CONTRARY to the happy talk emanating from the White House, the coming elections in Iraq will produce more internal strife for the United States to deal with, not less.
That's the opinion of the National Intelligence Council, the self-styled "center of strategic thinking in the U.S. government," which provides the director of the Central Intelligence Agency - and presumably the President - with analysis of foreign policy trends.
Perhaps President Bush isn't bothering to read what the council has to say in its latest report, "Mapping the Global Future," because much of it contradicts the administration's smiley-faced assessment of Iraq.
One key conclusion is that Iraq's Jan. 30 elections will produce more violence and possibly precipitate a civil war between rival Shiite and Sunni Muslims for control of the country post-Saddam. If that is the case, the current chaos and the danger to 150,000 U.S. troops on the ground may begin to look tame by comparison.
The intelligence group also skewers a key proposition made by Mr. Bush in the hasty run-up to the Iraq war. The President repeatedly declared that Saddam Hussein had close ties to international terrorists and the invasion was necessary to keep Iraq from becoming a breeding ground for more terrorism. Instead, the report concludes that Iraq - even with the U.S. occupation - has replaced Afghanistan as the prime training ground from which terrorists will launch future attacks.
"The sad thing is we have created what the administration claimed we were intervening to prevent: an Iraq/al-Qaeda linkage," a senior intelligence official told Knight Ridder Newspapers.
This gloomy assessment comes in the context of more and more pessimistic talk in the intelligence community - but outside the White House - about the future of the President's mission in Iraq. In addition, some military commanders are now saying that the U.S. cannot expect to defeat the insurgents, only prepare the Iraqis to take over the battle.
Major battles, such as the one for Fallujah, have convinced at least some military leaders that heavy-metal offensives won't cripple the insurgents. But training Iraqis to replace American troops has hardly been successful.
The Pentagon had planned to train 135,000 Iraqi police, 62,000 national guard personnel, and 24,000 regular army troops. As of last week, according to the Los Angeles Times, there were only 53,000 police, 40,000 national guard troops, and just 4,000 soldiers.
As the violence continues unchecked, Iraqi authorities are still having trouble getting their troops to stand and fight. Police officers routinely flee their stations.
If democracy is to ever take hold in Iraq, conducting elections will be the easy part. The Iraqi people are going to have to decide whether they want to fight for their freedom. If they don't, the whole nasty U.S. incursion may be for naught.