As we noted the other day, it appears that George W. Bush's intelligence czar is blocking a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq because he doesn't want his boss to have to deal with the unhappy conclusions any honest assessment of the situation would reach.
With Bush out stumping with the Iraqi prime minister today, Senate Democrats, led by Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy, are pushing John Negroponte to get moving. In a letter to the intelligence czar, they say a new NIE is long overdue; the last was done in 2004, a purple-fingered eternity ago. The areas of inquiry set forth in the Democrats' request provide a shouldn't-be-necessary reminder of what congressional oversight actually looks like:
Sectarianism: Is Iraq in or descending into a civil war? What factors will prevent or reverse deterioration of the sectarian situation?
Security: Is Iraq succeeding in standing up effective security forces? What factors will increase the chances of that occurring? To what extent are militias providing security in Iraq? To what extent has the government of Iraq developed and implemented a credible plan to disarm and demobilize and reintegrate militias into government security forces? To what extent is the government of Iraq working to obtain a political commitment from political parties to ban militias?
Terrorism: What is the threat from violent extremist- related terrorism, including al-Qaida, in and from Iraq? What factors will address the terrorist threat?
Political development: Is Iraq succeeding in creating a stable and effective unity government? What is the likelihood that changes to the constitution will be made to address concerns of the Sunni community? What factors will increase the chances of that occurring?
Economic reconstruction: Is Iraq succeeding in rebuilding its economy and creating economic prosperity for Iraqis? What factors will increase the chances of that occurring?
Iraq's future: According to press accounts, the 2004 NIE contained analysis on three possible scenarios for Iraq's stability through the end of 2005. What are the scenarios through 2007?
U.S. force posture: In what ways is the large-scale presence of multinational forces helping or hindering Iraqis' chances of success?
Don't expect answers from the administration anytime soon. As Think Progress reports, Donald Rumsfeld was asked today whether he thinks Iraq has descended into civil war. "Oh, I don't know," the secretary of defense said. "You know, I thought about that last night, and, just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it ... It clearly is being stimulated by people who would like to have what could be characterized as a civil war and win it, but I'm not going to be the one to decide if, when or at all."