What does the latest National Intelligence Estimate say? 

Don't Panic ... your war questions answered

National Intelligence Estimate sounds like some sort of smart-o-meter for countries.

Example: "According to the latest National Intelligence Estimate, Sweden still tops the NIE rankings for Volvo, ABBA, the bikini team, and for combining innovative capitalism with generous social welfare. The biggest drop on the list was the United Kingdom, which slipped to No. 16, partly because of its unswerving support for bad American policies in the Middle East, but mostly because of that infernal 'You're Beautiful' song by James Blunt."

In reality, the NIE is a government report that contains the "most authoritative written judgments on national security issues" and makes "judgments about the likely course of future events and identif[ies] the implications for U.S. policy."

The most recent NIE declassified summary was available to the public Friday, Feb. 2. It's about Iraq and it's not exaggerating to call it one of the most depressing reads this side of Anna Karenina. The portrait it paints of Iraq is grim. Nothing in it even hints that Iraq is or can do well anytime soon. Measured against the Bush administration's declared goals for Iraq, this NIE paints a portrait of complete failure.

Picking the most important bits of information from the NIE to report to you is difficult, kind of like choosing which United States senator you'd like to punch for being a cowardly, do-nothing windbag. Here are some of the bits of the NIE that stood out to me, followed by my comments.

"If strengthened Iraqi Security Forces, more loyal to the government and supported by Coalition Forces, are able to reduce levels of violence and establish more effective security for Iraq's population, Iraqi leaders could have an opportunity to begin the process of political compromise necessary for longer term stability, political progress, and economic recovery."

It's probably the most optimistic (run-on) sentence of the report. It's also the most hedgy. If several thus-far elusive things happen simultaneously, something that's thus far even more elusive "could" happen. I mean, I could be king of England if only Queen Elizabeth II would kill her children, surgically implant me into her uterus and birth me.

"Nevertheless, even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard-pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation ..."

Translation: Even if every other thing happens the way we want it to, the chance of Iraq's factions making peace is very small.

"The absence of unifying leaders among the Arab Sunni or Shia with the capacity to speak for or exert control over their confessional groups limits prospects for reconciliation."

Not only is Iraq divided between Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds, but those groups are sharply divided among themselves. Iraq needs, but doesn't have, a Sen. Barack Obama-style leader willing to reach across partisan and religious divides. Maybe if his presidential campaign fails here, he can run for president of Iraq. After all, his middle name is Hussein.

"Iraqi Security Forces ... will be hard-pressed in the next 12-18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success."

In other words, nearly four years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq still doesn't have a functioning security infrastructure. All the supposed building and training we've been doing has yet to amount to much.

"The Intelligence Community judges that the term 'civil war' does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict ... Nonetheless, the term 'civil war' accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict."

Remember last November and December when the White House and its media henchman beat up on the "Today Show's" Matt Lauer for calling the violence in Iraq a civil war? Well, while the White House was smearing the public for using the term, the government's own intelligence people were saying that Iraq is a civil war, and then some. Pretty-boy Matt is owed an apology.

The NIE is availabe as a free download at DNI website. I recommend it highly. It's a quick, easy read with crucial information about the most important of issues to Americans this side of IDing the daddy of Anna Nicole's baby.

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