That’s the headline story on the front page of the Washington Post this morning. I have no idea whether the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) upon which the story relies actually says this, but Karen DeYoung’s report gives one little confidence (a) that she is reporting fully and accurately on the NIE and (b) that our “spy agencies” have any sound basis for such a conclusion.
De Young’s story conflates a number of different alleged phenomena: (1) terrorism is becoming more decentralized, (2) successful recruting of terrorists is on the rise, (3) terrorists are using the Iraq war as the centerpiece of their recruiting campaigns, (4) the sitation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position with respect to fighting terrorism. De Young’s confusion (or the confusion she induces in the reader) reaches its climax when she proclaims that the “conclusions and tone” of the NIE “have been reflected in a number of public statements by senior intelligence officials this year.” De Young cites a statement by John Negroponte that “[m]y colleagues and I sill view the global jihadist terrorist movement, which emerged from the Afghan-Soviet conflict in the 1980s but is today inspired and led by al Qaeda, as the preeiminent threat to our citizens, homeland interests and friends.” This statement may have some very slight connection to phenomena (1) and (2) cited above, but they do not “reflect” phenomena (3) and (4) at all.
De Young also cites a statement by CIA Director Michael Hayden that “threats to the U.S. at home and abroad will become more diverse and that could lead to increasing attacks worldwide.” Again, on its face this statement has no relation to the question of the impact of the war in Iraq on our overall efforts to combat terrorism.
It may be the case that the terrorists are recruiting more members than before, and it’s likely that terrorists rely heavily on the war in Iraq when they engage in recruiting. But it does not follow that the war is hurting the overall terror fight or even that it’s materially helping terrorists recruit. If we had not overthrown Saddam Hussein, the terrorists would hardly be without a sales pitch. They could cite the “crusade” in Afghanistan (which some liberals assure us would be intense if only we weren’t bogged down in Iraq), our support of Israel including our support of its bombing campaign in Lebanon, our support of the Saudis, and the fact that we backed down in Iraq. These sorts of recruiting pitches fueled the rise of al Qaeda in the 1990s. If the NIE argues that this decade’s Islamofascists need the war in Iraq on top of its traditional arguments in order effectively to recruit, I’d like to see its evidence.
One should also ask whether any alleged recruiting gains are offset by the fact that a state that supported terrorism and had significance experience and know-how with a variety of WMD is out of business. I wonder whether the NIE gets into this subject, which undoubtedly is a sore one for our spy agencies.
Finally, one should ask what the impact on terrorist recruiting of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be. Past terrorist recruiting efforts are said to have fueled by the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon in the 1980s and Somalia in the 1990s, and of course by the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. It seems obvious that a U.S. pull-out in Iraq under present conditions would represent the mother of all recruiting opportunites. But maybe our spy agencies believe that a pull-out would cause would-be recruits suddenly to conclude that we’re not evil infidels after all.
De Young glides around this whole issue by noting that the NIE does not offer policy recommendations. But don’t our spy agencies consider the likely effects of changing our policies? If not, they have little to offer us when it comes to thinking about what our policies should be.
JOHN adds: This is the latest cheap shot in the CIA’s war against the Bush administration. As I’ve said before, one of the inherent vices of leaks of classified information is the selectivity of those leaks. When anti-Bush intelligence officials want to damage the President with a leak to the Washington Post, they relate certain features of, in this case, the National Intelligence Estimate, that they think will have the intended effect. But we don’t get to see the whole report; just the reporter’s spin on the spin she was given by the embedded Democrats in the agencies. We have no way of knowing, based on this kind of news story, what the report actually says, or how sound its reasoning is.
By the way, note that the report was completed in April. So the Democrats held their leak until it could be of service in the election campaign.
UPDATE: Sure enough, the White House says that the stories in the Post and the New York Times are “not representative of the complete document.” That’s very likely true, but we can’t know without reading the whole report. And in all likelihood, the reporters who passed on the leakers’ spin don’t know either.