From the current issue of the Washington Monthly:
By now, many in Washington have learned to discount the president's rhetorical excesses when it comes to the war. But even some of his harshest critics take at face value the estimates provided by the military about AQI's presence. Politicians of both parties point to such figures when forming their positions on the war. All of the top three Democratic presidential candidates have argued for keeping some American forces in Iraq or the region, citing among other reasons the continued threat from al-Qaeda.
But what if official military estimates about the size and impact of al-Qaeda in Iraq are simply wrong? Indeed, interviews with numerous military and intelligence analysts, both inside and outside of government, suggest that the number of strikes the group has directed represent only a fraction of what official estimates claim. Further, al-Qaeda's presumed role in leading the violence through uniquely devastating attacks that catalyze further unrest may also be overstated.
Having been led astray by flawed prewar intelligence about WMDs, official Washington wants to believe it takes a more skeptical view of the administration's information now. Yet Beltway insiders seem to be making almost precisely the same mistakes in sizing up al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Despite President Bush's near-singular focus on al-Qaeda in Iraq, most in Washington understand that instability on the ground stems from multiple sources. Numerous attacks on both U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians have been the handiwork of Shiite militants, often connected to, or even part of, the Iraqi government. Opportunistic criminal gangs engage in some of the same heinous tactics.
The hardest part of doing the right thing is knowing what's actually going on. But it's impossible to make sound moral decisions when we're being lied to from every direction. If we can't count on the people who are supposed to be serving the people of the United States to give those people the straight dope on what's going on in Iraq, how can we come to a well-reasoned set of decisions about sound policy?
And yes, I know that they don't really want us to. But the question should be asked regardless.