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The report warns that the Iraq "jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives," and adds that fighters with experience in Iraq "are a potential source of leadership for jihadists." Its forecast about terrorism is stark: Current trends will mean "increasing attacks worldwide" over the next five years. The global terrorist network is "becoming more diffuse," and new cells "are increasingly likely to emerge" and will be "harder to find and undermine."
None of that is good for a White House that claims to be winning the war on terrorism. However, the report also points out that if the Iraqi jihadists fail, "fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight." It says that condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations "by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism." That's the President's "freedom agenda" his belief that democracy in the Middle East would eventually make Americans safer.
Mark M. Lowenthal, president of the Intelligence & Security Academy, in Arlington, Va., supervised the preparation of National Intelligence Estimates from 2002 to 2005, when he was vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Lowenthal tells TIME that such estimate always allow people "to pick and choose to find whatever you want."
"The Administration is smartly pointing out that there has not been another major attack in five years," Lowenthal said. "You can argue whether that's an accurate portrayal of how much progress we've made. But it's more likely to resonate with people than something in the sixth paragraph of an NIE."
The President's friends and advisers say that his most critical mission is to leave his successors the tools to fight and win a multigenerational war on terror. If the trends described by the report materialize, that fight may be at least as harrowing for them as it has been for him.