NDN Blog

Intelligence reports predicted Iraq chaos

In my recent interview with Vali Nasr, we talk at lenght about the notion that what is happening in Iraq today - the breakdown of civil society, the rise of Al Qaeda, the sectarian fighting, the regional ascension of the Shia, including Iran - in hindsight was perhaps the most likely outcome of our toppling of Saddam.  

A new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee reveals that many inside the Administration believed this to be so:

Most of the information in the report was drawn from two lengthy assessments issued by the National Intelligence Council in January 2003, titled "Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq" and "Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq," both of which the Senate report reprints with only minor redactions. The assessments were requested by Richard N. Haass, then director of policy planning at the State Department, and were written by Paul R. Pillar, the national intelligence officer for the Near East, as a synthesis of views across the 16-agency intelligence community.

The report includes lists indicating that the analyses, which were reported by The Washington Post last week, were distributed at senior levels of the White House and the State and Defense departments and to the congressional armed services and appropriations committees. At the time, the White House and the Pentagon were saying that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators, democracy would be quickly established and Iraq would become a model for the Middle East. Initial post-invasion plans called for U.S. troop withdrawals to begin in summer 2003.

The classified reports, however, predicted that establishing a stable democratic government would be a long challenge because Iraq's political culture did "not foster liberalism or democracy" and there was "no concept of loyal opposition and no history of alternation of power."

They also said that competing Sunni, Shiite and Kurd factions would "encourage terrorist groups to take advantage of a volatile security environment to launch attacks within Iraq." Because of the divided Iraqi society, there was "a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other unless an occupying force prevented them from doing so."

While predicting that terrorist threats heightened by the invasion would probably decline within five years, the assessments said that lines between al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world "could become blurred." U.S. occupation of Iraq "probably would boost proponents of political Islam" throughout the Muslim world and "funds for terrorist groups probably would increase as a result of Muslim outrage over U.S. actions."

In the immigration debate a clear consensus on a path to citizenship has emerged

For those of us who have been working to fix our broken immigration system, this has been a very good week.   The new Kennedy-Kyl bill made significant headway through the Senate.  Bad amendments were defeated.   Good amendments, particularly the Bingaman amendment limiting the new guest worker plan to 200,000 a year, passed.

Perhaps overlooked in what was a busy week is how the opposition to what is the central provision of what has been called Comprehensive Immigration Reform collapsed, and how a clear national consensus to offer undocumented immigrants legal work status and a path to citizenship has emerged.  This is no small accomplishment, no small development in what has been a very difficult debate, and must be seen as a tremendous victory for Senator Kennedy and those advocating sensible reform.

This opposition, which now includes Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, while it has had many components, has been led since late 2005 by Congressional Republicans.  Their goal was to defeat any bill that had legalized the work status and offered a path to citizenship to the 12 million undocumented immigrants and their families.  Ten of millions of dollars of ads were run in races across the country demonizing Hispanic immigrants and supporters of sensible reform, and in many cases, the ads compared Mexican immigrants to Muslim terrorists.   It was a central plank of virtually every Republican campaign in the nation, from Rick Santorum to JD Hayworth.  While the President and some Senators, led by John McCain, opposed this strategy, they failed to persuade their colleagues and the ads and the campaign continued.

This strategy, of course, didn’t work, and I believe was one of the most significant political miscalculations of a political party in the modern era.  The Republicans demonization of immigrants, reminiscent of Pete Wilson’s efforts in California in the 1990s cost their Party in three ways: first, it has tremendous opportunity costs.  The hundreds of millions of dollars of paid and free media they invested in the issue gained them little or nothing politically.  This money and time and message could have been spent much more productively for them in other ways.  Second, it deeply angered Hispanics, the fastest growing part of the American electorate.  Hispanics swung 20 points to the Democrats and their turnout went up 33% from 2002.  And finally, it reinforced the central argument of the Democrats in 2006 – that Republicans were more interested in politics than solving the big problems facing the nation.  The national GOP whipped up a national frenzy around our “broken borders,” never offered a cogent solution to what is a very real problem and then blocked a sensible bi-partisan effort that would have gone a long way to mending our broken immigration system.

Which brings us to this week.  While we believe the new Senate bill needs further improvement, there should be little doubt that the Republican Party, Republicans in the Senate and the American people have joined the Democrats in embracing the central tenet of what progressives have fought for in this debate – a path to citizenship.  Opponents to the 2006 Senate bill like John Kyl have now embraced the citizenship provisions.  The new Chair of the RNC is a pro-immigration reform Hispanic immigrant, Mel Martinez.  And a new New York Times poll out today shows two-thirds of the nation now supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/25/us/25poll.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin).

While there is a long way to go in this debate, their should be little doubt now that the nation and the leaders of both parties have come to consensus on one central tenet of the immigration debate – there must be a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  For those of us in the trenches on this tough and important issue, we should sit back and recognize that for all the anger and contention significant progress has been made, and it is now much more likely that the lives of 12 million people will be dramatically improved this year. 

Finally, it should be noted that yesterday the Congress voted overwhelmingly to raise the minimum wage.  This has been a very high priority for NDN, and coupled with the progress made on immigration reform, demonstrates that this new Congress is taking the necessary steps to help improve the lives of those people in the United States struggling the hardest to get ahead.  If immigration reform passes this year, tens of millions of families will have had their lives directly affected, and improved, by the actions of this new Congress.  Given the inaction of recent years, these are no small accomplishments for Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi. 

Castro speaks?

For the first time in under a year, Fidel Castro spoke about the illness that led him to transfer his power to his brother, Raúl. Below are excerpts of the editorial, as featured in this article in the Miami Herald that translated Castro's words.

''I make a parenthesis to broach a topic that has to do with my person, and I ask you to excuse me,'' he wrote. ``The [news] cables talk about an operation. My compatriots were not pleased, because on more than one occasion I explained that the recovery was not exempt from risk. In general, they spoke about a day on which I would appear in public, wearing my usual olive-green uniform.

``Well, it was not just one operation but several. Initially, there was no success and that led to the prolonged recovery.''


In Wednesday night's missive, Castro said for the first time that he was fed by IV and catheters for ''many months'' but that he is back up to 176 pounds.

''For many months, I depended on intravenous lines and catheters through which I received an important part of my food, and I did not wish our people to experience unpleasant disappointments,'' he wrote. ``Today, I receive by mouth everything I need for my recovery. No danger is worse than those dangers related to one's age and health, which I abused during the hazardous times in which I lived.''

Quick 2008 update

- Senator Hillary Clinton introduced her 7-step strategy to reduce the costs of health care in a major speech today at George Washington University.

- Mitt Romney released his new "Tested, Proven" ad.

- Al Gore explains the themes behind his book The Assault on Reason on Good Morning America.

- Like Gore did in his book, John Edwards, who just expanded his ad buy to Oregon and gave a major speech on foreign policy, touched on how he believes the internet is good for democracy:

- Speaking of John Edwards, Mike Huckabee's campaign launched a new fundraising drive. Launched on Tuesday, the Huckabee camp is taking "in donations at the price of an average haircut from at least 400 individual contributors in 96 hours." Huckabee also just took part in YouTube's YouChoose campaign with this initial video.

- On the topic of YouTube: Chris Dodd uses the medium to explain why he's voting against the Iraq supplemental, Mike Gravel uses it to discuss War and Integrity, and Ted Sorenson uses it to explain why he endorses Barack Obama.

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.

Menendez: "It's a lousy deal"

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) describes his stance on the Senate's immigration compromise in today's Miami Herald. In his editorial, he discusses his plan to amend the bill so it reflects the values in which he and many others believe; but, more importantly, he provides a realistic criticism of the bill:

The foremost of these is the bedrock principle of family -- more specifically, the ability of American citizens or permanent residents to petition for their families to be reunified here. The deal struck changes the fundamental values of our immigration policy by making an advanced degree or skill in a highly technical profession the most important criteria for a visa. This nation has been built by immigrants who came to achieve success, but the deal tilts toward immigrants whose success stories are already written.

Family reunification will be deemphasized under this deal, serving to tear families apart. From a moral perspective, this undermines the family values that lawmakers so often talk about. Practically speaking, a breakdown of family structure often leads to a breakdown of social stability. I took it to heart when President Bush said that ''family values don't end at the Rio Grande.'' But this agreement, like his proposal before it, belies those words.

Under the deal, the unskilled workers who form a cornerstone of our economy by taking jobs most Americans would not are relegated to a truly temporary, Bracero-style worker program with no chance for permanent residency. Reality is that, without a light at the end of the tunnel, many who enter this program will go underground to stay in America, creating yet another class of undocumented workers.

Then there is the proposed pathway to permanent residency for the 12 million undocumented workers in this deal. One has to ask if it is truly a pathway or an unrealistic obstacle course.

The path includes years of waiting, up to $19,000 in fines and fees per family of four and ''touchback'' provisions requiring heads of households to return to their home countries before applying for reentry. Certainly fines and penalties are necessary, but if they are made prohibitive, millions of undocumented workers may choose to maintain their current status. We would prefer to know who is here to pursue the American Dream and who is here to destroy it.

Clemons on the battle in the WH over Iran

Steve Clemons has an interesting post up on the battle inside the WH over our policy towards Iran.  It is worth reading.

Towards a new American strategy in the Middle East - a special NDN interview with Vali Nasr

I just sent this email out. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment in the comment section.


In recent days we've seen a very public and contentious debate over Iraq here in the US, continued fighting in Afghanistan and a new round of fierce fighting in Lebanon, public demonstrations against the Pakistani government, reports that the Administration has authorized covert action against Iran and a new UN Report suggesting Iran is making greater progress on its nuclear program than previously believed.

All of this new activity reinforces a main argument of the recent Iraq Study Group's report - that America needs not just a military strategy for Iraq, but a comprehensive diplomatic and political approach to this troubled region.

Of all the voices weighing in on what such a strategy would look like, few have been smarter or more persuasive to us here at NDN than noted Middle East scholar Vali Nasr. For many months I've been advocating to all I meet that they read his book The Shia Revival - How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future. This book has taught me more, and helped me understand more about the Middle East today than any other thing I've read in the last several years. If you haven't read it, a new paperback edition of the book is out now and available at your local bookstore or online.

To help bring the important thinking in this book to our members and friends across the country, I sat down and interviewed Professor Nasr two weeks ago here in Washington, DC. I hope all of you will take a moment to watch the interview, now on-line. Of all the arguments he makes, I believe the most important is his recommendations on how to engage and contain Iran.

In all my years at NDN I've never promoted a book or thinker the way I have Vali. All of us here at NDN would love your thoughts on the format, and execution of our "Nasr campaign." Please let me know directly by leaving a comment below.

Thanks for all this, and I hope you enjoy getting to know Vali and his thinking as I have.


Simon Rosenberg

Additional Links:

Watch Vali Nasr on The Colbert Report

Buy The Shia Revival

Read "When the Shiites Rise" from Foreign Affairs

Read related writing from NDN

Join the discussion on our blog

Hillary has a sense of humor

Hillary Clinton released her second video describing how viewers are choosing her official campaign song. She definitely comes across as having a sense of humor about some of the submissions the campaign has received. Check out the video below:

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.

Tamar Jacoby weighs in on the immigration debate

Tamar Jacoby provides a balanced analysis in this article from the Washington Post yesterday. From the lede:

The immigration deal the Senate produced last week is far from perfect, and its critics, left and right, make many valid points. But much of the criticism misses the forest for the trees. Left out of the debate: the historic scope and significance of the deal -- its ambition to deliver an immigration system that grapples with globalization and the choices it poses for America.

As usual, those yelling "amnesty" are the loudest voices. But they are increasingly out of sync with the public on immigration. Poll after poll in the past year shows 60 to 85 percent of voters in favor of an overhaul that would allow illegal immigrants to earn their way to citizenship by meeting certain requirements -- generally far less stringent requirements than those in the Senate compromise, which includes a $5,000 fine, at least a 13-year wait and a trip back to the immigrant's country of origin.

A consequential time - On the Middle East, Globalization and Immigration

This week marks a critical moment in the struggle of so many to move the nation from the disappointing era of Bush to a new and more hopeful era for the nation.  The Senate and House are working to craft a new and better approach to the Middle East; the House Democratic Caucus discussed the new trade deal Tuesday at its weekly meeting; and the Senate has begun a vital and important debate on how to best fix our broken immigration system. 

To help our community better participate in these consequential debates, we offer up the following:

On a new strategy for the Middle East – We are excited to release a recently conducted video interview with noted Middle East expert, Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival.  Professor Nasr, now of the Fletcher School at Tufts, has had a profound influence on our thinking about the Middle East.  You can learn more about his book, read his writing, watch his appearance on The Colbert Report or watch our in-depth and probing interview with him here

On Immigration Reform – NDN is proud to be part of the national coalition working to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year.   On our site you can read our recent statements about the new bi-partisan approach to immigration, watch video of several informative immigration events, including our recent March event with Senators Reid, Kennedy, Salazar and Menendez, and watch and listen to the television and radio ads run by NDN and our affiliate the NDN political fund during the national immigration debate last year. 

On Globalization – On our site you can find the work of our Globalization Initiative, headed by former Clinton chief economic advisor Dr. Robert J. Shapiro.   There you can find our statement about the new trade deal negotiated by Chairman Charlie Rangel,  watch video of our public forums, including a compelling interview with SEIU’s Andy Stern, read a new paper which advocates putting “A Laptop in Every Backpack,” and review our many essays, reports and commentary that seek to craft a new economic strategy for America.

When the American people tossed the Republicans from power last year they were making a clear statement that they wanted their representatives in Washington to stop playing politics and work towards solving the great challenges facing the nation today.   We should be heartened at the progress made so far by the new Congress, and the eagerness of Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi to take on the hard things and not just the easy ones.  

But we should not be under any illusions – ushering in a new era of progress isn’t going to be easy.  Our community, which has contributed so much in the past, simply must stay engaged and active, and work to support in every way those leaders and initiatives working to repudiate the disappointing politics of the Bush era and help make this new century as exciting and successful for America as the one just past. 

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