Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ridiculous NYT and Pentagon claims of Shiite Iranian arms going to Sunnis

April 18, 2007

When all else fails, blame Iran (Part II)

Posted by Scott Harrop at April 18, 2007 11:47 PM

Matters must be really deteriorating in Afghanistan. Why else would the Pentagon brass now be darkly suggesting that Iranian arms have been "captured," supposedly on their way to the Taliban? It sounds suspiciously like the tired old formula; when matters go really bad somewhere in the Middle East, change the subject and blame Iran.

Michael R. Gordon today is competing yet again to be chief salesman for such ominous news. Media bloggers have taken to deeming him the resident "ghost of Judith Miller" at the New York Times, the journalist most willing to "take out Cheney’s trash."

Lately, Gordon has been quite active in reviving support for getting tougher on Iran.

Last week, I commented here on the Pentagon's odd claim that Iran was now not only supporting Iraqi Shia insurgents, but Sunni fighters as well. On February 10th, it was Michael R. Gordon who had started the latest round of Iran-as-the-source-of-trouble-in-Iraq" with a front-page "scoop" that breathlessly cited un-named US sources to contend that Iran was intentionally providing deadly munitions to kill Americans. Gordon's follow-up report generously allowed his sources to defend their claims amid the "controversy," which even a NYTimes editorial criticized. (Amazingly, that editorial neglected to mention that it was their own reporter - Gordon - who catalyzed the controversy).

Like Judy Miller, Gordon has long specialized in providing red meat for neoconservative circles.

Last November, it was Michael R. Gordon reporting that "Iran-backed" Hizbullah was training Iraqi Shia fighters. And throughout the fall, Gordon filed one “report” after another citing "experts" and "analysts" cautioning against quick withdrawal from Iraq, then condemning the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (particularly the idea to talk to Iraq’s neighbors), and then advocating a "surge" of more troops into Iraq.

Back in 2002, it was Michael R. Gordon who wrote regularly with Judith Miller about Iraqi WMD capabilities, most infamously about the aluminum tubes presumed for Iraq's nuclear program. The obvious intent of such articles was to drum up support for invading Iraq sooner rather than later.

The New York Times flagellated itself last year for such bad reporting, and specifically cited the Miller-Gordon "tubes" story as one of the worst examples. Yet Michael R. Gordon remains the Times' lead "military" correspondent.

In a contentious interview last year with Amy Goodman, Gordon curiously claimed that he was merely a recorder of the best intelligence and analysis available (pre-Iraq invasion) and that later "dissenters" had not contacted him.

That's a curious defense. Shouldn't the reporters be the ones casting about for different views?

Gordon may have thought himself funny when he told Goodman: "I'm actually not Judy Miller." !


Today, the NYTimes designates none other than Michael R. Gordon to tell us that Iran is supporting the Taliban (sic) in Afghanistan. That's right, Iran is now accused of sending arms to the Taliban, Iran's mortal arch-enemy.

In 2000, then Bush advisor Condoleze Rice well-illustrated her lack of Middle East credentials (coming into office) when she confidently told the Washington Post that the Taliban were "clients" of Iran. The media has largely forgotten that absurd gaffe.

Now, thanks to Michael R. Gordon, we have insinuations floating that by golly, maybe Condi Rice was “right” all along.


By Gordon's (very low) "standards," his report on the alleged Iran-Taliban link is relatively tame:

First, this time he has a named source at the top: Joint Chiefs’ Chair, Peter Pace, who said simply, “We have intercepted weapons in Afghanistan headed for the Taliban that were made in Iran.” Gordon also included Pace's caution that, “It’s not as clear in Afghanistan which Iranian entity is responsible.”

About half of Gordon’s report about Iran in Afghanistan repeats Gordon's claims about Iran's alleged involvement in Iraqi (sic) mayhem. But Gordon lamely notes that Iran's role in Afghanistan has been more "complicated," noting past Iranian clashes with the Taliban, Iran's support of the Afghan Northern Alliance (which resisted the Taliban), and Iran's firm, cooperative role establishing the current Karzai government.

Gordon manages to find one scholar, Barnett Rubin, to lend a plausible, yet highly speculative argument that Iran, or some element therein, might be consciously interested in supporting their mortal foe - the Taliban.

"The Iranians believe the No. 1 threat is an American attack to overthrow their government. They may do anything it takes to make the United States and its allies uncomfortable there.”

Gordon doesn't bother quoting any of those observers who would counter that Iran has little, if any, interest in supporting the Taliban or the Iraqi Sunni insurgents. No doubt Gordon might again disingenuously claim that no such "dissenters" contacted him.

AP even worse:

Robert Burns, an AP military correspondent, has the "distinction" for out-hyping Gordon. Burns cites two unreliable sources to magnify the Pace claim. First, Burns quotes Mohammad Mohaddessin, a spokesman for the "National Council of Resistance of Iran" (aka the "People's Mujahedin") who claims that,

"Export of fundamentalism and terrorism to neighboring and Islamic countries has been one of the pillars of the clerical regime's foreign policy - something that the Iranian resistance has warned about for the past two decades."

With respect to Iran's ties to Afghanistan, such a black and white statement is ridiculous -- as even Michael Gordon's report should demonstrate. Burns also doesn't mention that the NCR/PMOI is still on the State Department's terrorist list.

Burns also trots out Michael Rubin, now of the neoconservative bastion at the American Enterprise Institute. Rubin attempts to debunk any suggestion that Iran might have ever played a constructive role in Afghanistan, deeming any Iranian efforts to increase its influence in Afghanistan as nefariously aimed at America....

"Iran's leadership often strikes pragmatic relationships to further their influence at our expense... A lot of testimonials about Iranian assistance in Afghanistan are based more on wishful thinking than reality."

Rubin thus still sings the rigid tune of the neocon ideologue - that nothing good, by definition, can come out of Iran, short of regime change.

Not surprisingly, these reports from Gordon and Burns make no mention of far more likely and substantial sources of support for the Taliban – namely, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The Guardian Stands out...:

Curiously, the Washington Post hasn't even bothered to report on the Pace claim - perhaps they saw it for what it was. In my searches thus far, only Britain's Guardian (April 19th edition) has cast a skeptical eye on the intended insinuation. Writing from his base in Kabul, Declan Walsh reports Pace's charge and then (unlike Burns & Gordon) runs a reality check with locals in Afghanistan:

First, he quotes Afghan General Mohiyadeen Ghori, commander of the 205th Corps stationed in Helmand, who said his troops had recovered Iranian-manufactured weapons from insurgents in Farah province, and that Iran was funding insurgents in Garmser district, where several British soldiers have died in heavy fighting.

However, General Ghori also indicates that such funds were being channelled through drug smugglers based in Iranian Baluchistan, and "All they are interested in is money."

Walsh closes his report with the following telling observation:

"Some western officials in Kabul treated the allegations of Taliban support with scepticism yesterday. One said Iranian weapons had been freely available on the black market since the 1990s, when Tehran shipped arms to groups fighting the Taliban. "Out of every 10 Kalashnikovs, one is Iranian," he said. "This is all a war of words. It has very little basis in reality."

Walsh's story also cites western officials suspecting that such charges "coincided with mounting speculation about possible US air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities."

Tehran Radio

Tehran Radio (VOIR in Persian - trans. BBC monitoring) earlier today broadcast a dismissal of the Pace allegations. Apart from noting the strong cultural bonds between Iran and Afghanistan which made an active Iranian presence "inevitable," the commentary noted that,

Iran is one of the few countries that have fulfilled its financial aid promises for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and the measures Tehran has taken for the reconstruction of Afghanistan have all been important and effective.

As for accusations from America to the contrary,

"The military machine of America is stuck in the Afghan mountains and quagmires. In order to justify this situation, American has to blame others and attribute its own problems to foreign countries. There was no mention of Iran up until yesterday, but the more America is frustrated in Afghanistan, the more it focuses its psychological warfare on Iran. The statement of America's chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday is an example of this.

In short, when all else fails, blame Iran.

Tehran Radio also dabbled a bit in analyzing American politics:

The claim is concurrent with the pressures exerted by the Congress and America's public opinion for withdrawal from [Iraq?] and having constructive interaction with Iran. This can be interpreted as a new attempt to cause the Democrats in the Congress to fail in their move to approach Iran.

So that's what it's all about. Senator Webb, take notes.

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