President Bush has declassified several pages of a report issued last April by the government intelligence community, "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States."
The report, predictably, is feeding the election debate over Iraq. Democrats/Progressives focus on the conclusion that the Iraq war is fueling jihadist activity; Republicans/Conservatives rebut that the report shows counterterrorism efforts are working, but that threat of global terrorism is real.
A selective reading of the report's Key Judgments supports any and all of these conclusions, implying either: (1) that the intelligence community is willfully equivocating, or (2) that they aren't good at their jobs and don't have conclusive intelligence, or (3) that the complexity of human events is sometimes such that many things—even many contradictory things—are true at once.
Still, broad conclusions can be drawn. On analysis, they’re a useful platform for more viable counterterrorism strategies:
- Jihadist ideology and its appeals will never really be responsive to military solutions. It is true: self-named jihadis arm themselves, and kill people and glorify martyrdom. But attempting to defeat a broader and more diffuse collection of militant movements—which is what really frightens the United States--won't work. Jihadist ideology grows because of endemic social and political issues: government corruption, the unequal effects of globalization, even the personal difficulty of feeling empowered in a complex and alienating world. These are the challenges the U.S. must confront.
- Jihadists hurt more Muslims and Middle Easterners than they do Americans. They'd like to hurt Europeans, and want to take aim at Western or American interests abroad. Their desire or capability to attack on U.S. soil is a matter of speculation.
- Jihadists are a very small population, no matter how you slice it. They represent only a small number of radicals willing to fight for a cause; they aren't representative of the Muslim mainstream or those who advocate political Islam.
- The report offers some positive processes that may weaken jihadist appeal in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, such as peaceful political activism and democratic reforms.These reforms don't need an American-led Global War on Terror to be executed. Indeed, reforms have to be taken by sovereign states perceived as acting autonomously, and in an acceptable local style, to be credible. The U.S. has a crucial role to play in encouraging such reforms, but it is likely to be increasingly counterproductive to press influence by way of war.