Robert Kagan asks, “How do you count the number of terrorists?”
According to the Times, the report is agnostic on whether another terrorist attack is more or less likely. Rather, its authors claim that the war has increased the number of potential terrorists. Unfortunately, neither The Post nor the Times provides any figures to support this. Does the NIE? Or are its authors simply assuming that because Muslims have been angered by the war, some percentage of them must be joining the ranks of terrorists?
As a poor substitute for actual figures, The Post notes that, according to the NIE, members of terrorist cells post messages on their Web sites depicting the Iraq war as “a Western attempt to conquer Islam.” No doubt they do. But to move from that observation to the conclusion that the Iraq war has increased the terrorist threat requires answering a few additional questions: How many new terrorists are there? How many of the new terrorists became terrorists because they read the messages on the Web sites? And of those, how many were motivated by the Iraq war as opposed to, say, the war in Afghanistan, or the Danish cartoons, or the Israel-Palestine conflict, or their dislike for the Saudi royal family or Hosni Mubarak, or, more recently, the comments of the pope?
Interesting, isn’t it? This is what the National Intelligence Estimate has to say about increased numbers of jihadists:
- Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.
- If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.
In other words, we don’t know how many jihadists there are, but we know that their number is increasing. Okay, I’ll accept that. We can’t possibly know the sources and methods used to calculate those facts so we just have to believe that our analysts know what they are talking about.
How do we know that the reason there are more jihadists is because of our blundering around in Iraq? Let’s go to the NIE:
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.
- 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. We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate.
- 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 reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims – all of which jihadists exploit.
In other words, there are several reasons why jihadists become radicalized and the Iraq War – while being a “cause celebre” for international jihadism – is only one of them. Better yet, is there any way to measure the effect of the Iraq War on the recruitment of jihadis specifically?
All very good questions that the press and the Democrats are ignoring this morning in their haste to use the NIE for their own political purposes. And as I said yesterday, the narrative on what this report contains is just about set and no amount of research or analysis will be able to counter the political effects of its release.
This is not to say we shouldn’t accept some of the report’s basic conclusions; that the number of terrorists is growing, that they are less centralized and therefore harder to kill, and that our confronting the jihadis in Iraq has thrown up new leaders in the movement and they are being shaped by the conflict there.
These are the headlines we’re reading this morning. But also contained in the NIE are some interesting tidbits that have been deliberately buried – especially by Democrats – because highlighting them would undercut their critique of the war.
For instance, the NIE points out that staying in Iraq and somehow achieving the goal of a forming a Democratic Iraq would mean fewer terrorists would be created:
Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.
The flip side of that argument is that leaving Iraq will create more terrorists than staying. The report points out that “perceived jihadist success there (Iraq) would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.”
In fact, the report would seem to validate the Administration’s main anti-terrorism aim of democratization:
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. Nonetheless, attendant reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities for jihadists to exploit.
The wild spin on this report coming from Democrats completely ignores the consequences of an Iraq pullout as far as creating even more terrorists and the potential war-winning strategy of democratization – something they have been telling us for years is doomed to failure.
In other words, it is not the President’s policy of invasion, occupation, and democratization in Iraq that has been wrong, it is the Democrat’s counter strategy of leaving Iraq too soon and abandoning or downgrading democratization efforts that runs counter to the report’s analysis, conclusions, and recommendations.
In explaining that only selective parts of the NIE were leaked, director of national intelligence John Negroponte noted: â€œThe estimate highlights the importance of the outcome in Iraq on the future of global jihadism, judging that should the Iraqi people prevail in establishing a stable political and security environment, the jihadists will be perceived to have failed, and fewer jihadists will leave Iraq determined to carry on the fight elsewhere.â€
Winning, however, is something Democrats rarely talk about. The NIE leak was an occasion for even more defeatism from the party that, insofar as it offers any distinct policy prescriptions for Iraq, advocates a premature withdrawal that would only ensure defeat. That would be the ultimate jihadi recruiting tool. Terrorists would be emboldened by their victory â€” since they are always more aggressive when we appear to be the â€œweak horse,â€ in bin Ladenâ€™s phrase â€” and would perhaps control some or most of Iraq as a base of operations.
Properly understood, the NIE leak confirms President Bushâ€™s argument that Iraq is an important front in the War on Terror, and that achieving victory there is essential.
The President’s policy is correct; it is the implementation of that policy that has been badly botched.
This would seem to leave a political opening of gargantuan proportions for the Democrats. All they have to do is tell us how they would win the war in Iraq, right?
Instead, we hear nothing about attempting to win the war but rather how to lose it in as painless a way as possible. Withdrawing our forces based on an arbitrary timetable that bears no relationship whatsoever to how the Iraqi government is doing in bringing stability and democracy to that country is a strategy that runs 180 degrees counter to what the NIE report recommends. And yet, according to the Washington Post, Democratic members of Congress have had this report since April and still insist on promoting a policy of withdrawal:
Copies of the NIE were sent to the House and Senate intelligence, armed services and foreign affairs committees at the time, through normal electronic information channels available to all members, intelligence and congressional sources said. It arrived at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on April 26.
In the House, “there was a bit of a snafu with this particular document,” said a spokesman for Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the intelligence committee chairman. “We had a massive computer failure on our classified side.” The first that the committee knew of its existence was late last week, when “it was requested specifically by a member. That was when it was found and scanned into our system.”
Whether the document was ignored or disappeared into cyberspace, however, it seemed to have made little impact on Capitol Hill at the time. No one in either chamber, on either side of the aisle, requested a briefing or any further information on its conclusions until now, the sources said.
The fact that the report has been available to Democrats on the Hill since April begs the question; who leaked it and why now? After all, there apparently is nothing much new in the document:
The intelligence community has had its own problems with the attention the document is now receiving. Several active and retired intelligence officials stressed that the judgments were nothing new and followed a series of similar assessments made since early 2003 about the impact of the Iraq war on global terrorism.
“This is very much mainstream stuff,” said Paul R. Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005. “There are no surprises.”
The only possible conclusion one can draw is the one that President Bush mentioned yesterday; that the leaking of this document was a political hit job designed to give Democrats ammunition for the November elections.
The leak comes at a time when Republicans have built some momentum and are trying to scratch and claw their way back into the race for control of the House of Representatives. Through this leak and the creation of the “instant narrative” that Iraq was a “mistake” (the report doesn’t say that anywhere) and that because of Iraq the United States is “less safe” (again, the report is silent on that issue), the Democrats are attempting to blunt the “terrorism card” that the GOP has used to trump the Democrats in the last two elections.
Will it work? The narrative has had a head start of 4 days. It will be very difficult to overcome the spin being put out by Democrats and argue about the report on the merits of what it actually says.
Ed Morrissey and I are on the same wavelength this morning:
This is why we have to endure the Iraqi “jihad” until we succeed. The insurgency will collapse when Iraqis grow strong enough to defend themselves and rebuild their infrastructure in peace. In fact, no other strategy could possibly address factors one and three. Even if we packed up and walked out of Iraq, those factors would still exist—as they have for decades—and the fourth factor would remain from our economic engagement with the oppressive regimes that control the region. We have an opportunity to address all four factors by prevailing in Iraq.
What do the Democrats offer? Withdrawal from the one theater in which we face our terrorist enemy and the one place that has to replace a missing tyrant. If we continue our resolve, we can firm up a democracy as Saddam’s replacement and begin to address the factors that drive jihadism. As the NIE concludes, a victory in Iraq would seriously damage the radical Islamist movement, perhaps even mortally. We have no chance to strike a blow against them by retreating. Democrats have badly misrepresented this report and offer the one solution guaranteed to result in making the problem worse—as the NIE also concludes.