LA Times reported Bush's attack on Dems over NIE but downplayed document's key judgments

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Los Angeles Times staff writer James Gerstenzang reported that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate said "that the militant movement opposing U.S. forces in Iraq had grown stronger." In fact, the NIE found that the Iraq war has boosted terrorist recruitment worldwide. By downplaying the NIE's judgments, Gerstenzang failed to provide proper context for the Democratic criticism noted in the article and added credence to President Bush's recent attack on those critics.

In a September 29 article on President Bush's speech attacking Democrats for their reaction to a recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Los Angeles Times staff writer James Gerstenzang reported that the document said "that the militant movement opposing U.S. forces in Iraq had grown stronger." In fact, the NIE found that the "Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists" worldwide who are currently "increasing in both number and geographic dispersion" -- not simply that militants fighting within Iraq have "grown stronger." By downplaying the NIE's judgments, Gerstenzang failed to provide proper context for the Democratic criticism noted in the article and added credence to Bush's claim that those critics used the document "to mislead the American people."

The U.S. intelligence community produced the NIE -- titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States" -- in April, and the Bush administration declassified a portion of the document on September 27 after several news outlets reported on a leaked version of it. The document appears to contradict Bush's recent assertion that "it's naïve" to believe that the invasion of Iraq has made the United States "less safe." The NIE found that Muslim resentment over the war in Iraq is a major factor contributing to spread of "the global jihadist movement." Following are several of the "key judgments":

  • Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.
  • If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.
  • We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.
  • The Iraq conflict has become the "cause celebre" for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.

In a September 28 article, Los Angeles Times staff writers Greg Miller and Peter Wallsten reported that the NIE "concluded that terrorism was growing and spreading worldwide, fueled by the war in Iraq, and that the 'Iraq jihad' was shaping 'a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.' " But in his subsequent article on Bush's September 28 speech in Alabama, Gerstenzang depicted the NIE's findings as limited to Iraq, reporting that it "had said, among other things, that the militant movement opposing U.S. forces in Iraq had grown stronger."

By obscuring the NIE's assessment that the Iraq war has fueled terrorism worldwide, Gerstenzang failed to provide readers proper context for his article's focus -- the Democratic response to the document and Bush's criticism of that response. From the article:

"The Democrats can't have it both ways," he said, accusing his political opponents of quoting selectively from declassified sections of a recent National Intelligence Estimate on the capabilities of Islamic extremists. "Either they believe that Iraq is a distraction from the war on terror or they agree with the intelligence community and the terrorists themselves that the outcome of Iraq is important in the war on terror.

"Truth is, the Democrats are using the NIE to mislead the American people and justify their policy of withdrawal from Iraq," Bush said.

[...]

He also singled out statements by Rep. Jane Harman of Venice [CA] and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the top Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees, although he quoted neither by name. Aides said later that they were the two Democrats he was referring to.

Referring to Harman, Bush said: "She said, 'The president says that fighting them there makes it less likely we'll have to fight them here. The opposite is true.' She went on to say, 'Because we are fighting them there, it may become more likely that we'll have to fight them here.' "

Harman made those remarks at the beginning of the week, following reports that the National Intelligence Estimate had said, among other things, that the militant movement opposing U.S. forces in Iraq had grown stronger.

Challenging her assessment, Bush said, "History tells us that logic is false. We didn't create terrorism by fighting terrorism. Iraq is not the reason why the terrorists are at war with us."

Gerstenzang went on to note Sen. Charles E. Schumer's (D-NY) response to Bush's criticism:

Bush's remarks prompted Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who heads the Democrats' Senate election campaign, to respond: "Mr. President, the truth will set you free."

Schumer said that Bush was paying "no attention" to the work of the nation's 16 "nonpartisan, nonpolitical intelligence agencies" that was reflected in the National Intelligence Estimate, thus spelling "only more trouble ahead for our country and our soldiers."

If the NIE had merely found, as Gerstenzang reported, that the Iraqi militants have grown stronger, Harman's conclusion that the war may make attacks on the United States "more likely" and Schumer's statement that the document spelled "only more trouble ahead for our country" could have been criticized as overly broad or even "mislead[ing]." But in the context of the NIE's actual finding -- that the war will likely lead to more diverse "threats to US interests" and "increasing attacks worldwide" -- these comments appear perfectly logical.

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