Iraq: Two versions of the same report
We know a national election is coming up soon because both major parties are leaking classified documents as fast as they can in order to destroy their political opponents. It isn’t a pretty picture, and, in my opinion, the leakers should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Exhibit “A” was produced about 10 days ago when someone leaked selected portions of an April National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) by 16 spy agencies concluding that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has sparked an increase in international terrorism. Although the report acknowledges that it’s difficult to measure the spread of terrorism, it posits that “jihadists … are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.” The left-leaning New York Times interpreted this carefully worded statement to mean that “nowhere in the assessment is there any evidence to support Mr. Bush’s assertion … that ‘America is winning the war on terror.'”
Well, let’s take another look at the April NIE, which reads: “United States-led efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaeda and disrupted its operations. … Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit.” Which is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish in Iraq, even though I continue to question President Bush’s original decision to invade that deeply troubled and very violent nation.
In “State of Denial,” his third book on Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq, best-selling author/journalist Bob Woodward sides with the president’s critics, writing that “next year, 2007, (Iraq) is going to get worse,” even though the president says that “things are going to get better.” No way!
Three years ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld posed a key question: Is Washington’s strategy successfully eliminating terrorists faster than new enemies are being created? The New York Times editorialized that the NIE proves that “the administration has failed the Rumsfeld test.”
I agree, because well before we invaded Iraq, I asked how “victory” would be defined and how we would handle nation-building responsibilities after we “won” the war. Now we’re stuck with former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn” theory: If you break it, you own it. OK, we shattered Iraq into a million pieces, and now we own it. What next?
Both President Bush and his critics have interpreted the NIE to their own benefit, but the document itself merely describes the international terrorism situation in a balanced way without prescribing solutions. “We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse,” the document states, which could favor the Bush administration. But on the other hand, “The threat from self-radicalized (terrorist) cells will grow in importance to U.S. counter-terrorism efforts . …” And further, “The Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.” All in all, not good news for the Bush administration.
On a more hopeful note, the NIE asserts that “the jihadists’ greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution, an ultra-conservative interpretation of sharia (fundamentalist)-based governance spanning the Muslim world, is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. … In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.” And that should be good news for us, except that we lack a coherent and effective international communications, or public diplomacy, strategy.
If we are to effectively communicate our foreign policy goals and objectives to the “Muslim mainstream,” we must find a way to reinvent the specialized U.S. Information Agency (USIA), which was abolished by the Clinton administration seven years ago and merged into the sprawling State Department. The chief culprits in the destruction of U.S. public diplomacy as we knew it were liberal ex-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and ultra-conservative Sen. Jesse Helms, a political odd couple of the first order.
Our public-diplomacy apparatus has been dysfunctional ever since the State/USIA merger, and it shows every day as we continue to lose the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world. And unfortunately, President Bush’s personal choice as his public-diplomacy czarina, alleged message maven Karen Hughes, has been unable to craft a coherent message that most Muslims can accept and/or understand.
Although Ms. Hughes recognizes the problem, she hasn’t been able to do much about it because Bush’s failing Iraq policy is increasingly unpopular in the U.S. and around the world. No matter how much perfume she pours on that particular policy pig, it’s still a pig, after all is said and done.
Not long ago, I wrote a column titled, “It’s the policy, stupid,” in which I argued that our international PR is only as good (or as bad) as our foreign policy. Frankly, there’s simply no way to sell a policy as badly flawed as our prescription for Iraq, and the sooner we develop a viable exit strategy, the better.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, served 28 years as a public diplomacy officer with the U.S. Information Agency before retiring in 1995.