Karen DeYoung writes in the Washington Post:
The war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat, U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded.
A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the “centrality” of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.
A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.
Like they needed an NIE to figure that out. The White House is still in denial mode, of course.
From DeYoung’s and Mazzetti’s articles, it seems the NIE came to the same general conclusions as the experts consulted in James Fallows’s recent Atlantic Monthly article on national security. I blogged about this article here, here, and here, and probably elsewhere.
In a nutshell: Since September 11, al Qaeda has been scattered around the globe and has become more diffuse, less organized. That’s good and bad; Fallows’s article argues that at the moment the old al Qaeda organization has lost the operational capability to pull off Big Deal attacks such as those of September 11. On the other hand, the myriad independent cells springing up around the globe are harder to track and perfectly capable of nasty little operations such as the London subway bombings.
Still, in some ways we could be making real progress against Islamic terrorism were it not for the war in Iraq. The Fallows, Marzzetti, and DeYoung articles all state plainly that Iraq is growing the threat of terrorism against the United States, not reducing it. DeYoung writes,
According to officials familiar with the document, it describes the situation in Iraq as promoting the spread of radical Islam by providing a focal point, with constant reinforcement of an anti-American message for disaffected Muslims. The Web sites provide a narrative of a war with frequent victories for the insurgents, and describe an occupation that they say regularly targets Islam and its adherents. They also distribute increasingly frequent and sophisticated messages from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urging Muslims wherever they are to take up arms against the “Crusaders” on behalf of Iraq.
Both Bush and bin Laden now consistently describe the Iraq war as the “central front” of the global war, and both are depending on victory there to set the direction of future struggles far afield. Although intelligence officials believe bin Laden’s ability to direct major terrorist operations has been greatly diminished, his status as the ideological leader of a global movement that appeals to disaffected Muslims has vastly increased. …
…The latest terrorism assessment paints a portrait of a global war in which Iraq is less the central front of actual combat than a unifying battle cry for disparate extremist groups and even individuals. “It is just those kinetic actions that lead to the radicalization of others,” a senior counterterrorism official said earlier this summer. “Surgical strikes? Nothing is surgical about military operations. They tend to have impacts, affects.”
Another problem that Fallows’s experts discussed was the misallocation of resources caused by our focus on Iraq. For example, Fallows writes,
When Americans think of satellite surveillance and the National Security Agency, they are likely to imagine something out of the TV show 24: a limitless set of eyes in the sky that can watch everything, all the time. In fact, even today’s amply funded NSA can watch only a limited number of sites. “Our overhead imagery is dedicated to force protection in Iraq and Afghanistan,” I was told by a former intelligence official who would not let me use his name. He meant that the satellites are tied up following U.S. troops on patrol and in firefights to let them know who might be waiting in ambush. “There are still ammo dumps in Iraq that are open to insurgents,” he said, “but we lack the imagery to cover them—let alone what people might be dreaming up in Thailand or Bangladesh.” Because so many spy satellites are trained on the countries we have invaded, they tell us less than they used to about the rest of the world.
Last I heard, we’re dumping $1.5 billion in Iraq every week. I suspect that money could be put to better use than pissing people off.
Rightie bloggers are in full-bore pooh-pooh mode. Captain Ed writes,
It makes the classic logical fallacy of confusing correlation with causation, and the basic premise can easily be dismissed with a reminder of some basic facts.
Ed then crashes ahead with his “basic facts” without noticing that they support the NIE conclusions.
First and foremost, Islamist radicalism didn’t just start expanding in 2003. The most massive expansion of Islamist radicalism came after the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, when the Islamists defeated one of the world’s superpowers. Shortly afterwards, the staging of American forces in Saudi Arabia to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait created the most significant impulse for the expansion of organized Islamist radicalism and led directly to the formation of al-Qaeda. It put the US in Wahhabi jihadist crosshairs for the first time.
Righties have a weird inability to grasp large concepts. Islamic radicalism was inflamed when the non-Muslim Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The deployment of non-Muslim Americans in the Middle East in 1990 brought about the formation of al Qaeda. More non-Muslims invading Iraq in 2003 got ’em all whipped up even more. One might conclude that Muslim in the Middle East get really, really pissed off when non-Muslim soldiers mess with their territory.
James Fallows’s experts explain that the American invasion of Iraq and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan run together in some Middle Eastern heads:
So far the war in Iraq has advanced the jihadist cause because it generates a steady supply of Islamic victims, or martyrs; because it seems to prove Osama bin Laden’s contention that America lusts to occupy Islam’s sacred sites, abuse Muslim people, and steal Muslim resources; and because it raises the tantalizing possibility that humble Muslim insurgents, with cheap, primitive weapons, can once more hobble and ultimately destroy a superpower, as they believe they did to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan twenty years ago. The United States also played a large role in thwarting the Soviets, but that doesn’t matter. For mythic purposes, mujahideen brought down one anti-Islamic army and can bring down another.
America’s military action in Afghanistan after 9/11 was different, because that action really was tied to 9/11 and because we allied ourselves to other Muslims — the Northern Alliance — against the Taliban. Unfortunately our loss of focus in Afghanistan allowed bin Laden to escape, and now the Taliban is making a comeback.
BTW, the Captain’s blog post title is “NIE: Ending 12-Year Iraqi Quagmire Made Terrorism Worse,” revealing some confusion on the Captain’s part between a “quagmire” and “containment.” Among other things, American troops didn’t die during the 12-year containment of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and the containment sure as hell didn’t cost $1.5 billion every bleeping week. Was the containment perfect? No. Is the Iraq War perfect? Cough.
Another rightie, Rick Moran, falls back on straw-man arguments to criticize the NIE:
I am not disputing the conclusions in this leaked report. I am resisting the implications that some would draw from it; that if only we had not confronted the jihadists or worked to solve the root causes of terrorism, none of this would be true today.
Did anyone actually advise that we should not confront terrorists? Not that I’ve seen. The difference is that some of us think we should have focused on those terrorists who perpetrated acts against America and Americans, and are likely to do so again, rather than squander our attention and resources on every terrorist cell on the planet whether it is likely to strike the U.S. or not.
And as for “if only we had not … worked to solve the root causes of terrorism” — that’s a joke, right?
But “a really big hole” in the U.S. strategy, a second counterterrorism official said, “is that we focus on the terrorists and very little on how they are created. If you looked at all the resources of the U.S. government, we spent 85, 90 percent on current terrorists, not on how people are radicalized.”
In fact, the Bush Administration hasn’t done a bleeping thing about root causes. All it has done is package Islamic terrorism as a political wedge issue here in the U.S. They don’t even honestly articulate what the root causes are. Instead, they crank out propagandistic sludge like We are at war with enemies who hate our freedoms. We must fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here. Victory. Resolve. We can’t cut and run.
Oh, sure, the Bushies have gone through the motions of helping Muslim civilians, but even the famous Iraqi “restructuring” program was more about allowing Bush campaign contributors to exploit Iraq and make a profit from the invasion than it was about helping Iraqis.
Their other big “root cause” initiative was to name bleeping Karen dumb as an eggplant Hughes Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy.
I rest my case.