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Intel Report Fuels Political Fire

Prepared by: Eben Kaplan
Updated: September 28, 2006


In a 2003 memo, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld posed the question “Are we capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us?” A newly declassified National Intelligence Estimate provides one of the most detailed answers to this question yet, saying the Iraq war has become “the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”

The Bush administration says it chose to release the document as a response to media coverage (WashPost) over the weekend based on leaked excerpts of the report. Announcing the declassification of the document, Homeland Security Adviser Frances Fargos Townsend seemed to chastise the media for publishing these earlier accounts, saying, “Every unauthorized disclosure of classified information does harm to our national and homeland security.” At the same time, the White House released another document that attempted to draw parallels between President Bush’s public statements and the report’s contents, but the New York Times finds the differences between public and classified accounts “unmistakable.” Lost in much of the coverage of the report are its few positive observations, such as the opening sentence, which notes, “United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaeda and disrupted its operations.” But William M. Arkin, in his blog Early Warning, says that in the partisan bickering over the significance of the Intelligence Estimate, both sides are wrong. The report itself is flawed, writes Ivo Daalder, saying Bush’s real failure in the terror war has been Afghanistan.

All this comes just over a month ahead of November’s midterm elections, which this could be decided on a number of foreign policy issues outlined in this new Backgrounder. The report’s release fuels an already raging political debate (AP) over the Iraq war. On September 8, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its own report questioning prewar intelligence (PDF). Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) said the White House has another National Intelligence Estimate focusing specifically on the Iraq war, but is delaying its release until after the election because “it paints a grim picture” (CNN). Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami says the current furor on Iraq “would surely pale by comparison to the debate that would erupt ... were we to give in to despair and cast the Iraqis adrift.”

The debate over the Iraq war isn’t the only facet of Washington politics that has reached an unusually feverish pitch in the final days of the 109th Congress, which are decried in a Los Angeles Times op-ed as “pathetic.” The infighting has gotten so bad the sides have reverted to blaming one another for the 9/11 attacks (TIME). Former President Bill Clinton, in an interview with FOX News, said the current Bush administration did nothing to stop Osama bin Laden in its first eight months in office. This prompted a harsh rebuttal from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (WashPost). Hudson Institute fellow Richard Miniter followed with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal outlining “What Clinton Didn’t Do.”

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