We came, we saw, we made enemies
Follow this carefully, dear reader, for this is a tale with so many twists and turns and unexpected ironies as to make heads spin even in the White House. A tale worthy of Joseph Heller. It involves the Bush administration and intelligence, which have proven to be like oil and water.
It begins with President Bush, in the midst of the United States leading a decisive war against terrorists and their hosts in Afghanistan, ordering a massive attack on Iraq, in part because the president claims Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaida, were making nice and Iraq could become a hotbed of terrorist activity. That would be a threat to the United States.
It comes to pass that Saddam and Osama were never friendly (one being religious, one being not) and Iraq had no connection to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. It also comes to pass that our intelligence agencies had always been of this view. The war in Iraq topples Saddam and then goes bad. Very bad. So bad that Bush's job rating plummets to record lows as, first, American GIs are targets of Iraqi insurgents and imported terrorists and then Iraqis start killing themselves, again with the help of even more imported terrorists. The kiling goes on unabated.
Meanwhile, the low ratings connected to the White House handling of the war in Iraq (and an upcoming congressional election) prompt the Bush administration to switch the focus of its public comments to the war on terrorism, as though the two, once so specifically linked by Bush, were separate issues. And yet, at the same time, the president, having it conveniently both ways, maintains that Americans must continue to fight in Iraq because it is at the heart of the fight on terrorism. To lose there, one presumes, is to lose that war.
Comes the ultimate irony. The nation's 16 intelligence agencies, providing their first comprehensive analysis of the war in Iraq since Bush launched it, conclude that Iraq is indeed a vital target in the war on terrorism - because the attack on Iraq by the United States and some allies has made it so. The war rallied Islamic extremists from around the world to Baghdad and provided a rallying cry and recruiting tool beyond Osama's most fervent prayers. In fact, the National Intelligence Council report, prepared in April, says the continuing bloody war in Iraq provides Islamic extremists with a continuing source of ammunition for diatribes against America and the West. It helps them lure new fighters to their deadly cause in new, unaffiliated networks of fundamentalist extremists linked only by their common enemy: us.
Short version: Iraq wasn't a terrorist threat when we attacked it; it is now because we did attack and botched the job so badly that terrorists are dying to go there and learn how to kill Americans anywhere. So the world is safe from Saddam (who was never a threat) but more vulnerable to terrorism, which (back to the beginning) was on the ropes in the early days in Afghanistan.
This NIC report, revealed this week in stories in The New York Times and Washington Post, is devastating to the Bush administration argument for continuing the fight in Iraq. John Negroponte, Bush's national intelligence director and the boss of all 16 intelligence agencies, cautions not to form conclusions based solely on these news reports. There's more to the assessment, he says, and many more judgments than the one linking the war to more terrorism. He says to do that would be a distortion.
Fine. Then release the 30-page National Intelligence Estimate for all Americans to read. Have congressional committees black out the really classified data, if necessary. But let us know what our intelligence agencies say firsthand, not what Bush decides to tell us they said. We've been here before, and there are now 2,600-plus reasons to doubt what the president says.