September 26, 2006

Weak Leak Soup

Hatched by Dafydd

In keeping with the madly egotistical Big Lizards motto -- Never first, always final -- I've been pondering Saturday's New York Times story about the impact of the Iraq War on the global war on terrorism (GWOT) ever since, er, Saturday. (Maybe Sunday; Saturday, I think I was pondering whether to raise the pot on the strength of a king and a trey with a queen-jack-eight on the flop.)

There is a powerful lot that the Times failed to tell us about that story; my idol, John Hinderaker at Power Line, has a great story up quoting several other passages from that same national intelligence estimate (NIE) (enough with the alphabet soup already!) that tend to undercut, to say the least, the spin put on the thing by the Times, as well as their sidekick and pale shadow, the Washington Post.

But craven that I am, I shrink from duking it out with Power Line, who has the actual factual response pretty well covered. Oh, I could think of better arguments to make against the bizarre claims in the media; but I'd just be making them up, so I'd better not.

Let's instead focus on the problems and deficiencies in the two main antique-media stories... by an amazing coincidence, the two I already linked above. Slither on, dude.

Journalistic clairvoyance

Let's start with a startling admission against interest on the part of the "elite" media:

  1. Neither the New York Times reporters nor the Washington Post reporters have actually seen the NIE. Or any portion of it; they rely entirely upon their various sources' characterization of the NIE.

In other words, they do not actually know if the report "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," as the Times puts it in a traditionally quaint run-on sentence; they have absolutely no idea. All they know is that one or more of their (anonymous and undescribable) sources claims that's what it says.

Von Unaussprechlichen Külten

Here's another good one:

  1. Neither the Times nor the Post deigns to name even a single source. Not one. O, for the good old days of Watergate, when Ben Bradlee demanded at least two sources for every claim -- only one of which could be anonymous! (Were that rule in effect today, both the Times and the Post would have to shut down and convert operations to printing vacation brochures and cereal boxes.)

They don't even characterize these sources; for all we know, they could be Oompa-Loompas. Here is how the Times introduces the presumed humans upon whom the entire shebang depends, which they finally get 'round to doing in paragraph 6:

More than a dozen United States government officials and outside experts were interviewed for this article, and all spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a classified intelligence document. The officials included employees of several government agencies, and both supporters and critics of the Bush administration. All of those interviewed had either seen the final version of the document or participated in the creation of earlier drafts. These officials discussed some of the document’s general conclusions but not details, which remain highly classified.

So let's see... a senior CIA analyst would count, but so would a junior-grade employee of the Department of Agriculture. An "official" might be an aide to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI, 100%) or Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI, 100%), both of whom sit on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (hence could have access) -- or for that matter, an aide to the disgraced, corrupt liar, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL, 90%), who sits on the House equivalent.

But we do know one thing about some of them, courtesy of the Washington Post; we know that some, at least, of these "officials" have a partisan axe to grind:

"It's a very candid assessment," one intelligence official said yesterday of the estimate, the first formal examination of global terrorist trends written by the National Intelligence Council since the March 2003 invasion. "It's stating the obvious."

If this source begins with the idea that it's "obvious" that the Iraq War has caused us to be less safe, then he's hardly an unbiased source for relaying what the NIE has to say about that subject.

Past the expiry date

  1. The assessment was begun in 2002, before the Iraq War began -- and it was completed back in April of this year... five months ago.

An awful lot has changed in the past five months... much of it for the better, including the increasing tempo of turning provinces over to the Iraqis, the stunning buildup of the Iraqi military and national police forces, and of course the death of Musab Zarqawi. But this NIE cannot have taken those changes into account, because they hadn't happened yet when it was written.

The school for wives

Here is a minor point that is emblematic of how easy it is to get so lost, you can't see the forest for the weeds:

The Times notes, in a paragraph notable mainly for being oddly out of place in the article, that one danger is that jihadis fighting in Iraq can learn techniques that they subsequently pass along to others:

The report mentions the possibility that Islamic militants who fought in Iraq could return to their home countries, “exacerbating domestic conflicts or fomenting radical ideologies.”

The implication is clear, if rather unbalanced:

  1. The Times frets that all we're doing in Iraq is training the next generation of jihadis, who will be faster, stronger, and more deadly because of the skill they learn from encounters with American forces.

But this discounts two very important points:

First, that it's the United States, not the jihadis, which has learnt the most from the Iraq War. The American military of 2003 was the most powerful and effective that had ever existed... but that is no longer the case: today, they could get their butts kicked -- by the American military of 2006. We have learned from every encounter, every battle, every victory, and even from the occasional defeat.

Our own effectiveness has grown much faster than that of the jihadis... that's why the death rate of our troops has dropped by nearly 1/3 from "period 3" (from the turnover of sovereignty to the Iraqis to the first set of elections) to "period 5" (from the last set of general elections to today) -- and dropped even further in the last year.

Second, this argument presumes that large numbers of Iraq-based jihadis survive their encounters with the Americans, so that they can pass their experience along to others. In fact, most of those who leave Iraq and head back to their home countries never actually engaged American forces, because we kill or capture a very high percentage of all the terrorists we engage.

In hock to post hoc

Finally, here is the most glaring omission -- whether from the NIE itself or merely from its mischaracterization by the elite media's "sources," we cannot possibly say without seeing the document itself:

  1. The storyline does not consider what might have happened had we not invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein.

A lot would have happened: most analysts believe that Hussein was on the verge of cutting a deal with the Europeans (via the corrupt U.N. "Oil for Fraud" program of direct and indirect bribery) to end the sanctions and inspections. As Charles Duelfer and the Iraq Survey Group (ISG... more letters, I'm afraid) assessed in its final report:

There is an extensive, yet fragmentary and circumstantial, body of evidence suggesting that Saddam pursued a strategy to maintain a capability to return to WMD after sanctions were lifted by preserving assets and expertise.

Instead of considering this possibility and exploring which American action would have been better for the terrorists -- attacking Iraq or not attacking Iraq -- the argument of both these articles is strictly "post hoc ergo propter hoc": after the fact, therefore because of the fact. The Leftist, anti-war leakers in the CIA or NSA argue (through their sock puppets in the Times and Post) thus:

  1. We invaded Iraq, deposed Hussein, and occupied the country;
  2. Jihadi websites now cite the war to try to drum up recruits;
  3. Therefore, the Iraq War was a boon to jihadis!

But this is logical gibberish: if, after ranting on and on about Hussein, we had let him stay and even lifted sanctions, then that would be cited by jihadi websites to drum up recruits... just as they cite our failures in Somalia and Sudan, our refusal to retaliate for the Cole bombing, and so forth. The jihadis cite anything that shows us either running away or standing and fighting: either way, they'll spin it to their advantage.

If this is the central conceit of the NIE, as opposed to the media's misinterpretation, then this signals a fatal flaw still extant in the ratiocination of our top intelligence services: they are still thinking linearally, as if al-Qaeda and its spinoffs and wannabes are really just funny-looking Europeans in headscarves, using Western two-value logic and classical game-theory analysis of their own actions and our responses.

If we keep thinking that way, Western civ will fall.

Moslems in general, and especially Middle-East Moslems, and most especially Middle-Eastern jihadis, think in very different, apocalyptic terms. They don't perform a rational calculus to decide whether, say, to try to explode a nuclear weapon in the middle of a Western city: in fact, the "Hidden Imam" theory of players like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that Mohammed al-Mahdi will arise when the jihadis have precipitated the final battle -- and are losing it badly!

In other words, Ahmadinejad expects to start World War III (or IV, if you count the Cold War), and he expects his side to lose; after which the Mahdi will come, leading the heavenly host of Allah, and wipe away all the infidel armies, ushering in the age of Islam. How do we threaten a man who believes that? Should we threaten not to fight, allowing them to win, and thereby failing to fulfill the conditions that will activate the 12th Imam's return?

If the media's understanding of this not-very-momentous NIE is accurate, then the CIA is still fighting the Soviet Union in the Cold War; and we're in desperate trouble indeed!

As the Bangles sang, we've got to "Walk Like an Egyptian" (or a jihadi) to have a prayer of winning this last crusade. Doesn't mean we have to act like they; only that we must be able to think like they, lest we be surprised again and again by their unconventional and unexpected moves.

So nu?

What's wrong with this "report," at least as recounted in the mainstream media? Virtually everything. It's vague, unsourced, unbalanced, and shows clear signs of mental sclerosis.

But if this is not the NIE's real view, then how low the American media has sunk, if this is the best hit piece on the president and the GOP that they can muster in the last weeks before the election.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 26, 2006, at the time of 5:15 AM

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» Islam Fanatics Didn’t Hate Us Before Iraq? from Flopping Aces
So let me see…..fanatics inside Islam didn’t hate us as much prior to the Iraqi invasion? Ok then, please explain 9/11 itself. Why were we attacked with such viciousness and violence if there really wasnt that much radicalism? How about the Afghani... [Read More]

Tracked on September 26, 2006 9:43 AM

» Weak Leak Soup, Ctd: Evolution of a Punk Job from Big Lizards
I was going to put a post up here noting that the president saw fit Tuesday to declassify the "key judgments" of the National Intelligence Estimate from April (the one we discussed here too early Tuesday morn, before the announcement).... [Read More]

Tracked on September 27, 2006 3:11 PM


The following hissed in response by: Nuclear Siafu

So, the essential point of the entire NIE was to communicate that, with jihadists, it's a cursed if you do, cursed if you don't situation?

Gee, thanks National Intelligence Assets. No way we could've figured that out.

Think there's any chance of getting this NIE declassified now that a couple of loudmouths have made it into an election issue?

The above hissed in response by: Nuclear Siafu [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 5:54 AM

The following hissed in response by: Navyvet

Would the "intelligence" folks who prepared this document be the same sort who told us Saddam had WMD? Doesn't inspire much confidence in their conclusions.

To have a comprehensive picture, the NIE must have a good assessment of enemy strength and capabilities. We know how well we're doing--how do we know how things look from the other side?

Answer: we guess. An informed guess, perhaps, but still a guess.

Take all guesses with a mine's-worth of salt.

The above hissed in response by: Navyvet [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 6:16 AM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

One of your very best posts. Between Big Lizards and Powerline, the NYT has many questions to answer. I wish they would deign to do so, but then again, I also wish their managing editor was in jail for refusing to answer a grand jury on leakers. I never get what I wish for! I blame it all on Bush.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 8:08 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D


Yes, the Iraqi war spawned more terror. But so did doing nothing. All in all, I'd prefer to inspire the terrorists by killing them, rather than by being killed by them. What is so hard to figure out about that?

The way of Jihad. Lots of young males with no wives, no jobs, lots of education, belief in their innate superiority, access to guns and training, and radical religious indoctrination. What can you expect?

What we are witnessing here is really the death throws of a traditional, medieval culture. Without the oil and drug (heroin) money to fuel it, this jihad would quickly become a joke.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 9:41 AM

The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz

I have always wondered how succesful suicide bombers can be involved in the training of new recruits.

The above hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 9:47 AM

The following hissed in response by: RunningRoach

Just picked this up from a Fox News e-mail alert. A very PO'ed Pres. Bush is declassifing the entire NIE and distributing it to friendly outlets. In your ear! NYT.

Regards, JCC

The above hissed in response by: RunningRoach [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 10:37 AM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

Good news, Roach.

After reading the document, and if the NYT finds they have mischaracterized the contents, I suppose we can look forward to a front page article detailing their error. {/sarcasm}

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 12:03 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

Good post. I also wondered if they addressed wheither or not taking out the Taliban had "encouraged" jihadis. After all I hearover and over that Saddam hated terrorists and they hated him...however, the Taliban were really into that whole sharia thing.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 1:44 PM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

I saw this post on the FormerSpook blog and thought you guys would appreciate some of the points, as they relate to this particular NYT embarrassment (thanks to HH).

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 3:00 PM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

You know, I have a question: since Bush's ratings have improved and the election is nigh, how many people think this timely leak of a supposedly damaging NIE was a deliberate attempt by political opponents of the administration who have access to the nation’s secrets to manipulate the upcoming vote? It should be clear to everyone that those who did this thought there was no way on earth the administration would fight back by declassifying the NIE. After all, every lefty knows this administration is the most secretive administration ever!

More questions. When will the Bush
administration fight back against these leakers of the nations secrets, on our behalf?

This cynical attempt to undermine the popularity of Republicans right before the election is despicable. If attempting a coup of sorts in the middle of a war isn't treason, what is?

And, by the way, does anyone here think it coincidence Kerry had an Op-Ed on Afghanistan in the paper just yesterday?

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 3:23 PM

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