Scandal or Truism?

As the whole world now knows, Mark Mazetti of the New York Times leaked selected findings of a classified National Intelligence Estimate (Sept. 23, 2006: “Spy Agencies Say War Worsens Terrorist Threat.”)

The “point” of the leak is that the Iraq War has become a magnet and training ground for terrorists.  Mazetti writes:

An opening section of the report, ‘Indicators of the Spread of the global Jihadist Movement,’ cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.  The report ‘says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,’ said one American intelligence official.

The reason the “American intelligence official” is unnamed is because he is citing classified documents in clear violation of the law.

Within one day “a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology” had become THE reason.  Thus, the Washington Post, Sept. 24:

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…”

WaPost writer Karen DeYoung doesn’t even bother to explain whether “centrality” is a quote from the NIE report itself, or from an unnamed intelligence official.

So “a reason” evolved into the “leading inspiration” in one day – in rather the same way that the possibility of an Iraqi civil war, cited by a general in a hearing, evolved into an intractable current civil war.

It is little wonder that Beltway newspapers defend evolution so passionately.  They practice it in their reporting.

Supporters of Bush policy were quick to savage the leak on various grounds:

  • The April NIE did not deal with either the progress of operations in Iraq or their geo-political dimensions.
  • The findings cited were isolated from their context.
  • The administration could not defend itself without citing the leaked document – i.e., by breaking the law itself.
  • The same newspapers citing this NIE report savaged the 2002 NIE report regarding the danger posed by Saddam Hussein.
  • Once again, the New York Times engaged in acts of treason.

But aren’t such “defenses” a waste of time?  An unwon war ALWAYS stimulates hightened resistance. 

Does one fault Lincoln for reinforcing Fort Sumter, thereby “starting” the Civil War? (Well, actually, a lot of contemporary newspapers did exactly that.)

Does one fault the British and French for mobilizing when Hitler attacked Poland, launching a World War? (Well, yes – defeatists and Nazi apologists did exactly that.)

The national security test to which Operation Iraqi Freedom must be subjected is not whether it arouses violence against America, but whether its successful completion with reduce violence against America.

It is the assumption of the Bush administration that a Middle East in which oil-rich dictators export the discontent of their unemployed professionals and impoverished masses through a religion of terror, through terror schools, and through terror training camps, will breed escalating violence.  It is the administration’s further assumption (the “Bush doctrine,” if you will) that only a “forward strategy of freedom” – the overthrow of the mid-east dictatorships and the rot they breed – will break this escalating cycle of violence.

Whether the expanded violence of the ongoing war is a symptom of failure, or a necessary stage of success, depends of the validity of the strategy.

In a lecture for Hillsdale College this September, the noted Princeton Arabist Bernard Lewis describes the Bush doctrine against the backdrop of the doctrine it was designed to replace:   

If you look at the current literature, you will find two views common in the United States and Europe. One of them holds that Islamic peoples are incapable of decent, civilized government. Whatever the West does, Muslims will be ruled by corrupt tyrants. Therefore the aim of our foreign policy should be to insure that they are our tyrants rather than someone else’s—friendly rather than hostile tyrants. This point of view is very much favored in departments of state and foreign offices and is generally known, rather surprisingly, as the “pro-Arab” view. It is, of course, in no sense pro-Arab. It shows ignorance of the Arab past, contempt for the Arab present, and unconcern for the Arab future. The second common view is that Arab ways are different from our ways. They must be allowed to develop in accordance with their cultural principles, but it is possible for them—as for anyone else, anywhere in the world, with discreet help from outside and most specifically from the United States—to develop democratic institutions of a kind. This view is known as the “imperialist” view and has been vigorously denounced and condemned as such.
(Reprinted by permission from IMPRIMIS, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College,

The core ideology of the jihadists hardly promises de-escalation in the absence of attack.  Lewis describes its principal ideologist thus:

Thanks to modern communications and the modern media, we are quite well informed about how Al-Qaeda perceives things. Osama bin Laden is very articulate, very lucid, and I think on the whole very honest in the way he explains things. As he sees it, and as his followers see it, there has been an ongoing struggle between the two world religions — Christianity and Islam — which began with the advent of Islam in the 7th century and has been going on ever since. The Crusades were one aspect, but there were many others. It is an ongoing struggle of attack and counter-attack, conquest and reconquest, Jihad and Crusade, ending so it seems in a final victory of the West with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire — the last of the great Muslim states — and the partition of most of the Muslim world between the Western powers.

As Osama bin Laden puts it: “In this final phase of the ongoing struggle, the world of the infidels was divided between two superpowers—the United States and the Soviet Union. Now we have defeated and destroyed the more difficult and the more dangerous of the two. Dealing with the pampered and effeminate Americans will be easy.”

And then followed what has become the familiar description of the Americans and the usual litany and recitation of American defeats and retreats: Vietnam, Beirut, Somalia, one after another. The general theme was: They can’t take it. Hit them and they’ll run. All you have to do is hit harder.

This seemed to receive final confirmation during the 1990s when one attack after another on embassies, warships, and barracks brought no response beyond angry words and expensive missiles misdirected to remote and uninhabited places, and in some places — as in Beirut and Somalia — prompt retreats.

What happened on 9/11 was seen by its perpetrators and sponsors as the culmination of the previous phase and the inauguration of the next phase — taking the war into the enemy camp to achieve final victory. The response to 9/11 came as a nasty surprise. They were expecting more of the same — bleating and apologies — instead of which they got a vigorous reaction, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.

The “scandal” of Jihadist blowback is thus a truism of war.  So the question becomes:  Is America capable of sustaining a war?

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