Never mind that the weapons of mass murder were never found. And never mind the suggestion, now retracted, that Saddam’s regime would coordinate operations with terrorists. The central premise of the war in Iraq was that military force would stop terrorists from attacking America—that troops would fight the threat in Iraq rather than firefighters rescuing the victims on the homeland.
Does the NIE’s key findings support that strategy? Not exactly.
Iraq has not stopped the prospect of firefighters rescuing Americans from terrorist attacks because the global jihadist movement has grown. There are, according to the NIE, four reasons for this growth: entrenched grievances, the Iraq jihad, the slow pace of reforms in the Middle East and pervasive anti-American sentiment. In fact, the NIE also blames the pervasive anti-American sentiment on the Iraq conflict. So Iraq is really two of the four factors in the growth of the movement.
Does that mean the White House spin is out of control? Not exactly.
The NIE points out that defeat of the jihadis in Iraq would stop the movement’s growth. It also points out that jihadi success in Iraq would inspire more to join the cause.
Until the NIE emerged, the conventional wisdom inside the Beltway was that the election would come down to a struggle between terrorism and Iraq. If the debate were about terrorism, the GOP would win; if about Iraq, the Democrats would win.
Instead, the NIE sheds light on a different debate that is all about Iraq. In November, voters will have a relatively simple choice: they need to decide whether to punish the GOP for starting the war or trust the GOP to end the war.