Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Fine Art of Declassification

It’s hard to think of a president and an administration more devoted to secrecy than President Bush and his team. Except, that is, when it suits Mr. Bush politically to give the public a glimpse of the secrets. And so, yesterday, he ordered the declassification of a fraction of a report by United States intelligence agencies on the global terrorist threat.

Mr. Bush said he wanted to release the document so voters would not be confused about terrorism or the war when they voted for Congressional candidates in November. But the three declassified pages from what is certainly a voluminous report told us what any American with a newspaper, television or Internet connection should already know. The invasion of Iraq was a cataclysmic disaster. The current situation will get worse if American forces leave. Unfortunately, neither the report nor the president provide even a glimmer of a suggestion about how to avoid that inevitable disaster.

Despite what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, have tried to make everyone believe, one of the key findings of the National Intelligence Estimate, which represents the consensus of the 16 intelligence agencies, was indeed that the war in Iraq has greatly increased the threat from terrorism by “shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.”

It said Iraq has become “the cause célèbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” It listed the war in Iraq as the second most important factor in the spread of terrorism — after “entrenched grievances such as corruption, injustice and fear of Western domination.” And that was before April, when the report was completed. Since then, things have got much worse. (The report was written before the killing in June of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The authors thought such an event would diminish the danger in Iraq. It has not.)

Mr. Bush decided to release this small, selected chunk of the report in reaction to an article on the intelligence assessment that appeared in The Times over the weekend. As a defense of his policies, it serves only to highlight the maddening circular logic that passes for a White House rationale. It goes like this: The invasion of Iraq has created an entire new army of terrorists who will be emboldened by an American withdrawal. Therefore, the United States has to stay indefinitely and keep fighting those terrorists.

By that logic, the more the United States fights, the longer the war stretches on.

It’s obvious why Mr. Bush did not want this report out, and why it is taking so long for the intelligence agencies to complete another report, solely on Iraq, that was requested by Congress in late July. It’s not credible that more time is needed to do the job. In 2002, the intelligence agencies completed a report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in less time. Mr. Bush also made selected passages of that report public to buttress his arguments for war with Iraq, most of which proved to be based on fairy tales.

Then, Mr. Bush wanted Americans to focus on how dangerous Saddam Hussein was, and not on the obvious consequences of starting a war in the Middle East. Now, he wants voters to focus on how dangerous the world is, and not on his utter lack of ideas for what to do about it.