Late yesterdayFran Townsend tried her hand at spinning the NIE summary released yesterday by the White House. After spending several minutes regurgitating the NIE’s lesser conclusions without touching on its main finding (that Chimpy’s Vanity War has created more terrorists and left us more vulnerable than ever before) she got stumped on the very first question.
Q Hi, thank you for doing this. I just have one question. You were going through a lot of the judgments in the document. The one that you didn’t go over was I guess in paragraph two, where it says that activists identifying themselves as jihadists are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion. And that seems to answer the question that Secretary Rumsfeld posed back in 2003 — are we capturing, killing or dissuading more terrorists than are being trained and deployed every day? One, do you agree with that? And doesn’t this say that more jihadists are being created every day than we’re capturing or killing?
MS. TOWNSEND: Well, I guess, George, what I would say to you is, one, we have killed — I think the — you know, it’s hard to make precise estimates, but we’ve captured or killed thousands over the course of the conflict. It’s difficult to count how many have been added. I mean, there’s no — as you know, they hardly carry membership cards, and they are dispersed and they do hide in the shadows. It would be very difficult to count them.
Er, uh, um… where’s Jeff Gannon when you need him?
Q Could I get a quick follow on George’s question? Are you questioning the judgment that jihadists are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion? Because if that’s true, how can you say we’re safer?
MS. TOWNSEND: I’m sorry, how can you say — I didn’t hear the question.
Q We’re safer.
MS. TOWNSEND: I don’t think there’s any question that we’re safer. But as the President said, do I think that we’re safe?
My only point is, I think it’s difficult to count the number of true jihadists that are willing to commit murder, or kill themselves in the process, because they don’t nominate themselves to be counted.
We lack the metrics? How Rummyesque.
Q Fran, I wanted to just follow up on George’s question before on — and particularly focus in on Iraq, in that regard. Every time Iraq comes up in this, you’ve responded, the President has responded, it’s the central front, and therefore, it is integral to terrorism. But another way to read these key judgments is that the order in which we took these things made a difference and that one might conclude from this, though it does not explicitly state it in any way here, that had we not done Iraq first, had we stayed for a while to do Afghanistan or focused on Iran first or something else, that you might not have created what they refer to here as the Iraqi jihad movement that has attracted so much motion.
That, the President doesn’t go to, not the question of whether Iraq is or is not, but whether it was — whether it has, itself, because of it’s timing, turned the tide somewhat against us. Can you address that?
MS. TOWNSEND: Sure. David, first, let me start with the notion of the central front in the war on terror. What’s — forget what the — put aside for the moment what the President has said, because he’s been clear about the administration’s view. Let’s look at what bin Laden and Zawahiri have said — and Zarqawi — about this being either where they’re going to have ultimate victory or ultimate defeat when the President went through those — the quotations from al Qaeda, themselves.
Q But that made that statement only after we had invaded. In other words, had we chosen to delay invasion dealing with Iraq for X number of years, would — is it your conclusion from this that we would have avoided having to deal with an Iraqi jihad at the moment that we are dealing with all of the other elements of this problem?
MS. TOWNSEND: Two points. First I would say to you, it presumes that when you say, the order of things, that we can’t do more than one thing at a time. And as we know, we’re fighting in Afghanistan while we’re fighting in Iraq. Second, what I would say to you is, there’s always an excuse. I mean, we weren’t in Iraq on September the 11th when we got hit, and they hit us anyway. There are always going to be some excuse for them to propagate their hateful ideology — whether it’s the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s the conflict in Afghanistan, it’s our troop presence in the Gulf — there’s always an excuse. And so I think that that’s not — I just don’t think that holds weight.
“There’s always an excuse.” I believe that motto is tatooed on George Bush’s ass.
Q I wanted to get back, again, to George’s initial question, and this paragraph on the second page. I know we can’t do a stacking-up of bodies or a body count, but it says here, “We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities,” which seems to me somebody is saying, in an equation here, factors causing jihadists are greater than factors detracting.
And then if we look at the individual, itemized four items here underneath, three of them are Iraq-related: fear of Western domination, the Iraq jihad, and pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among Muslims, which surely is contributed to by Iraq.
So as Americans look at this and say, are we any safer, has this nightmare that existed before 9/11 gotten worse as a result of our actions, doesn’t that paragraph say the answer to that question is, yes?
MS. TOWNSEND: This will not surprise you. I think there is one of the four that goes directly to the Iraq jihad. But entrenched grievances, the slow pace of reform, and pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment predate the Iraq war, and will continue.
And I think, as well — I mean, I understand what you’re saying about that sentence, about the underlying factors fueling, outweighing its vulnerabilities. But, again, I want you to remember, this is — it’s talking about the current trends. The President has always said that this is going to be a long, hard slog. This is a long war because it’s not only a battle of arms, but it’s a battle of ideas. And the battle of ideas is going to be a long-term battle.
And so I don’t take issue with it. What I would say to you is, it’s a current assessment of what the near term — what the near-term struggle is going to be about. And I think we all understand that we have a long-term battle in terms of the war of ideas.
Q But for the near term, that pendulum hasn’t quite kept, because our goal in life, right, is to get — so the pendulum, the factor spreading the movement do not outweigh the vulnerabilities. We want vulnerabilities to be larger than factors fueling. That would — that would be a tipping point we’d look for, wouldn’t it be?
MS. TOWNSEND: Well, I think what — I don’t think this is so much a numeric count as an exploiting the vulnerabilities. And we continue to exploit the vulnerabilities every day. This is a constant judgment we make. But I’m not sure of your question. If you’re asking me, do I think we’re winning the long-term battle? Yes. Do I think that means every day is going to be easy and we’re going to see wins every day? No. But kills like Zarqawi are absolute near-term gains.
Q Right. I was just talking about the duration — they talk here the duration of the time frame of this estimate. So that would be the time frame they’re talking about.
MS. TOWNSEND: Right. But what — I guess my point is, while the killing of Zarqawi is a short-term win for us, it’s also a long-term win in the battle of ideas when you look at the context of them saying, his ability to exploit that — the conflict in Iraq and use that to attract the recruits. He can’t do that anymore because he’s dead. So it has both a short-term gain for the U.S., and it is certainly a win for us, but it’s also a longer-term gain in the battle of ideas.
Oh, yeah, killing Zarqawi made a huge difference, as attacks on US forces and the number of Iraqi civilian deaths have roughly doubled since Zarqawi was killed.
These people have nothing. Come on, Democrats, wrap Chimpy’s Vanity War around the necks of every Republican candidate and in Novemebr let them reap what they have sown.