NEW YORK — Recent revelations in The New York Times on the fight against terrorism and the war on Iraq present a differing view on the problem worth pondering about. According to classified information in the National Intelligence Estimate leaked to the Times, the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, rather than lowering the threat of terrorism worldwide, has actually increased it.
The intelligence estimate, titled Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States, states that Islamic radicalism has metastasized and spread across the globe, and has made the problem of terrorism much worse. This view represents the consensus of 16 spy agencies in the government, and is in stark contrast with White House documents and statements by U.S. President George W. Bush on the effect of the Iraq invasion on the war on terror.
Clearly unhappy with the findings of the report, Bush stated, “I think it’s naive. I think it is a mistake for people to believe that going on the offense against people that want to do harm against the American people makes us less safe.”
The release by the Bush administration of a small part of the report Sept. 26 did little to change many people’s view on the leaked information. The leaked information also prompted the administration to start working on a new report that probably won’t be finished before the Nov. 7 congressional elections.
The effect of the Iraq war on the fight against terrorism has been the subject of intense debate since its beginnings. What makes the conclusions of this report particularly valid is that these estimates are produced by the intelligence community and are approved by Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.
Documents recently released by the White House stress the success the U.S. actions have had in dismantling al-Qaida’s leadership and its affiliates. Bush has repeatedly stated that the war on Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism.
In an address last month to the Military Officers Association of America Bush stated, “Together with our coalition partners, we’ve removed terrorist sanctuaries, disrupted their finances, killed and captured key operatives, broken up terrorist cells in America and other nations, and stopped new attacks before they’re carried out. We’re on the offense against terrorists on every battlefront, and we’ll accept nothing less than complete victory.”
When questioned recently on TV about how serious the situation in Iraq was, Bush stated, “when the final history is written on Iraq it will look like just a comma because there is — my point is there’s a strong will for democracy.”
The National Intelligence Estimate, in contrast, confirms a National Intelligence Council 2005 study that concluded that Iraq had become the training ground for the next generation of terrorists and that veterans of the Iraq war may become the leaders in a global Muslim holy war against unbelievers.
Their findings also confirm the conclusions of the Council on Global Terrorism, an independent research group that stated, “there is every sign that radicalization in the Muslim world is spreading rather than shrinking.” Leaders of Britain’s domestic and international intelligence services also emphasized the growing scale of the Islamic terrorist threat.
In the meantime, the situation in Iraq seems to be quickly deteriorating, with a civilian death toll of approximately 100 per day. So far, the war has claimed 2,700 American lives and left over 20,000 American soldiers seriously injured. According to congressional appropriation figures, the war has already cost over $317 billion.
It is difficult, at the moment, to know where the conclusions of the National Intelligence Estimate will eventually lead. Given that it represents the opinion of at least 16 U.S. spy agencies its findings should, at least, provoke a serious reconsideration of the strategies applied so far to the war on international terrorism, and of the principles on which it is based.