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The CIA on Iraq

Bob Woodward's four-page article on the CIA Director Michael V. Hayden's surmise of Iraq's potential: He compared the Iraq situation to the prolonged warfare in the Balkans. "In Bosnia, the parties fought themselves to exhaustion," Hayden said, suggesting that the … Read More

By / July 12, 2007

Bob Woodward's four-page article on the CIA Director Michael V. Hayden's surmise of Iraq's potential:

He compared the Iraq situation to the prolonged warfare in the Balkans. "In Bosnia, the parties fought themselves to exhaustion," Hayden said, suggesting that the same scenario could play out in Iraq. "They might just have to fight this out to exhaustion."

Hayden catalogued what he saw as the main sources of violence in this order: the insurgency, sectarian strife, criminality, general anarchy and, lastly, al-Qaeda. Though Hayden had listed al-Qaeda as the fifth most pressing threat in Iraq, Bush regularly lists al-Qaeda first.

Even giving Hayden the benefit of the doubt (and the organization he oversees and its conclusions are more deserving of intense skepticism), the question then becomes: If Iraq is like Bosnia, then what would a withdrawal of U.S. forces do but hasten a genocide? Is it not better to have a protectionist force in country that, however enervated it might be, will still stand in the way of that country's self-cannibalization?

As for the true threat of Al Qaeda, of course it's been easier for the president to use it as a soundbite metonym for "bad guys" despite the situation on the ground being much more complicated. In case you think this contradiction comes at only the administration's expense, consider that those on the other side of the debate who say that Iraq only ever became a cynosure for Al Qaeda after the coalition invaded don't hesitate to then minimize the threat of Al Qaeda in Iraq. It's easy to score points against Bush by citing both arguments, virtually in the same breath.

Of course, every once in a while, the president offers an accurate assessment of the menace our troops face daily, as he did in 2005 in a speech before the U.S. Naval Academy:

The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein — and they reject an Iraq in which they are no longer the dominant group.

Not all Sunnis fall into the rejectionist camp. Of those that do, most are not actively fighting us — but some give aid and comfort to the enemy. Many Sunnis boycotted the January elections — yet as democracy takes hold in Iraq, they are recognizing that opting out of the democratic process has hurt their interests. And today, those who advocate violent opposition are being increasingly isolated by Sunnis who choose peaceful participation in the democratic process. Sunnis voted in the recent constitutional referendum in large numbers — and Sunni coalitions have formed to compete in next month's elections — or, this month's elections. We believe that, over time, most rejectionists will be persuaded to support a democratic Iraq led by a federal government that is a strong enough government to protect minority rights.

The second group that makes up the enemy in Iraq is smaller, but more determined. It contains former regime loyalists who held positions of power under Saddam Hussein — people who still harbor dreams of returning to power. These hard-core Saddamists are trying to foment anti-democratic sentiment amongst the larger Sunni community. They lack popular support and therefore cannot stop Iraq's democratic progress. And over time, they can be marginalized and defeated by the Iraqi people and the security forces of a free Iraq.

The third group is the smallest, but the most lethal: the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda . Many are foreigners who are coming to fight freedom's progress in Iraq. This group includes terrorists from Saudi Arabia, and Syria, and Iran, and Egypt, and Sudan, and Yemen, and Libya, and other countries. Our commanders believe they're responsible for most of the suicide bombings, and the beheadings, and the other atrocities we see on our television.

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