A quiet but important struggle is taking place in Washington, D.C., over the situation in Iraq: Professionals in the State Department, the intelligence community and the military are trying to get word to the American public that the United States is losing control of the situation. They are determinedly contradicting the fairy tales of progress coming from President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on the campaign trail. These experts should be listened to; they have no ax to grind except that they abhor lies, distortions and the effect those have on the pursuit of effective policy.
Several weeks ago, a classified national intelligence estimate on Iraq, prepared in July by the National Intelligence Council (NIC), was leaked to the media. It painted a very gloomy picture of the situation, with the best the United States could hope for going forward was that Iraq would continue as it is now -- a country convulsed by violence, with little prospect for peace, economic and political stability or effective reconstruction. Things could, however, get markedly worse, and Iraq could slip into all-out civil war.
When asked about the report, Bush said the people who wrote it were just "guessing," a word he later amended to "estimating." Either way, he was dismissive of the report and continued unabashed to embellish his fairy-tale view.
Whereupon two earlier reports from the intelligence council suddenly were made available to the press. These were written months before the invasion of Iraq, and they predicted the chaos and insurgency that now grip that country. The message was clear: Don't buy the president's dismissal of the July NIC report. The NIC has a track record on Iraq, and it's a good one. Look at what it predicted before the invasion. Look at what Bush chose to ignore.
Indeed, most of the NIC record on Iraq is good. The one exception is the NIC's October 2002 national intelligence estimate that grossly exaggerated Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. It has been thoroughly discredited, and members of the NIC now complain that they were pressured to write it too quickly and that too little attention was paid to important qualifiers. Burned once, the NIC appears intent, thank heaven, on not being burned again.
In addition, high-ranking military, diplomatic and intelligence officials are talking with increasing frequency to reporters for the Washington Post, New York Times and other news organizations. A story last Wednesday in the Post began, "A growing number of career professionals within national security agencies believe that the situation in Iraq is much worse, and the path to success much more tenuous, than is being expressed in public by top Bush administration officials. ..."
The same day in the Times, a story on Iraq began, "Over the past 30 days, more than 2,300 attacks by insurgents have been directed against civilians and military targets in Iraq, in a pattern that sprawls over nearly every major population center outside the Kurdish north. ..."
Even Secretary of State Colin Powell has departed from the positive administration message. Yes, he said on a Sunday talk show, the insurgency is getting worse.
In a column on today's Commentary page, famed Vietnam War leaker Daniel Ellsberg asks where the Iraq leakers are. The answer is that they exist, and they are beginning an effort to bring some reality to the picture being painted of events in Iraq.
These are people whose careers have been entirely devoted to the service of this nation. They're not partisan; they're worried professionals who deserve to be heard and to be believed. They warn that the United States is headed for a destructive quagmire in Iraq. Implicitly, they also warn Americans not to believe the Mother Goose tales being peddled by Bush and Cheney. That's especially good and timely advice.
© 2004 Star Tribune