Bad day for the Intelligence Community here in Washington. CIA chief Leon Panetta opined that Mubarak was very likely going to resign in a few hours, while DNI (Director of National Intelligence) General James Clapper declared the Muslim Brotherhood largely secular and has eschewed violence. These analyses from our mastodontic Intel establishment no doubt encouraged the president to gush about living through an historic moment in world history, and to proclaim that young people were primarily to praise for the epic events of the day.
Except that Mubarak didnt resign, and the Brothers arent secular and have long embraced and practiced violence, and we dont yet know exactly what history is being made, let alone who is making it.
Oh, well tomorrows another day. Indeed this afternoon is another day, as Clappers spokespeople assured us that he really knows all about the Brotherhood, and is well aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a secular organization.
Pity he didnt say that to Congress.
Not that I blame him personally. Not at all. He, like Panetta, just repeated what the experts in Spookland told them, and its invaluable for us to know that. We have been reminded yet one more time that our intelligence experts are operating on the basis of some amazingly politically correct and demonstrably false stereotypes that have very little to do with the often ghastly realities of the real world. Those stereotypes include the (false) conviction that Sunnis and Shiites cant work together, that the root problem of the Middle East is Israeli intransigence, that even the most fanatical Muslims (i.e. the Iranian tyrants) are amenable to reason and really want to make a deal with us, and that Mubarak can be overthrown by the news media and demonstrators, especially young ones. The Panetta statement is a form of wish-fulfillment, not serious intelligence. Serious intelligence officers were obliged to tell him, and he was obliged to tell Congress, that we did not know what Mubarak was going to say.
The men and women who are responsible for this latest intelligence failure come from the same bureaux and agencies that fed us the ridiculous National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Iran had stopped its quest for atomic bombs, after all. The latest nonsense is of a piece with the earlier stuff.
But telling the truth about our knowledge of Mubaraks intentions would have revealed that we lack important sources at the highest level of the Egyptian regime. I hope were better connected to the Egyptian Army leaders.
Clappers gaffe is considerably more worrisome, because it suggests that the analysts are trimming their sails to the winds of appeasement blowing out of the White House. Remember that President Obama lobbied to have the Brothers attend his Cairo speech in June, 2009. This rightly concerned a lot of people, because it suggested that he was either sympathetic to them or that he believed he could sway them with his special gift of gab, the same model he applied to Iran. But the Brothers have been preaching hatred of the West, and the mission of jihad in order to recreate the Caliphate, for more than eighty years. It isnt bloody likely theyll abandon their mission just because they heard a speech. It seems to me that serious analysts would warn that Brotherhood statements in the midst of the tumult are not to be taken as true reflections of their intentions, and would want to remind policy makers that the Ayatollah Khomeini, before consolidating power in Tehran, swore up and down that he did not want political power at all, and surrounded himself with Westernized intellectuals of a decidedly secular bent.
But to say those things would almost certainly annoy this president, who quite obviously still believes there is a deal to be made with the mullahs in Tehran. And if he believes that, will he not also believe that the Brothers are legitimate and quite likely desirable interlocutors? To put it bluntly, he favors enemies over allies, and not just in the Middle East. He was certainly annoyed when the Iranian people challenged the regime last year and the year before. We didnt hear enthusiastic gushing about the millions of Iranians every bit as young and vigorous as the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, and even more courageous (they endure horrible consequences, incomparably bloodier than those the brave Egyptians are facing, at least thus far). No, we hear vague generalizations, and the monotonous repetition of the proffer of an outstretched hand from Washington.
A cynic might suspect that hes fallen into the same trap as Ronald Reagan, and is engaged in negotiating for the ransom of the several American hostages in Iranian custody. That might explain his unwillingness to denounce the regime more passionately, as most of us would wish. I am not one of those (although it would not surprise me if he were). I think hes acting out of conviction. I think hes convinced that the Westand especially the United Statesis the root cause of global conflict, that our traditional allies should be jettisoned, and that the best way forward is to embrace the radicals, whether fanatical Muslims or radicals in Latin America or remnants of the failed Communist enterprise in Moscow. If it is true that he passed British nuclear secrets to the Russians, after receiving an explicit veto from London, it would be an important keystone in the structure of his world view.
Otherwise, how do you explain the great apology tour? Or the bowing to tyrants, whether short or tall?
As against this, he is killing a lot of Taliban and al Qaeda, and he went for the surge in Afghanistan. So there are limits to his willingness or desires to make deals with radicals. He doesnt like Karzai any more than he likes Mubarak, and I havent seen the slightest hint that he has secret sympathies for the terrorists who are killing Afghans and Americans and American allies. He has swallowed hard and let the war go forward. Even if we posit that hes intending to bail out of the war quite soon, thats just a theory. For the moment, hes fully engaged and that war is now his. Like it or not, as he might say. Those of us with children in uniform hope he is determined to win.
Which brings us back to Black Thursday. If our intelligence is as bad as we saw today, can we believe that its better in Afghanistan? The answer is, maybe. Could be. For the past many years, military intelligence has often been a lot better than the stuff coming out of the civilian agencies. Soldiers on the ground and drones and satellites watching evil men planting bombs to kill our troops have better motivation than men and women in Greater Washington reading classified cables. So lets hope.
Meanwhile, as I have been saying ever since 9/11, we need a thorough purge of the Intelligence Community. We need fewer analysts, tougher minded officials prepared to deliver accurate news even if their superiors dont want to hear it, and a system that permits our top officials to identify talented underlings, instead of pushing forward intelligence-by-committee that has proven to be wrong so often.