Seven questions for the NIE

The declassified summary of the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (an NIE is the intelligence community's maximum document) is on the Web.  The leading Key Judgment (on Adobe page 6) is as follows:
Iraqi society's growing polarization, the persistent weakness of the security forces and the state in general, and all sides' ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism. Unless efforts to reverse these conditions show measurable progress during the term of this Estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months, we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006.
I don't know about you, but to me this seems to say that things will either get better or they will get worse.  Which does indeed seem to cover the possibilities.  To someone not part of the intelligence community, however, this "judgment" does not seem to be very crisp.  We can only hope the classified part is more so.

While superficially it would seem that the purpose of an exercise such as an NIE would be to predict the future, in fact predicting the future is a fairly pointless exercise.  Anybody who is reasonably articulate can do it and cannot be proven wrong until the fullness of time.  What is much more useful....and much more difficult.....is to say what is happening now and then to assess the significance of those events.

With this thought in mind, here are seven questions for the Iraq NIE about things that are happening now:   

  1. The Iraqi dinar has appreciated 14% in value in the last three months after having been flat for the previous three years (you can see just how dramatic a move this is if you click on the link and look at the chart).  Is this a true market (as we believe it to be, but cannot prove that it is)?  If so, what is the significance of this move?
  2. Ollie North says that young men are volunteering for the police force in Al-Anbar province at much higher numbers than heretofore. (a) is this true?  (b) what is the significance of it?
  3. Amir Taheri says   that Um Qasr was almost a ghost town in 2003 but has now reopened as a port.  (a) is this true?  (b) what is the significance of it?
  4. There is a lot of violence in Baghdad, and it may be increasing.  If we think of ourselves as a camera looking at the violence and then we turn the camera 90 degrees, do we see the same level of violence, or do we see people standing around with a cup of coffee having a smoke?
  5. Is it possible for the periphery of Iraq to become pacified before the center rather than the other way around? 
  6. What is the unemployment level now as compared to 3 months ago?  6 months ago?
  7. Rudy Giuliani presided over the most dramatic transformation of an urban landscape in the U.S. in the city of New York.  Are there lessons for Baghdad from the transformation of New York even given their very significant differences in circumstances?  Has Mr. Giuliani made an assessment of Baghdad and what might be a strategy for governing it?  If so, what is that strategy?  If not, why has he not been asked?
The declassified summary of the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (an NIE is the intelligence community's maximum document) is on the Web.  The leading Key Judgment (on Adobe page 6) is as follows:
Iraqi society's growing polarization, the persistent weakness of the security forces and the state in general, and all sides' ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism. Unless efforts to reverse these conditions show measurable progress during the term of this Estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months, we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006.
I don't know about you, but to me this seems to say that things will either get better or they will get worse.  Which does indeed seem to cover the possibilities.  To someone not part of the intelligence community, however, this "judgment" does not seem to be very crisp.  We can only hope the classified part is more so.

While superficially it would seem that the purpose of an exercise such as an NIE would be to predict the future, in fact predicting the future is a fairly pointless exercise.  Anybody who is reasonably articulate can do it and cannot be proven wrong until the fullness of time.  What is much more useful....and much more difficult.....is to say what is happening now and then to assess the significance of those events.

With this thought in mind, here are seven questions for the Iraq NIE about things that are happening now:   

  1. The Iraqi dinar has appreciated 14% in value in the last three months after having been flat for the previous three years (you can see just how dramatic a move this is if you click on the link and look at the chart).  Is this a true market (as we believe it to be, but cannot prove that it is)?  If so, what is the significance of this move?
  2. Ollie North says that young men are volunteering for the police force in Al-Anbar province at much higher numbers than heretofore. (a) is this true?  (b) what is the significance of it?
  3. Amir Taheri says   that Um Qasr was almost a ghost town in 2003 but has now reopened as a port.  (a) is this true?  (b) what is the significance of it?
  4. There is a lot of violence in Baghdad, and it may be increasing.  If we think of ourselves as a camera looking at the violence and then we turn the camera 90 degrees, do we see the same level of violence, or do we see people standing around with a cup of coffee having a smoke?
  5. Is it possible for the periphery of Iraq to become pacified before the center rather than the other way around? 
  6. What is the unemployment level now as compared to 3 months ago?  6 months ago?
  7. Rudy Giuliani presided over the most dramatic transformation of an urban landscape in the U.S. in the city of New York.  Are there lessons for Baghdad from the transformation of New York even given their very significant differences in circumstances?  Has Mr. Giuliani made an assessment of Baghdad and what might be a strategy for governing it?  If so, what is that strategy?  If not, why has he not been asked?