most of the violence now are due to the various militias in Iraq. So long as we’re able to exert pressure on al-Qaeda, they can’t establish enough of a foothold to be a significant threat. We rolled up their supply corridors along the Euphrates in the spring, and then killed al-Zarqawi in the summer. They haven’t yet been able to bounce back from that, although there’s a good chance that they would if al-Anbar were no longer under US military control.

    Remember that the leaders of all of the tribes in al-Anbar have already declared fatwas against al-Qaeda. They’re not safe in Iraq right now, which is why they haven’t been able to launch any major attacks since the death of al-Zarqawi.

    t’s imperfect and incomplete, but the idea of perpetually propping up Iraq with a welfare army and a welfare government gives them no incentive to make things right on their own soil.

    That “welfare army” is doing most of the fighting, and most of the dying.

    On that end, you’re probably right that the Democrats will suffer long-term in the event of a withdrawal that they orchestrated, ironic as that may be considering the Decider started the quagmire in the first place.

    A generation for now, the fall of Saddam could well be viewed as the kind of inflection point that the fall of the Berlin wall was — and the anti-war faction will be remembered as fondly as the America Firsters were before the Second World War.

  7. Mark says:

    “The NIE is a document, not an agency. Secondly, it says the exact opposite of what you claim. Again, the relevant language:

    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. (Emphasis added)”

    You and the right-wing bloggers who obsessively scanned this thing looking for one nugget of good news to gerrymander out of the report, and now you have the balls to claim that that single sentence is the only relevant language in the report?

    No, Jay, the relevant language in this report pertains to the war in Iraq creating more terrorists than it’s eliminating, which I suspect is even more thoroughly acknowledged in the second part of the report which the administration is curiously fighting to keep under wraps.

    “Our troop levels will undoubtedly reduce as Iraqi troops take over security duties from us — which is already happening”

    Ironic considering that thus far, the Iraqi troops are taking over security duties from us….yet we’re forced to deploy MORE rather less American troops to the “cause celebre”.

    “The internals of the Gallup poll are consistent with other polls which have shown a similar bounce for Bush and the war.”

    The approval ratings for Bush in the Gallup poll were consistent with other polls, but the stats suggesting the GOP at parity the Dems in the generic Congressional ballot, and that half of Americans now approve of the war in Iraq, are both outliers.

    “That “welfare army” is doing most of the fighting, and most of the dying.”

    The welfare army I was referring to was the American military, which is what they will be viewed upon by more and more Americans back home if we’re made to occupy the nation for years and years refereeing a civil war fought by “ungrateful madmen”.

    “A generation for now, the fall of Saddam could well be viewed as the kind of inflection point that the fall of the Berlin wall was — and the anti-war faction will be remembered as fondly as the America Firsters were before the Second World War.”

    And a generation from now, Howard Dean’s Scream could be viewed as the most brilliant political strategy since Niccolo Machiavelli. Probably about the same odds as what you’re saying.

  8. Justin says:

    No one else seems to have noticed that the conclusions of the report conclusively refutes the “flypaper” theory. Rather, the report is pretty clear that Islamisist terror networks have expanded both in number and in geographical disparity.

    So much for “fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here.” Looks like we’ll be fighting them here, there, and everywhere, thanks to the incompetence of the Bush administration.