Many times, President Bush has said that we're fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here. It is an absurd argument in many ways. But the NIE reveals that the opposite is the case—that because we're fighting them in Iraq, we are more likely to face them here.
Does this mean that we should stop fighting AQI or negotiate some separate peace? No, the organization's presence in Iraq—however exaggerated by some officials—is genuinely dangerous, and there is no negotiating with any al-Qaida affiliate in any event.
But it does mean we should do more to co-opt the Sunnis—even some of the Sunni extremists—that serve as AQI's base of support. (We have started to do just that, with some success, in Anbar province.)
And it also means—for yet one more reason, beyond the many others—that we should start to get out of Iraq. (The question, as always, remains how to do so without unleashing catastrophic chaos. One reasonable inference of the NIE is that we should seek a regional resolution of the crisis as a matter of great urgency to the security not only of the Middle East but also of the United States.)
It's worth recalling that, back in the spring of 2003, as the war was getting under way, Paul Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense (and one of the war's outspoken architects), told Vanity Fair that one reason to invade Iraq was to allow U.S. troops to leave Saudi Arabia. The presence of "infidel" soldiers on holy soil had been "a huge recruiting device for al-Qaida," Wolfowitz said. (Osama Bin Laden had publicly cited their presence as a rationale for the attack on the World Trade Center.) Yet the troops couldn't safely leave Saudi Arabia as long as Saddam Hussein was still in Iraq. Hence, Saddam had to be removed first. (Though Wolfowitz didn't say so, another element of the plan was to relocate the U.S. bases from Saudi Arabia to the new, presumably pro-Western Iraq.)
Now, in a horrible irony, the troops in Iraq have become no less "a huge recruiting device for al-Qaida." (Some of Wolfowitz's erstwhile comrades insist he never wanted an occupation; perhaps he didn't grasp that occupations often follow the forced toppling of a government, especially when the entire social structure collapses as a result.)
Some hawks and neocons want to deepen the involvement and attack Iran—either simply to destroy its bourgeoning nuclear program or (in a more fantasy-drenched scenario) to overthrow its unfriendly regime, too.
The NIE warns against this adventurism in only the most slightly veiled terms. While discussing other threats besides al-Qaida, the report states that Lebanon's Hezbollah—which, till now, has confined its attacks to targets outside the United States—"may be more likely to consider attacking the Homeland … if it perceives the United States as posing a direct threat to the group or Iran." (Italics added.)
This amounts to a direct warning to the White House: Don't attack Iran, the entire U.S. intelligence community is saying—and, if you do, you should expect to get hit back.