28 September 2006 - Thursday

Tony Snow, stultified

Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, held a press briefing yesterday. The declassified key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate, naturally, figured prominently in the briefing. Once again, the White House badly mischaracterized the document.

Q Why does the President continue to say that we're winning the war on terror and we are more safe, when the overall picture painted by these key judgments is actually quite bleak and points to several areas where that is not a conclusion you could reach by reading it?

MR. SNOW: I'm not sure I agree. I'm not sure I agree. For instance, I know it's been characterized as being bleak. What it is, is it's a snapshot, as of February 28th, of what was going on in the region.

This is false. The NIE is not a "snapshot" showing us what was happening on a particular day. It is, according to the Central Intelligence Agency, "the most authoritative written judgment concerning a national security issue prepared by the Director of Central Intelligence. Unlike 'current intelligence' products, which describe the present, most NIEs forecast future developments and many address their implications for the United States."* This one certainly does that.

Back to Mr. Snow:

Let me explain why the President thinks we're winning the war on terror, and also give a little bit of context to some of the statements that are made -- I've got the NIE text here, because I think I know the areas that -- well, good -- and I think I know the areas that you might want some responses to.

The first thing is, let's start with the obvious. Since September 11, 2001, we have not been attacked. And, furthermore, the United States, since September 11, 2001, has taken a much more aggressive approach toward terror than it had taken previously. Before September 11, 2001, the United States -- many people in the United States did not realize the nature of the enemy we were facing. In the previous administration, we had an attack on the World Trade Center, on Khobar Towers, we had attacks on both embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and an attack on the USS Cole.

In fact, according to the US State Department, acts of international terrorism were lower under President Clinton than under President Reagan.* More US citizens were killed by international terrorism in 2000, 2002 and 2003 than in 1998 and 1999.* (Both graphs are found in this report.) And even more private US citizens were killed by terrorism in 2005.*

Meanwhile, everyone seems to agree that an even bigger attack than September 11 is possible at any time. Remember, 9/11 took about three years to plan, and the initial idea came to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as early as 1995.*

Back to Snow:

Also, Osama bin Laden, in February of 1998, made it clear that he not only intended to wage war on the United States, but he wanted to use Iraq as a central battleground. From his fatwa, on February 23, 1998, he complained that "for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam and the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples."
I can't tell for sure, but it looks as if Snow thinks that Iraq is part of the Arabian Peninsula. It is not. In any case, he has this Bin Laden quotation backwards; it shows not that Bin Laden intended to make Iraq a battleground, but that he thought we did. (Apparently he was right.)
The reason I read that is that it reflects part of the strategy of building jihadism, which is to foment hatred and to try to get people worked up in such a way that they may feel inclined to "join the jihad."
Aha. This is a very important point. I recommend rereading what Snow just said about the strategy for "building jihad," then skipping down in the briefing transcript to this exchange:
MR. SNOW: The report does not say that Iraq is -- it says that Iraq jihad is a contributing factor to trying to recruit people to jihad. It doesn't say that Iraq has made terrorism worse. And that is the shorthand that was employed in a number of cases.

Q I'm sorry -- spell out the difference for me?

MR. SNOW: Real simple, number one --

Q -- read it.

MR. SNOW: Yes, here it is. No, I'd be happy to read the sentence, I'll do it for everybody, because there are two parts to it -- and only the first half was leaked.

"The Iraq conflict has become a cause célèbre for jihadists breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement," correct? "Supporters." That's right. People say they -- this is what we're talking about, we're talking about supporters of a global jihadist movement. What it doesn't say is we now have tens of thousands more people armed and ready to hit the United States. It doesn't say that. It says that they're "creating an atmosphere where people are identifying themselves as jihadists."

Now, here's the second part: "Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves and be perceived to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight."

So in the world of Tony Snow, "part of the strategy of building jihadism" is to "foment hatred and to try to get people worked up in such a way that they may feel inclined to 'join the jihad.'" That is one of the key goals of Osama bin Laden. However, when the NIE says that the Iraq war has done precisely that, it does not mean that jihadism is actually gaining strength -- although the NIE also says that has been happening. Snow wants us to believe that jihadism is only gaining supporters, which means nothing even though it is one of Bin Laden's main goals, and that the NIE's prediction of increasing attacks is just a coincidence!

Of course, Snow is technically correct about one thing. The NIE does say that if we win in Iraq, then "fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight." However, the NIE balances this positive outcome against the negative consequences of failure: "perceived jihadist success [in Iraq] would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere." Snow doesn't quote that part, for some reason. He also doesn't quote the part where the NIE compares such advantages and weaknesses and concludes that "the underlying factors fueling the spread of the [jihadist] movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate." But since Snow thinks the NIE was a "snapshot" taken on February 28, he obviously doesn't think this prediction exists, so he can ignore it.

Now, the intrepid reporters called Snow on some of this, so he made an effort to explain how "supporters" are not valuable at all to the terrorists:

Q So you're suggesting we've created more people who dislike us, but not more people who want to harm us.

MR. SNOW: Well, they may even want to harm us. The question is operationally, do they have the capability, and are they going to move forward to do so?

Here I can only quote yet again the words of the National Intelligence Estimate:

Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.

If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.

| Posted by Wilson at 9:30 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Power Desk