The administration declassified and released the three-page “key judgments” of the National Intelligence Estimate; we linked to it earlier today. The document, taken as a whole, shows that the leaks given to the New York Times and Washington Post were so incomplete and unrepresentative as to be wildly misleading, as were the stories those papers wrote based on the leaks.
At this morning’s press conference, the AP’s Jennifer Loven, one of the most partisan reporters in that highly partisan stable, asked a tendentious question about the NIE, in response to which President Bush announced that he had ordered the report’s conclusions declassified so that the American people can read it for themselves and draw their own conclusions. We quoted that exchange below.
Ms. Loven lost no time, once the report was made available, in continuing her attack on the administration in the guise of news reporting. Here is how she and a colleague characterized the report:
The war in Iraq has become a “cause celebre” for Islamic extremists, breeding deep resentment of the U.S. that probably will get worse before it gets better, federal intelligence analysts conclude in a report at odds with
President Bush’s portrayal of a world growing safer.
In the bleak report, declassified and released Tuesday on Bush’s orders, the nation’s most veteran analysts conclude that despite serious damage to the leadership of al-Qaida, the threat from Islamic extremists has spread both in numbers and in geographic reach.
Bush and his top advisers have said the formerly classified assessment of global terrorism supported their arguments that the world is safer because of the war. But more than three pages of stark judgments warning about the spread of terrorism contrasted with the administration’s glass-half-full declarations.
*** Virtually all assessments of the current situation were bad news. The report’s few positive notes were couched in conditional terms, depending on successful completion of difficult tasks ahead for the U.S. and its allies.
The Associated Press is apparently relying on the assumption that hardly anyone will read the report’s conclusions. Here are a few significant items that, with just one exception, Loven and her colleague didn’t see fit to mention:
United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qa’ida and disrupted its operations; however, we judge that al-Qa’ida will continue to pose the greatest threat to the Homeland and US interests abroad by a single terrorist organization.
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.
We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse.
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. [Ed.: So whatever you do, don’t cut and run.]
Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight. [Which is why it is so critical to win in Iraq.]
Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq “jihad;” (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social and political reform in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims–all of which jihadists exploit. [Ed.: Note that the administration’s strategy of bringing reform to the Muslim world is intended to address factors 1, 3 and 4.]
Concomitant vulnerabilities in the jihadist movement have emerged that, if fully exposed and exploited, could begin to slow the spread of the movement. They include dependence on the continuation of Muslim-related conflicts, the limited appeal of the jihadists’ radical ideology, the emergence of respected voices of moderation, and criticism of the violent tactics employed against mostly Muslim citizens.
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 audience 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. [Note that this is one of the chief goals of the administration’s Iraq policy.] 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.
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.
The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of al-Qa’ida in Iraq might lead veteran foreign jihadists to focus their efforts on external operations. [Note that this means that veteran, non-Iraqi jihadists are now focusing their attentions on that country, rather than on places like Europe and the United States.]
The NIE is very much a mixed bag, with a lot of on-the-one-hand and on-the-other-hand. But, given the assessments noted above, which are not only positive but also reinforce the importance of the goals the Bush administration is pursuing–victory in Iraq and reform, eventually, in the Arab world–the AP’s characterization of the report as “bleak” is ridiculous, and its claim that “[v]irtually all assessments of the current situation were bad news” is simply false.
Beyond the misreporting of the NIE, what strikes me most about it is what a useless document it is. It is couched in such generalities that I don’t see what use the President, or anyone else, could make of it for policy-making purposes. I would hope that if we saw the whole report, there would be substance that is not reflected in the “key judgments.” If not, if I were President, I would send it back to the agencies it came from with a request to tell me something I didn’t already know.