Patraeus: Softening Intelligence

I don’t often do the whole, “must read” thing. It’s just not my style. But if I had to pick a must read for the day, it would have to be Political Animal’s Kevin Drum and his post on the recently released NIE, and the implications that could have on the upcoming progress report.

Specifically, what bothers me is finding out that Patraeus actually moved to soften the tone of the NIE.

The NIE, requested by the White House Iraq coordinator, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, in preparation for the testimony, met with resistance from U.S. military officials in Baghdad, according to a senior U.S. military intelligence officer there. Presented with a draft of the conclusions, Petraeus succeeded in having the security judgments softened to reflect improvements in recent months, the official said.

This is worrying considering that the NIE wasn’t exactly all that rosy to begin with.

Civilian casualties remain high, sectarian groups can’t get along, al Qaeda in Iraq is still pulling off high-profile attacks and “to date, Iraqi leaders remain unable to govern effectively,” said the declassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate released Thursday.

In fact, it managed to paint just bad enough of a picture to make the case that we shouldn’t leave Iraq, no more no less.

As Drum posits, this doesn’t bode well for the upcoming progress report that is supposed to decide the fate of our adventure into Iraq.

Petraeus is still a smart guy. He won’t go too far overboard. But he’s obviously been treating the September report like a military operation, trying to generate as much good press and congressional change of heart as he possibly can in the weeks leading up to 9/11. I now expect him to provide just the opposite of what I thought before: a consistently upbeat report studded with just enough accomodations to reality to keep him from seeming completely ridiculous.

Patraeus was supposed to be a one two punch of credibility for the administration following the disastrous (for Republicans) 06 election cycle. The first punch was supposed to be Robert Gates replacing Rummy, and in this regard, I suppose that helped a little in that Gates isn’t quite so… incompetent as Rumsfield, and definitely not as prone to gaffing in front of television cameras. Likewise, Patraeus was well respected across the spectrum, and praised for progress he and his men were able to make in more localized theaters.

But now that he is in the big time, it is starting to look like he’s playing the same game everyone else in the Administration place. Pity.

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