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Monday, October 02, 2006

Terror-report fight misses big picture

National Intelligence Estimate also hints at ways to beat jihadists, promote democracy

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

So, just how do they know how many jihadists are out there?

Are they asked to raise their hands? Do they go somewhere to register? Are they listed in the Yellow Pages? Can you Google them?

I'm just asking, because another ugly, "divisive" fight has broken out, now over how the war on terror is going, as measured by the number of terrorists. The estimate was made in a National Intelligence Estimate, "Trends in Global Terrorism," which claimed to know that the number of terrorists worldwide has increased, in good part because of the Iraq war.

The three-page "key judgments" summary of the estimate admits that "we cannot measure the extent of the spread [of the jihadist movement] with precision," but adds that, based on reporting from all intelligence sources, the movement is increasing "both in number and geographic dispersion."

I'm not saying that's right or mistaken. I just have a question: Are "all the intelligence sources" as certain of that as they were in 2002 when, in another national intelligence estimate, they said Saddam Hussein was arming Iraq with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons?

Both political sides have cherry-picked the key judgments to find assertions that support their respective sides--that we've made progress on the war on terror, or that we've seriously blundered by creating more terrorists. One wonders if they're reading the same document. Frankly, there are as many possible readings of the document as there are of the Bible and, I dare say, the Koran. Intellectual honesty requires a more modest conclusion; as in any war, things are going both well and badly.

But if for a moment we can leave the bickering over who is to blame for what happened in the past, we'll find that the document does provide sound perspective on the most important question: Where do we go from here?

It says: "Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit. Over time, such progress, together with sustained, multifaceted programs targeting the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movements and continued pressure on Al Qaeda could erode support for the jihadists."

What jihadist vulnerabilities? The assessment names some, starting with the greatest: The ultraconservative interpretation of Sharia-based government, which would impose a "religious and political straitjacket" that is "unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims." Another jihadist vulnerability is the recent increase of condemnations by important Muslim clerics of violence and extremist religious interpretations, thereby offering a constructive alternative: peaceful political activism. "In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror," the assessment said.

"If democratic reform efforts in Muslim-majority nations progress over the next five years, political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives," the assessment said.

Sure, the report suggested, such change would provoke jihadists in the short run, but the most important question is: Over the long run, what strategy would create the conditions for democratic reform?

Perhaps Muslim-majority nations will discover and implement democratic principles on their own, even though it took the Western democracies a millennium to do so. Can we afford to wait that long, while our ships, embassies, infrastructure and people are attacked? Will those nations get there by themselves, or do they need assistance to overthrow centuries of despotic rule?

Washing our hands of the entire mess certainly is politically expedient, but I don't think it's the moral choice, especially when the assessment says the "slow pace of real and sustained economic, social and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations" feeds the jihadist movement.

But, the report says, our continued involvement in Muslim-majority nations is a double-edged sword: It also feeds fears of "Western domination" and anti-Americanism, which give the jihadists easily exploitable issues. So, do we keep our presence there and work toward the long-term reforms that are the clear path to victory, or do we flee, denying opponents of political and social reform the ammunition they want while leaving those opponents in charge?

I say the moral, just and right decision is to stay, to take this opportunity to bring reason, justice and freedom to a part of the world that's truly in need of it, not just because it's good for that part of the world, but ours too. But that's just the neocon in me talking.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune


Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

The disaster in Iraq has spelled the death of the neocon movement. Moreover, as you yourself said, democracy takes a long time to evolve. If cannot be had by flipping a switch, nor can it be forced on anyone. Deng Xiopeng predicted before his death that China would have democracy in 50 years. All we can do is wait.

America, located halfway around the world, is the dominant power in the Middle East. That situation does not exist anywhere else on the planet, nor should it be the case in the Middle East.

Chciago1234 said...

Stop repeating the lie that no one thought Sadam didn’t have WMD prior to invasion. Certainly Tyler Drumheller didn’t believe Sadam had WMD nor did Paul Pillar. Further if you read Kenneth M. Pollack’s articles you also see a great many people in intelligence service did not believe Sadam had WMD. Prior to the invasion of Iraq the people looking for WMD were coming up empty.
The Downing Street memo says the case for WMD was thin that was written in 2002.
The only people who keep saying there was consensus on Sadam having WMD is the liars in the administration and the liars who helped put them there.
You know Mr. Byrne people like you.

As for the NIE report well most of what is in there was predicted prior to the invasion, but much like advice of the professional soldiers who said 300,000 plus troops would be required to occupy Iraq those voices were ignored.

Since liar bush along with a willing media (again people like you Mr. Byrne) are responsible for the debacle in Iraq I can see why accepting responsibility for actions of liar bush is not something you are interested in doing. Personal accountability it is not something bushies do is it Mr. Byrne?

Stephen Schade said...

Regardless of how many people believed Iraq had WMDs, there is another issue at play here. Unfortunately, it was never addressed prior to the war. When Congress was debating the war resolution, they asked what would happen after the initial invasion. Incredibly, the administration had no response. Those who voted for the resolution under those circumstances were totally irresponsible. With no plan for the aftermath, it is quite clear how we got to where we are today.

Anonymous said...

I am proud to be a born american and a muslim. I am happy not to be apoligetic for something I didn't do on 9-11 and something my fellow muslims also did not do. And my parents are both christian. The people who actually think for themselves investigate the matter and know who really is behind this horrible crime against humanity which by the way jews, muslims, christians, etc were in those buildings. And muslims are not terrorists. I see nothing wrong with people defending their land, their life and property, against people who have invaded their country and occupy them with violence, rape, and other horrible in humane crimes. Personally I don't hate anyone and am kind to everyone even though when I walk down the street and anywhere I am laughed at, called names, mocked, threatened, given horrible looks, for something I and my people are innocent of and God willing The Almighty Creator of you and me and everything will be the judge of that which we do.