NIE: Iraq War Spawned New Generation of Terrorists
The National Intelligence Estimate concludes that the Iraq War has spawned a new generation of terrorists.
A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies 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.
The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.
The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.
One would be remiss for failing to note that these are the same intelligence agencies who failed to predict the Iranian Revolution, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the war in the Balkans, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, the 9/11 attacks, London bombings, Madrid bombings, and other major events. Or that they opposed the Iraq War to begin with and that this finding vindicates their position.
Still, there’s not much doubt about the broad conclusion here. Michael Scheuer argued in Imperial Hubris that fomenting an American-led invasion of an Arab Muslim country was beyond Osama bin Laden’s wildest dreams when he launched the 9/11 attacks. Al Qaeda was hoping for a second rallying event like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to gin up enthusiasm for the cause and turn latent anti-Western hostility into more troops for the cause. Others made similar arguments and few doubted that as a likely effect.
The primary terrorism-related rationale for the Iraq War was that creating a model Arab democracy was the path to changing the culture that makes the recruitment of suicide bombers possible. Whether that will happen in the longer term is unknown but there’s little evidence to date that it’s happening.
A rationale never advanced by the administration but embraced by numerous online analysts in the run-up and early days of the war was the so-called “flypaper strategy.” Basically, it’s the “don’t throw me in the briar patch” side of the NIE assessment: Terrorists would flood into Iraq where they’d be killed in droves by America’s professional soldiers. The ultimate game of “fight them over there rather than here at home,” if you will. This has certainly happened but without the intended strategic outcome. We’ve killed or captured hundreds upon hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists, including scores of their senior leaders around the world. Thus far, unfortunately, they’ve responded in hydra-like fashion.
Most observers agree that Al Qaeda itself is far weaker than it was on 9/11/01. So far, at least, it appears that the overall jihadi cause is stronger.
The question remains, however: What now? If the Iraq War has increased the number of terrorists, does it follow that leaving Iraq in its current state would decrease the number of terrorists? Doubtful.
While Osama and company managed to attact large numbers of troops to fight the atheist Soviets in Afghanistan, they gained far more out of the fact that the Soviets left Afghanistan in defeat. Similarly, it’s quite likely that an American withdrawal from Iraq without accomplishing the barest part of our mission–a reasonably stable, democratic society–would embolden the jihadists. Afghanistan. Lebanon. Somalia. Each of those displays of weakness convinced the jihadists that the infidel was weak and could be defeated. Forcing the Americans to leave Iraq would be a far, far bigger prize.