Commentary Magazine


Contentions

New Intelligence Estimates on Afghanistan

It is perhaps unfair to comment on a document you haven’t read, but then National Intelligence Estimates aren’t typically released to the public. So I have to form my conclusions based on news reports such as this one about the latest NIE on Afghanistan.

At the very least it should put to rest any concerns—or any hopes—that David Petraeus, in his new job as director of Central Intelligence, would adjust the intelligence community’s outlook to be more in line with the military’s. Apparently, if the Los Angeles Times reporting can be believed, the new NIE is just as gloomy as the one last year to which Petraeus, as the top military commander, filed a written dissent. This year his successor, Gen. John Allen, and the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Ryan Crocker, have filed their own dissents. I trust their judgment a lot more than I do the NIE-writers in Washington. Allen and Crocker are known as straight-shooters and are much more intimately involved in the war effort than are the faraway intelligence analysts who compiled these reports which are meant to reflect a consensus of the intelligence community—something that inevitably produces lowest common denominator thinking.

I would not say, as the NIE apparently does, the war effort is mired in a “stalemate.” There has been palpable progress especially in the south, which I have seen with my own eyes. That doesn’t mean this NIE is all wrong. It raises legitimate doubts about the administration’s preferred policies in Afghanistan.

According to the Times, it “asserts that the Afghan government in Kabul may not be able to survive as the U.S. steadily pulls out its troops and reduces military and civilian assistance.” It also says recent offensives “haven’t diminished the Taliban’s will to keep fighting.” Both of those judgments sound credible to me—which is why I find it so incredible that so much hope is once again being placed in peace talks with the Taliban, who are opening an office in Qatar. A negotiated settlement will supposedly enable the U.S. to withdraw our troops by 2014 without risking a collapse in Kabul.

As the NIE makes clear, this is wishful thinking: the Taliban aren’t about to give up, and any settlement they agree to now is more likely to trigger a civil war than to end the fighting.