Excuses, Excuses

Ken AshfordIraq1 Comment

The NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) is a CIA report which pulls together the assessment of all U.S. intelligence agencies into a single document.  It is an important document because it provides a complete snapshot of what our intelligence community thinks, based on the latest information.

The last time the NIE made news was in September of last year, when portions of the NIE from 2004 to 2006 were leaked to the New York Times.  At that time, the conclusion of the NIE — the consensus of our entire government intelligence community — was that the Iraq War made the threat of terrorism worse, not better.  This obviously caused some consternation to the Bush Administration, because it directly contradicted the whole Bush rationale for war.  I mean, here is Bush and Cheney and company, saying for years that our efforts in Iraq will help curb global terrorism, and here are documents from the entire intelligence community of the United States during that time saying the exact opposite.

Because of the leak, everybody wanted to the entire report released publicly, particularly the section on Iraq.  But the Bush Administration refused, claiming that the release of the report would influence the November 2006 elections.

Now that the elections are over, senators demanded to be briefed on an updated NIE.  But what happened?  They got a "dog-ate-my-homework" excuse:

Soon after that [a July 2006 story about the blocking of the NIE’s release] was posted, six U.S. senators called for a new NIE on Iraq, and in August the Senate passed an amendment demanding that one be prepared. I’ve just learned that—months later and to the immense frustration of Congress—the new NIE is still not ready.

The situation came to a head last week, during a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This committee expected to be briefed on the long-awaited NIE by an official from the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which coordinates NIEs by gathering input from all of the nation’s various intelligence agencies. But the NIC official turned up empty-handed and told the committee that the intelligence community hadn’t been able to complete the NIE because it had been dealing with the many demands placed upon it by the Bush Administration to help prepare the new military strategy on Iraq. He then said that not all of the relevant agencies had contributed to the NIE, which has made it impossible to put together a finished product.

Now, understand the implications of that:

The government wants to escalate the war in Iraq … which requires them to get better intelligence … which they can’t put together because they’re busy escalating the war in Iraq.  Make sense?

No.  It was quite obvious to both Democrats and Republicans alike on the Senate Intelligence Committee that "senior intelligence officials are stalling because an NIE will be bleak enough to present a significant political liability."  No doubt.

Meanwhile, 27 U.S. troops killed over the weekend, and serious bombings kill scores of Iraqi civilians.

At the risk of re-iterating myself, let me explain why I am opposed to the troop escalation:

  1. The strategy does not seem to come from anyplace other than wishful thinking.  I don’t claim to be an expert, but it seems to me that a whole cadre of experts (both inside and outside the government) think this is a bad idea (as the Baker-Hamilton commission found out).  I have yet to hear/read from a military or intelligence expert who thinks this is a good idea.  The doubters have included members of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff, Colin Powell, and the top ground commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr.  So who exactly is the Bush Administration listening to? 
  2. Furthermore, as the above story suggests, the advice from both intelligence and miltary experts seems to suggest that our presence in Iraq makes the situation worse, not better.  Therefore, an increased presence in Iraq is actually counterproductive.
  3. Even with the escalation proposed by Bush, we will still have less troops in Iraq than we had during the summer months of 2005.  If we couldn’t accomplish defeating the insurgency then, how can we do so with the surge of troops, especially when the insurgency is larger and better organized?
  4. The Iraqi police force and army that we hope to train is rife with hidden militias, dedicated to al Sadr and other factions.  In many instances, we will, in fact, be training the enemy and giving them arms.  It is not terribly surprising, for example, that the attacks in Karbala this weekend were carried out by insurgents wearing American troop uniforms.
  5. The increase in American troops (and tired overextended American troops, at that) will not address the root problem behind the insugency: the flow of weapons and support from Iran and Syria.  Those countries must be engaged diplomatically (but not without some strong-arm pressure), so that Iraq has at least a fighting chance.  Merely adding troops is the equivalent of putting a bandaid on a cancerous tumor.  It should be noted that these countries have a vested interest in seeing security in Iraq, because the flow of refugees from Iraq to their countries (it’s already happening) is going to tax their countries and lead to instability there.

There is no doubt in my mind that the intent and goals of the Bush Administration’s troop escalation are good ones.  But just because one wants something to work, and sees the importance of success, doesn’t make it a winning strategy.