It should have come as no surprise to anyone who's remotely sensate that our ill-fated adventure in Iraq is creating jihadists more efficiently than Rick Wagoner can churn out his gulpers at General Motors.
Even so, the National Intelligence Estimate released earlier this week, which found that terrorists were "increasing in both number and geographic dispersion," is sobering. Particularly when our strategy for defending the nation's airlines centers around what level of viscosity constitutes a gel, and whether we need to tremble at the thought of weaponized Chanel mascara.
Much of the debate around the NIE was entirely predictable. The Democrats jumped on it as evidence that the President's Iraq policy has actually created more terrorist potential than it eliminated, and that the war has acted as a global galvanizer for anti-American passion
The Republicans point to the sections of the report that describe the damage done to Al Qaeda and its leadership, and argue that jidadism was growing around the Muslim world before the invasion of Iraq.
Both of those viewpoints are oversimplifications. Bush's foreign policy is a failure, but not on the basis of whether or not it is a "cause célèbre" for jidahists around the world. We can't base our strategic direction solely on the reactions that our actions trigger. The national interest -- or a moral imperative - could demand decisions that knowingly provoke negative reaction, or even provide a boon to the recruitment departments of terrorist organizations.
So I'm not necessarily troubled by the fact that we're acting as a catalyst for the enemy. Should the Civil Rights movement have tempered its activism because it provoked southern extremists, and triggered violence? The old saw that you should be judged by the enemies you make has truth to it. But what is deeply troubling is that we didn't recognize the obvious inevitability of the jihadist movement growing nearly as fast as MySpace - nor did we plan for it.
That's why the risk of providing yeast to the extremists, and radicalizing the middle, needs to be part of the complex calculus of decision-making, and it is at that level of strategizing and scenario-building where the Bush administration is at its most pathetic.
It's horrifying, in fact, that there isn't the slightest constructive effort underway to change America's perception in the world. This is supposed to be the job of Karen Hughes, who was appointed to the job of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy more than a year ago. Admittedly this is a huge undertaking, but Hughes is exactly the wrong person for the task; she has no sensitivity to the audience she needs to reach, and she's too much of a passionate partisan, viewing the challenge from a "we're right and we need to convince you that you're wrong" perspective." She's the Brownie of communication. Our efforts are laughable.
Hughes recently said " It may take decades to change anti-American feelings around the world that have been aggravated by war in Iraq, U.S. policy toward Israel and America's "sex and violence" culture..."
There's no question it's a long-term game, but her destructive contributions to date - like the bone-headed efforts by the Lincoln Group (more about them in an upcoming post) to pay reporters to write favorable stories about the United States are making the task even more difficult. (For a compelling piece on how ineffectual Hughes has been, read what John H. Brown at the Center for Media and Democracy has recently written.
The essential problem, though, is that you can't have a foreign policy that damns the consequences on one hand, and then struggles to clean up the image consequences of its wreckage on the other. As long as we're unwilling to conceive of foreign policy in anything less than Manicheistic terms, we'd be better off taking Karen Hughes' budget and using it fund more airport gel detectors.