The Afghanistan Estimate

The Los Angeles Times has an article on a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was recently prepared on Afghanistan. The picture it paints is as gloomy as anything that came out of the Viet Nam era. Despite local successes against the Taliban in the south, the central government is still considered to be fragile, the security forces are corrupt, and Taliban elements in the east are still finding refuge in Pakistan. The only thing holding up the whole house of cards is us, and it’s all likely to go pear-shaped before the door hits us on the butt.

The Pentagon, and the theater military commanders disagree. If you go back to the NIE’s coming out of Viet Nam, you find the same thing — gloomy NIE’s (unless distorted by pressure from policy-makers), denials from the military leadership at all levels, and requests for increased troop strengths for, as Uncle Owen would say “only one more season”.

A NIE is a negotiated document, bringing together the agreed-upon wisdom of all members of the Intelligence Community. It used to be prepared by a small staff under the leadership of the Director of the CIA, wearing his hat as Director of Central Intelligence. Since DCI = DCIA, it was only natural that CIA opinions had an advantage. Sometimes the issues were contentious enough that an agency would “footnote” the issue. In this case, a footnote isn’t a reference, it’s a statement of contrary opinion. For example, the Air Force often footnoted statements about Soviet air and missile power that they felt were not strong enough. Sometimes the wording could be weaselrd enough that everyone could agree on it. And sometimes the convening authority would hold back some contentious wording until fifteen minutes before the last shuttle left Langley for downtown. Overall, through the years, the NIE’s did a pretty good job of speaking truth to power.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t lapses. In the 1976’s under pressure from the White House and Donald Rumsfeld’s DoD, DCI George H. W. Bush agreed to have “Team B” write a parallel NIE. In 2002, under pressure from the George W. Bush White House, and Donald Rumsfeld’s DoD, DCI George Tenet allowed a flawed NIE to be published on Iraqi WMD.

Among other things, Intelligence does its job best when it points out to the decision-makers the flaws in their analysis of a situation. Decision-makers don’t like this, usually because they have already decided, and they have invested their prestige and political power in the decision. It’s almost impossible for a decision-maker to say they were wrong on a major issue. They’d much rather have Intelligence confirm their opinions. President Johnson used to complain that he used to feel like a farmer milking a cow, and the CIA was like the cow waving its dirty tail over the bucket of nice clean milk.

The new NIE’s are now out from under the DCIA and are produced by the staff of the DNI, Director of National Intelligence. Given that both of those people are appointed by the President, there’s still the possibility for political pressure to be brought against the staff members. On the other hand, what we saw in Viet Nam was that CIA’s estimates were almost always more realistic than those of the military agencies who contributed to the NIEs. You might say that now that the CIA is working on a level playing field with the military side of the Intelligence Community (and given that both the DNI and the DCIA are military men), the balance might have been tilted more towards the military view of things. Evidently, that hasn’t happened in the case of the Afghanistan NIE.

The implications of that NIE are significant. As with Viet Nam, we have the option of spending more lives and fortune propping up a failing government in a failed country, or we can arrange an orderly withdrawal at the earliest opportunity. People point out that Viet Nam fell only after we pulled out and refused to provide more aid. The same might happen in Afghanistan. Given that the Taliban poses no threat outside of their country, that Al Qaida is pretty much a broken force, limited to leasing its brand for use by terrorist wannabes (and American fear mongers), that continuing the war there will continue to destabilize neighboring Pakistan, and that we have zero national interests there, security or otherwise, I’d say the NIE is a perfect document on which to base our withdrawal.

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3 Responses to “The Afghanistan Estimate”

  1. Kurt Says:

    One person’s gloom is another person’s sunshine. Bout time the sun came out.

    • FoundOnWeb Says:

      I note that even Micael Yon, long time reporter/supporter, with I think more time on the ground if AF than any other reporter, now agrees that it’s time to get out.

      In the words of a CIA analyst, talking about a different country some decades ago, it’s time to let Afghanistan lapse back into the obscurity it so richly deserves.

  2. Ground Truth « FoundOnWeb Says:

    […] an experienced, well-respected reporter, and we have an official Intelligence Community agreed-upon National Intelligence Estimate all coming to essentially the same conclusion. It’s time to leave. Share […]

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