With a crisp article by Michael Abramowitz, the Washington Post has taken the unusual step of properly analyzing the politics of the latest National Intelligence Estimate rather than relying on competing Beltway spin to explain it. It gets right to the meat of the matter:
"Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush has been able to deflect criticism of his counterterrorism policy by repeatedly noting the absence of any new domestic attacks and by citing the continuing threat that terrorists in Iraq pose to U.S. interests.
"But this line of defense seemed to unravel a bit yesterday with the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate that concludes that al-Qaeda 'has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability' by reestablishing a haven in Pakistan and reconstituting its top leadership. The report also notes that al-Qaeda has been able 'to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks,' by associating itself with an Iraqi subsidiary."
That last line is still less clear than it might be, but it is a step up from the majority of reporting Tuesday, which implied that the report said al-Qaida in Iraq itself was planning to attack our homeland. And Abramowitz deftly exposes the Bush team's spin on it:
"Confronted with a political brush fire, the president and his aides retreated to familiar ground, highlighting the parts of the report that they saw as supportive of their policies, particularly the need to confront Islamic radicals on the ground in Iraq.
"In talking with reporters in the Oval Office yesterday, Bush concentrated on a single paragraph in the assessment that placed the enemy in Iraq in a larger context of international terrorism. The estimate said bin Laden's organization will 'probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland.'
"Although only a portion of the instability in Iraq is attributed to al-Qaeda and the group had no substantial power base there before the U.S. invasion, Bush again cast the war as a battle against its members, whom his aides have described as key provocateurs there."
Abramowitz lays out the story perfectly in the first seven paragraphs of the piece, setting up the most important aspects of the debate and peeling back the layers of spin to get to both the substance of the NIE and the politics surrounding it. It is a very simple, clear and concise analysis that doesn't require the reader to know Beltway journalistic conventions or the rules of political spin to understand the story. More of this please.