Reading the NIE

Prompted by David Ignatius‘ column (I wish Democrats (and Republicans, for that matter) were asking this question: How do we prevent Iraq from becoming a failed state?) and the responses by Kevin Drumm (Should we debate about how to fix Iraq? We could, but only if there were some plausible solutions to argue about) and Lars Peterson (we can’t undo Iraq – and we can only move forward, no matter how much new evidence arises to show that we should have never gone to war in the first place) I decided to delve into the NIE myself, approaching it with IF Stone’s suggestion to read such documents from back to front.

Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) theIraq jihad; (3) the slow pace of reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment.

 Reasons to worry:

  • activists identifying themselves as jihadists… are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion…
  • threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, attendant reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities for jihadists to exploit.
  • [Jihadists are] likely to expand their reach and become more capable of multiple and/or mass-casualty attacks outside their traditional areas of operation.
  • reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities for jihadists to exploit.


  • the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives…Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists.
  • [A-Q is] exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role. The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of al-Qa.ida in Iraq might lead veteran foreign jihadists to focus their efforts on external operations…

Remedies and reasons to hope:

  • Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit.
  • Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists.
  • [Increased success in] Propaganda [efforts are a] trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism.
  • [Vulnerabilities include the movement’s] “dependence on the continuation of Muslim-related conflicts,”
  • Political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and   groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives.


  • Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.
  • Many other states will be unable to prevent territory or resources from being exploited by terrorists.
  • Anti-US and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests.

Role of the internet: The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously.


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