Tuesday, July 17, was the day the National Intelligence Estimate was released – “The Terrorist Threat to the Homeland.” Yeah, that title has a bit of a thirties-Teutonic ring to it, but no one notices such things any longer. Point out the obvious historical overtones of the language and you’ll be called an alarmist crackpot – it’s “homeland” not “fatherland” after all. No need to get excited. And this was the unclassified version of a consensus “product” of the sixteen agencies of our intelligence community, not a Party Document. And it was what you would expect – things aren’t going so well.
If you are an alarmist, you focus on the last paragraph –
The ability to detect broader and more diverse terrorist plotting in this environment will challenge current US defensive efforts and the tools we use to detect and disrupt plots. It will also require greater understanding of how suspect activities at the local level relate to strategic threat information and how best to identify indicators of terrorist activity in the midst of legitimate interactions.
The widely-read Kevin Drum is an alarmist, as he offers his translation –
We need more surveillance capability, more data mining capability, more federal control, and expansions of the Patriot Act that lower the bar for searches and seizures. That’s my guess, anyway. But maybe I’m just being paranoid.
Maybe he is being paranoid, but with reason.
But he also notes that there is no mention anywhere of Iran as a source of terrorist threats. That seems to hint that we won’t be starting that third war with Iran right now, nuking their underground centrifuges and all – or it doesn’t as the Cheney bloc says they have enough reason to do that right now. Pakistan is mentioned, and al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is mentioned, but there is not much new. Drum’s summary –
In other words, the main continuing threats to the American homeland come from (a) tribal areas near Afghanistan that became al-Qaeda strongholds due to our failure to prevent their retreat five years ago, and (b) AQI, which is largely a creation of the invasion of Iraq. Our war plans aren’t going so well under President Bush, are they?
Well, no, they’re not, and he points to Richard Clarke saying you have to understand what’s missing from the report to understand what it’s really saying –
The 2006 version of the National Intelligence Estimate claimed U.S. efforts had “seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qa’ida and disrupted its operations.”
“That’s no longer the case in 2007, and you have to read between the lines to understand how we have lost ground,” Clarke says.
Fred Kaplan says you should read it and weep as even this administration’s own intelligence report says the war in Iraq is making us less safe at home. There may be no other way to look at it, as “it amounts to a devastating critique of the Bush administration’s policies on Iraq, Iran, and the terrorist threat itself.”
It does? How do you conclude that?
Perhaps you apply logic –
Its main point is that the threat – after having greatly receded over the past five years – is back in full force. Al-Qaida has “protected or regenerated key elements” of its ability to attack the United States. It has a “safe haven” in Pakistan. Its “top leadership” and “operational lieutenants” are intact. It is cooperating more with “regional terrorist groups.”
As a result, the report concludes, “the U.S. Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years” and is, even now, “in a heightened threat environment.”
This is moderately awful for President Bush. We are all supposed to support his policies on his claim that the terrorist threat has diminished. That is what he has said. We are fighting them there so we will never have to fight them here. Now the intelligence community is saying it just is not working that way at all.
Kaplan also claims that the report implicitly acknowledges that this new and bigger and more dire threat – as ominous as before September 2001 – has re-emerged as a result of the war in Iraq, and rather cleverly implies that the threat will grow even larger if we appear to threaten Iran.
You just have to think about what is explicitly said –
One major reason for al-Qaida’s resurgence, according to the report, is its “association with” al-Qaida in Iraq. (Note, by the way, that these two organizations are said to be “associated” or “affiliated” with each other; contrary to what Bush has said in recent speeches, they are not the same entity.) This affiliation “helps al-Qaida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.” (Italics added.)
Al-Qaida in Iraq – or AQI, as the report identifies it – is not merely al-Qaida’s “most visible and capable affiliate.” More significant, it is “the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland.” (Italics added.)
Okay, the al Qaeda “home office” attacked us already, and is not talking about attacking in the United States at all these days. The new al Qaeda “affiliate” – AIQ (or as they call themselves, “al Qaeda in Mesopotamia”) – is talking about that. They didn’t exist until a year or two after we occupied Iraq. They were formed in reaction to the occupation chose their name, and then asked for franchise and trademark rights from the “home office” in the wilds between Pakistan and Afghanistan. They are the ones who are pissed and would like to blow up Cleveland or whatever, as soon as possible. We created the threat. One thing leads naturally to another.
And Kaplan, big on logic, offers a syllogism –
Al-Qaida is more inclined to attack the United States because of its affiliation with AQI; AQI is the only affiliate that wants to attack the United States; therefore, if there were no AQI, the danger of an attack would be far less severe, if it existed at all.
Let’s add one more link to the logical chain (which the NIE leaves out but which is self-evident): If there were no U.S. occupation of Iraq, there would be no AQI. (Certainly the organization didn’t exist until well into the occupation. It has gained a foothold in Iraq – energizing “the broader Sunni extremist community” – by playing off their anti-American sentiments.)
Yeah, yeah – but we’re fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them here. That now seems like an absurd argument, as Kaplan has discussed before. But the new report demonstrates, logically, that the exact opposite is the case – as Kaplan notes, that because we’re fighting them in Iraq, we are much more likely to face them here.
The logic is as clear as can be.
Of course we don’t stop fighting “al Qaeda in Mesopotamia” as they are bad guys. They are dangerous. And they’ve hooked themselves to the home office out east.
Kaplan thinks it does mean that we should do more to co-opt the Sunnis – even some of the Sunni extremists. That’s their local base, after all – and we’ve started to do just that, with some success, in Anbar province.
Here’s his final assessment –
And it also means – for yet one more reason, beyond the many others – that we should start to get out of Iraq. (The question, as always, remains how to do so without unleashing catastrophic chaos. One reasonable inference of the NIE is that we should seek a regional resolution of the crisis as a matter of great urgency to the security not only of the Middle East but also of the United States.)
It’s worth recalling that, back in the spring of 2003, as the war was getting under way, Paul Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense (and one of the war’s outspoken architects), told Vanity Fair that one reason to invade Iraq was to allow U.S. troops to leave Saudi Arabia. The presence of “infidel” soldiers on holy soil had been “a huge recruiting device for al-Qaida,” Wolfowitz said. (Osama Bin Laden had publicly cited their presence as a rationale for the attack on the World Trade Center.) Yet the troops couldn’t safely leave Saudi Arabia as long as Saddam Hussein was still in Iraq. Hence, Saddam had to be removed first. (Though Wolfowitz didn’t say so, another element of the plan was to relocate the U.S. bases from Saudi Arabia to the new, presumably pro-Western Iraq.)
It just didn’t work out – our troops in Iraq have become “a huge recruiting device for al-Qaida.” That’s what the report says. It’s just like it was in Saudi Arabia – we’re back to square one, one country north.
As for Iran –
Some hawks and neocons want to deepen the involvement and attack Iran – either simply to destroy its bourgeoning nuclear program or (in a more fantasy-drenched scenario) to overthrow its unfriendly regime, too.
Here the new report almost directly says that is a real bad idea –
While discussing other threats besides al-Qaida, the report states that Lebanon’s Hezbollah – which, till now, has confined its attacks to targets outside the United States – “may be more likely to consider attacking the Homeland … if it perceives the United States as posing a direct threat to the group or Iran.”
This amounts to a direct warning to the White House: Don’t attack Iran, the entire U.S. intelligence community is saying – and, if you do, you should expect to get hit back.
Would the intelligence community directly warn the White House of such things? Perhaps so, as Reuters is reporting they actually went after Rumsfeld –
Dissident U.S. intelligence officers angry at former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld helped a European probe uncover details of secret CIA prisons in Europe, the top investigator said on Tuesday. Swiss Senator Dick Marty, author of a Council of Europe report on the jails, said senior CIA officials disapproved of Rumsfeld’s methods in hunting down terrorist suspects, and had agreed to talk to him on condition of anonymity.
“There were huge conflicts between the CIA and Rumsfeld. Many leading figures in the CIA did not accept these methods at all,” Marty told European Parliament committees, defending his work against complaints it was based on unnamed sources.
The report issued last month said the Central Intelligence Agency ran secret jails in Poland and Romania, with the complicity of those governments, and transported terrorist suspects across Europe in secret flights.
Many people in the government itself seem to have problems with the president and his crew.
Take Roger Cressey, a former member of the National Security Council staff, where he was Director for Transnational Threats from November 1999 through November 2001. You can watch this clip where he and Keith Olbermann review the business of the president saying, over and over and over, that these “al Qaeda in Iraq” guys are the very same guys that attacked us back in 2001 –
…it’s completely misleading. The organization that attacked us on 9/11 is still trying to attack us. That is the group that is primarily on the Afghan/Pakistan border that you’ve seen all the intelligence community assessments about in the past few days. The group inside Iraq is very indigenous. It’s a function of what happened in Iraq after Saddam was overthrown. In effect, we’ve actually helped create the conditions that allowed al Qaeda to take root in Iraq. It’s clear that al Qaeda in Iraq has ideological sympathies with al Qaeda Central that clued there’s been some communication between the two, but it is false and misleading for the president to make that direct linkage that he did.
Even the Washington Post gets it –
U.S. intelligence analysts, however, have a somewhat different view of al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq, noting that the local branch takes its inspiration but not its orders from bin Laden. Its enemies – the overwhelming majority of whom are Iraqis – reside in Baghdad and Shiite-majority areas of Iraq, not in Saudi Arabia or the United States. While intelligence officials have described the Sunni insurgent group calling itself al-Qaeda in Iraq as an “accelerant” for violence, they have cited domestic sectarian divisions as the main impediment to peace.
In a report released yesterday, Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies warned that al-Qaeda is “only one part” of a spectrum of Sunni extremist groups and is far from the largest or most active. Military officials have said in background briefings that al-Qaeda is responsible for about 15 percent of the attacks.
It’s all the same to the president, and he wants us all to keep it that simple. It’s just not true. Maybe if he says it enough times…
No, in a broader sense, it could be that the president is, as Andrew Sullivan says, simply a messianic maniac – “After four years of mounting, centrifugal chaos in a country he invaded on false pretenses, with no plan for victory, Bush is still ’empowered’ by a sense of religious mission and the aphrodisiac of the appearance of power.”
He points to David Brooks’ New York Times column quoting the president – “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”
Sullivan, the devout Catholic and conservative –
As a very abstract theological principle, it’s hard for a fellow Christian to disagree. But, of course, as a political or historical principle, this is dangerous, delusional hogwash. There is a distinction between theology and politics, a distinction between theory and practice: a distinction at the core of the very meaning of conservatism. The notion that free will or even human freedom is destined to be humanity’s future, and that this destiny can be achieved by a Supreme Leader, is a function not of conservatism in any sense, but of a messianic, eschatological ideology. It’s the most naive form of Whiggery on half-baked evangelical steroids. It is all the more disturbing to be allied with what can only be called Bush’s attachment to the Fuhrerprinzip – the fascistic notion that all human affairs can be commanded and determined by a Great Decider. Our dumb luck, alas, is that our supreme leader is a trust-fund kid with a chip on his shoulder and zero understanding of history or war.
And he thinks Brooks appears “to be taken in by this lunacy.” Brooks says that “only the whispering voice of Leo Tolstoy holds one back.”
That goes like this, as Brooks says –
Tolstoy believed great leaders are puffed-up popinjays. They think their public decisions shape history, but really it is the everyday experiences of millions of people which organically and chaotically shape the destiny of nations – from the bottom up.
According to this view, societies are infinitely complex. They can’t be understood or directed by a group of politicians in the White House or the Green Zone. Societies move and breathe on their own, through the jostling of mentalities and habits. Politics is a thin crust on the surface of culture. Political leaders can only play a tiny role in transforming a people, especially when the integral fabric of society has dissolved.
If Bush’s theory of history is correct, the right security plan can lead to safety, the right political compromises to stability. But if Tolstoy is right, then the future of Iraq is beyond the reach of global summits, political benchmarks and the understanding of any chief executive.
Take your choice. Brooks seems to admire strong leaders who think Tolstoy was full of crap – or if he wasn’t, can, by force of will and a single idea, overcome the natural organic complexity of human affairs.
Sullivan, like the folks in the sixteen intelligence organizations, will have none of it –
Such delusions actually destroy lives, liberties, societies, civilizations. And what has this messianic maniac in the White House done? He has set loose a fantastically murderous war in Iraq, he has sacrificed thousands of young Americans with the result not of restraining but empowering our enemies, he has done incalculable long-term damage to the country’s fiscal standing, he has indirectly caused the massacre of tens of thousands of innocents, he has come close to wrecking the military of the United States, and he has robbed the United States of its long and hard-won record of humane and decent warfare.
But other than that, and the New Orleans business, he’s doing just fine.
Elsewhere Sullivan adds this –
I do think David’s column is devastating to Bush. It’s one thing for Ron Suskind to find Bush aides claiming theological underpinning for the Iraq war. It’s another thing for David to get Bush to say the same thing on the record. Anyway, make your own mind up. It was a memorable column.
And he notes even National takes exception to the president’s dimwitted monomania, with Rich Lowry offering this –
Culture matters, and that’s something Bush is very reluctant to acknowledge. You can believe freedom is a gift from the Almighty and still recognize that some cultural soil is more or less compatible with supporting political systems that protect liberty. But Bush believes the spread of liberty is “inevitable.” If that is the case, why not spare ourselves all the effort and let the inevitable flowering of liberty take hold? Now, he does say that there will be different expressions of liberty and a different pace – “but we’ve all got the same odds of achieving the same result.” That strikes me as flat-out wrong, an otherwordly leveling of all the culture and history that separates various societies.
Not to be outdone, there’s the ultra-right Richard Mellon Scaife, the man who personally financed all the “get Bill Clinton” efforts last decade, in his flagship Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran this –
Quite frankly, during last Thursday’s news conference, when George Bush started blathering about “sometimes the decisions you make and the consequences don’t enable you to be loved,” we had to question his mental stability. If the president won’t do the right thing and end this war, the people must. The House has voted to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by April. The Senate must follow suit.
Our brave troops should take great pride that they rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein. And they should have no shame in leaving Iraq. For it will not be, in any way, an exercise in tail-tucking and running. America has done its job. It’s time for the Iraqis to do theirs.
Who is with the president, besides Joe Lieberman? Many see a problem with mental stability, if not messianic madness. This is getting absurd.
At least the administration has walked back six years and found themselves doing the Bill Clinton thing with North Korea, giving them food and fuel for their cooperation – “The UN nuclear watchdog on Wednesday said it had verified that North Korea had closed all five of its nuclear facilities.” The administration said they’d never, ever, work out a deal like that. That would be appeasement, a wimp Clinton thing. As Cheney famously said, we don’t negotiate with evil regimes, we change them. They slapped Colin Powell down, they publicly humiliated him, when, as our brand new Secretary of State, he said we were moving forward with the negotiations that would finalize the matter. They blindsided our South Korean allies who were on board with the agreements, perplexing them no end. We would not even hold one-on-one talks with the North Koreans, as that would reward their bad behavior as we would be treating them as some sort of equals. Then, six years later, someone found some mental stability under a chair or behind a desk at the White House, not being used, and used it. Of course in the six lost years the North Koreans did produce a good amount of plutonium and now have a handful of crude nuclear weapons. Perhaps that’s the price we pay for the six-year learning curve.
As for any work on the situation with Israel and the Palestinians, we let that slide. Tony Blair told his folks the price the United States really paid for the UK’s joining in the Iraq was that George Bush promised, for sure, that he would work on that “roadmap for peace” to resolve those issues. Then we stiffed Tony – nothing at all. It was also “too Bill Clinton.” In fact, when Israel invaded Lebanon last year, we said we hoped the destruction of Lebanon would continue – Condoleezza Rice said sure, lots of people will die, but it was “the birth pangs of a new Middle East” and really a good thing, if you took the long view of things. That didn’t fly.
Then, after some years of the what were probably all the inside jokes about that sucker Blair, someone found some mental stability under a chair or behind a desk at the White House, not being used, and used it. Monday, July 16, the president announced he’d be just like Bill (or Jimmy Carter, actually) – he called for comprehensive peace talks. How odd. Tuesday, July 17, that fell to pieces –
Hamas rejected President Bush’s proposal for a Mideast peace conference, denouncing it Tuesday as nothing but lies, while Syria said it fears the offer is “just words.”
Without cooperation from key Arab players, Bush’s last major push for a Mideast breakthrough could falter.
Washington’s close Arab allies, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, welcomed Bush’s proposal, but stressed the importance of making an Arab land-for-peace proposal first adopted in 2002 as key to any talks. Israel’s support was also qualified, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokeswoman saying it was too early to talk about full-fledged peace talks as long as Palestinian violence against Israel continues.
Bush called Monday for an international conference in the fall aimed at restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, saying it was a “moment of choice” in the Middle East. U.S. officials expressed hope that Arab countries, including moderate nations that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel, would attend.
It was a nice thought, even if too late to save Tony.
The president just cannot catch a break here. He went the messianic route. We had no choice but to go along for the ride. And we’re not getting off that carnival ride just yet. That new National Intelligence Report means nothing, although Tolstoy might have enjoyed it.