"The United States is ready to hold new direct talks with Iran on the deteriorating security situation in Iraq," began a short Asociated Press dispatch Tuesday.
I'm sure the reporter who used the word "deteriorating" to describe the security situation in Iraq did so without thinking much about it.
But it isn't true. It is reasonable (though it no longer may be accurate) to describe the security situation in Iraq as "bad," "grim," or "dire." But it isn't getting worse. Security has improved so much since January that after a visit to Iraq last week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said a "sea change" has taken place.
Lest you think Gen. Peter Pace exaggerates, here is what CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, who was with the chairman in Ramadi, told anchor Kiran Chetry:
"What's really extraordinary here is, of course, Ramadi was the heartland of al-Qaeda just a few months ago. Now, today, the streets are quiet. Rebuilding is under way. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary things is they have not had an IED attack on the streets of this city since February."
Hours before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) began his no-snooze-until-we-lose all-night session to force withdrawal from Iraq, the United States announced the capture of Khaled al-Mashhadani, the highest-ranking Iraqi in the leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq. A few days before, Abu Jurrah, the most wanted al-Qaeda figure south of Baghdad, was killed by a precision artillery shell after a tip from local Iraqis.
These indications of progress made no impression on the "surrendercrats," who pronounced the surge a failure before it began.
Americans are being misinformed because many journalists and politicians are less interested in the facts on the ground than in putting their spin on those facts.
On July 12, the Washington Post and AP ran stories based on what their sources in the intelligence community said was a threat assessment compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center.
"A new threat assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts says that al-Qaeda has used its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border to restore its operating capabilities to a level unseen since the months before Sept. 11, 2001," the AP story began.
This prompted some talking heads to tell their viewers that al-Qaeda is as strong today as it was when it flew airplanes into the twin towers.
We don't know what was in the report, because it's still classified. We do know the report was prepared for incorporation into the new National Intelligence Estimate on terrorist threats to the American homeland. The "key judgments" portion was declassified and released on Tuesday.
"We assess that greatly increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts over the past five years have constrained the ability of al-Qaeda to attack the U.S. homeland again and have led terrorist groups to perceive the homeland as a harder target to strike than on 9/11," the first of those key judgments said. Kinda different from what the talking heads led you to expect, isn't it?
The spinmeisters got carried away. Suppose I fall off a roof and break my hip. For a while I'm bedridden, then confined to a wheelchair. Now I can hobble around with a cane. My "operating capabilities" have been restored "to a level unseen" since before I fell off the roof, but they're still a far cry from what they were before I fell off the roof.
Al-Qaeda fell off the roof when we destroyed its sanctuary in Afghanistan. It has regained strength since the government of Pakistan granted it de facto sanctuary last year in the provinces bordering on Afghanistan. But it remains a shadow of its pre-9/11 self.
(Since al-Qaeda has been able to reconstitute itself to the extent it has chiefly because it has had a safe haven in Pakistan, Democrats should ask themselves how granting al-Qaeda a larger safe haven in Iraq will make the terror group easier to defeat.)
George Friedman, who founded the private intelligence service Stratfor, said the NIE "was meant to pressure Pakistan, even if it looked like a total failure of the intelligence community's mission (to disrupt al-Qaeda through covert action)."
"By issuing the NIE report, [the United States] was increasing pressure on [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf to do something decisive about militant Islamists in Pakistan - or the United States would have to do something," Mr. Friedman said.
Mr. Friedman noted that President Musharraf did order a raid on the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad last week. "Pakistan got the message," he concluded.