Tuesday, 26 September 2006

The National Intelligence Estimate and what it means [Updated]

Leaked reports by unnamed sources of the National Intelligence Estimate that came out a few days ago have been generating an enormous amount of media buzz.
The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

Needless to say, the Democrats are all over it, saying that this justifies withdrawing from Iraq as soon as possible.

The blogosphere is all over it too. Being committed to the idea that examining different viewpoints is essential to coming to any intelligent conclusion, I offer you some of the varying viewpoints.

Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory adamantly opposes the war in Iraq, and sees the report as providing the ultimate justification for that position. He didn't actually call for immediate withdrawal, mind you, at least not in this post.
So, a recap of the Iraq war: there were never any WMDs. The proliferation of government death squads and militias in Iraq means that, compared to the Saddam era, human rights have worsened and torture has increased to record levels. Iranian influence has massively increased, as a result of a Shiite fundamentalist government loyal to Tehran replacing the former anti-Iranian regime. We've squandered hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives. And we have -- according to the consensus of our own intelligence community -- directly worsened the terrorist problem with our invasion, and continue to worsen it with our ongoing occupation.

Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters approaches the issue from the other side and dismisses even the basic premise of the report.
It's a fascinating article, and one CQ readers should read in its entirety. It makes the classic logical fallacy of confusing correlation with causation, and the basic premise can easily be dismissed with a reminder of some basic facts.

First and foremost, Islamist radicalism didn't just start expanding in 2003. The most massive expansion of Islamist radicalism came after the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, when the Islamists defeated one of the world's superpowers. Shortly afterwards, the staging of American forces in Saudi Arabia to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait created the most significant impulse for the expansion of organized Islamist radicalism and led directly to the formation of al-Qaeda. It put the US in Wahhabi jihadist crosshairs for the first time.

Finally, Bobby at Stubborn Facts approaches the whole issue from a military background and provides a rather sophisticated analysis that is not as overtly partisan. His basic argument is that while the war in Iraq may have started as a war of choice, it has now become a war of necessity, and an immediate withdrawal could have disastrous consequences.
On the other hand, it does not logically follow that our security interests would be any better served by handing over control of the country to those radical Islamists who would likely come to power in a premature American withdrawal. In fact, in the event of a premature withdrawal (and by premature, I mean any withdrawal before the legitimate Iraqi government has developed the functional capability to provide for its own security, repond to the needs of its citizens, and provide for a stable Iraqi society that does not support international terrorism), it's far more likely that the Islamist radicals would be far better able to exploit this defeat-- by celebrating their victory and establishing bases of operation-- that would make the radicals more lethal, in terms of quantity and quality, in their attacks against the West.

I strongly recommend having a look at all three, especially Bobby's. At least read the ones you disagree with...

[Update - Sept. 26] John in the comments links us to Robert Kagan's column in the Washington Post. Anonymous Liberal has seen it too, and he sure didn't like it. He takes it on blow by blow in his post today. Meanwhile, Captain Ed is calling for the release of a redacted version. He's got his own set of quotes from the NIE, courtesy of Spook86, which suggest that there's a lot more nuance to it than the NYTimes' initial report would lead us to believe. He has a point. Selective quotes from unnamed sources are not exactly the bedrock of comprehensive, balanced reporting.

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John said...

You might want to take a look at Robert Kagan's piece in the WaPo today. He asks some provocative questions.

PatHMV said...

Janet, with all these leaks, which we see on such a regular basis, is that they are always, always, always done by somebody in furtherance of an agenda. Actual real "whistleblowers" of conscience are really rare. So, as Bobby suggests (even more clearly over at the comments at Stubborn Facts), we shouldn't take too much of it for granted without seeing the whole thing for ourselves. When intelligence reportrs are selectively leaked, I usually assume that there's a portion of the not-leaked part which says "the preceding analysis is probably not correct for the following reasons...", just to be on the safe side. Even if I can't think what the counter-argument might be to the point being made, I assume that there probably is one, because I put very, very little credibility in the motives of the leakers.

Janet said...

Pat, Spook86's quotes from the NIE are providing some nice counterpoints, and based on actual excerpts, not speculations. Sampling: And, some indication that the "growing" jihad may be pursuing the wrong course: "There is evidence that violent tactics are backfiring...their greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution (shar'a law) is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims." Seems to contradict MSM accounts of a jihadist tsunami with ever-increasing support in the global Islamic community..

It would look like your assumptions are good ones.

spree said...

The office of intelligence director John Negroponte released a 3-1/2 page section of the April report "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States" compiled by the 16 U.S. spy agencies hours after Bush ordered it declassified.


Grab your copy!!!!

Janet said...

Thanks, Spree. I've done just that.


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