For years now, the Bush Administration has been criticized for ignoring intelligence reports that did not tell them what they wanted to hear. I wonder if the critics are going to commit the same error.
In the most recent round started when the New York Times reported that a classified National Intelligence Estimate that said 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.”
This was combined with Bob Woodward’s book “State of Denial” that accused the Bush Administration of mishandling the war and occupation of Iraq as well.
In order to counter this bad press, the Bush Administration ordered sections of the National Intelligence Estimate to be released to the public so that they can see for themselves what it says.
This raises the question of whether those who criticize Bush are going to fall victim to the same types of mistakes. Are they, too, going to pay attention only to the parts of the NIE that say what they want it to say, and ignore the parts that go against their cherished plans? Or are they going to trust that the experts actually might know what they are talking about.
I am talking about those liberals who demand that we pull our troops out of Iraq.
The parts of the NIE that I am interested in are these:
We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.
Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.
This suggests that if we are perceived of having been driven out of Iraq, that this will improve the morale of the jihadists, aid their recruitment and support, and make the world a more dangerous place for Americans and Europeans. (Note: The NIE also states, “The jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests.”)
Consider, for example, the Revolutionary War. Two key battles in that war were the Battle of Trenton where George Washington lead the ragged remnants of the Continental army to capture the city of Trenton. Washington did not capture this town because Trenton represented some key strategic location. He captured the town because he needed a victory with which to rally his troops and the country as a whole. Morale is a key component of any battle. In fact, victory in the battlefield has often had to do more with morale than with the size of the forces.
A victory in Iraq may well supply just such a boost to Jihadist morale, which would be a very bad move on our part.
Another example from the revolutionary war concerned the Battle of Saratoga. France had been sitting out the war up to this time, since it did not want to waste its effort on a losing cause. The American victory at the Battle of Saratoga convinced the French that the Americans had a fighting chance.
There are always people on the fence; people waiting to see which horse pulls into the lead so that they can make sure to bet on a winning horse. There are people in the world who may be tempted to aid the jihadists, but are not doing so because they worry about what might happen to those who support the losing side in this conflict. If we give the jihadists a victory, this could well inspire people now on the sidelines – important people with a large amount of backing – to take sides, and to take the wrong side.
It makes sense to say that withdrawing from Iraq could be a turning point in the battle against Islamic fundamentalists. I wish to leave it up to experts to make that determination.
“Cherry picking” is specifically the act of picking the evidence that supports one’s conclusion, ignoring the evidence that does not support that conclusion, and then asserting, “See, my case is proved!”
Holding up evidence that said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had ties to al-Queida, ignoring evidence that contradicted these conclusions, and asserting, “See, my case for attacking Iraq has been proved,” is one example of cherry-picking.
Picking the evidence that says that entering Iraq was a bad idea, ignoring the evidence that says that leaving Iraq in a way that would allow the Jihadists to claim that they drove us out and won a victory, and then asserting, “See, my case (that we should leave Iraq) is proved,” would be yet another example.
I am not saying that these will be the effects of pulling out of Iraq. Bush released only 10 percent of the National Intelligence Estimate. I, of course, have no idea what the other 90% says. I continue to hold that no morally and intellectually responsible person can give a responsible opinion about what to do in Iraq unless they have read 100% of that report, including the footnotes.
This means that I am not going to say what we should be doing in Iraq.
I am saying that we have good reason to condemn those who arrogantly assert that they know which plan for Iraq is best when there are stacks of data they have not seen.
I am saying that we have good reason to condemn those who cherry-pick data to support a preferred policy – to condemn those who ‘fit the intelligence’ to their desired conclusion, rather than fitting their conclusion to the intelligence.
We have suffered enough at the hands of such people. We have no use for them, whether they are found on the right side of the political spectrum or the left.
I am saying that it would be a good idea to elect politicians without forcing them to commit to either withdrawing troops or staying in Iraq, allowing them to make their decisions based on the evidence we are not allowed to see, rather than pretending that we know all the right answers and judging candidates by their ability to pander to our ignorance.