Editor & Publisher:
Saturday's New York Times features an article, posted at the top of its Web site late Friday, that suggests very strongly that Iran is supplying the "deadliest weapon aimed at American troops" in Iraq. The author notes, "Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile."
What is the source of this volatile information? Nothing less than "civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies."
Sound pretty convincing? Well, almost all the sources in the story are unnamed. It also may be worth noting that the author is Michael R. Gordon, the same Times reporter who, on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.
"Every one of Gordon's sources [for the NYT piece] are officials in the Bush administration, and all of them are completely anonymous, so one has no way to assess their interest, perspective, bias, or independence," writes Glenn Greenwald at Unclaimed Territory, "And Gordon himself does not offer the slightest information to enable the reader to make such determinations, and he himself appears blissfully uninterested in any of that."
Sounds familiar. It was Gordon and Miller who reported that WMD were in Iraq and that a source had told them where the evidence was buried. Obviously, that reporting had a little flaw in it -- it was completely untrue. It's likely that when the White House wanted to create a case for war, they turned to Miller and Gordon.
Another pre-Iraq war trick was competing intelligence. Where CIA intelligence had suggested no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, the Pentagon cooked up it's own.
So now, we again see competing intelligence claims. The National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq was just released and, lo and behold, here come the competing reports. The NIE stated that 'Iraq's neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence...'. John Negroponte sat on the NIE for six months -- presumably to allow time for competing intel to be cooked up.
The White House had planned to release a briefing on Iran's involvement in violence in Iraq, but it turned out that it wasn't all that convincing:
White House transcript (via Think Progress, emphasis TP's):
[National Security Adviser Stephen] HADLEY: The reason we put the intelligence briefing on hold was really two reasons. One, we thought we’d better get the NIE out so people could see the full context, which you now can. And secondly, quite frankly, we want to make sure that if we put out intelligence, the intelligence community and MNFI can stand behind it, because we are sensitive to try and put out the facts as accurately as we can. …
Q And now [the briefing has] been pushed back. Can we conclude anything from that other than people looked at the intelligence that was set to offered and said, this is not good enough?
MR. HADLEY: No, I wouldn’t –
Q Does that mean there was a willingness to overstate it?
MR. HADLEY: The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated. And we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts.
The White House claims that while the briefing contains "damning" evidence of Iran's engagement with the Shi'a side of Iraq's hostilities, they're worried "the press will scrutinize the information intensely, that the intelligence 'dots' that the administration has assembled about Iran in Iraq can be connected multiple ways."
In other words, it's not extremely convincing. As the NIE suggested, it wouldn't be hard to show that Iran's involved in Iraq, but violence in Iraq is homegrown -- it's not Iran's fault. I just saw a reporter on CNN showing that iranian mortars were being used in Iraq, but that really doesn't prove much. I'd be willing to bet that most of the rifles in Iraq are russian and chinese -- which doesn't prove that Russia and China are arming the militias. It just proves that there are one hell of a lot of chinese and russian guns in the world.
So what is the Bush administration up to? The worst case scenario is that the troop surge isn't meant to control Iraq, but to get troops in place to attack Iran. This would be beyond idiocy. There wouldn't be a better way to demonstrate to the middle east that their most paranoid fears are true and the extremists are right -- we're practicing imperialism and colonialism. Another possibility is that the administration is using this 'cooked up' evidence to pressure Iran at the negotiating table.
Either way, the results can't possibly be good. We've already seen how disastrous using lies as a weapon can be. There are few people in the world who would look at Iraq and think that operating as if your propaganda were true is a good idea. Unfortunately, this administration seems to be among those few.
Technorati tags: politics; New York Times; Judith Miller; Michael Gordon; Bush tried a propaganda war with Iraq and it was a disaster -- so he's going to try it again with Iran