John has already taken down this Washington Post “Analysis” piece regarding the latest National Intelligence Assessment (NIE). A decent regard for truth in labeling would have caused the Post to add the words “Strained” and “Partisan” to its description of Michael Abramowitz’s piece.
Abramowitz’s contends that the NIE undercuts President Bush’s claim that terrorists in Iraq pose a threat to U.S. interests. He purports to extract this conclusion from two findings of the NIE. The first is that al Qaeda “has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability” by reestablishing a haven in Pakistan and reconstituting its top leadership. But, as John notes, this fact has no bearing on whether al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq pose a threat to the U.S. Nor does it have any implications for what our force level in Iraq should be, unless one argues that we should launch a ground invasion of Pakistan using forces currently deployed in Iraq. I’ve heard lots of ideas from Democrats about where to dispatch these forces (e.g., Kuwait, Okinawa), but sending them to invade Pakistan has not been among them. Perhaps that will be Harry Reid’s next resolution.
Abramowitz’s other talking point is the NIE’s finding that al Qaeda has been able to recruit new operatives by associating itself with an Iraqi subsidiary. A reasoned analysis of this issue would distinguish between two questions: (1) what would al Qaeda’s recruiting have been like if we had we never gone to war in Iraq and (2) what would al Qaeda’s recruiting be like if we left Iraq now in defeat.
The first question is of historical interest only. Moreover, nothing in the publicly available portion of the NIE suggests that, in the absence of the war in Iraq, al Qaeda would have been unable to recruit successfully by trumpeting other Arab and Muslim grievances — our action in Afghanistan, our support of Israel, etc. Al Qaeda experienced little apparent difficulty recruiting operatives throughout the 1990s when our foreign policy was passive.
But the relevant question for policy purposes is the effect a U.S. defeat in Iraq would have at this time. Nothing in the available part of the NIE supports the view that our retreat/surrender would impair al Qaeda recruiting. The NIE judges that al Qaeda is exploting the situation in Iraq for recruiting purposes, but it expresses no view on the extent to which al Qaeda could exploit our defeat in Iraq for the same purpose.
Moreover, it’s counter-intuitive to suppose that a U.S. defeat would be a recruiting setback for al Qaeda. Such a defeat would give al Qaeda recruiters the best of all possible pitches — (1) the U.S. is would-be crusader nation and (2) the U.S. is weak. We know from al Qaeda’s successful approach to recruiting in the 1990s, which exploited our withdrawal from Somalia, how potent the second claim can be.
In short, as John explained, the Post’s suggestion that the NIE report somehow discredits either the administration’s efforts in Iraq or its broader anti-terror campaign is fantasy masquerading as analysis.
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