Two weeks ago, the Washington Post published an editorial saying that the governments of the NATO military alliance are being too soft on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine. The editors want even more aggressive support to the governing regime in Kyiv than what is already being given.
In particular, the newspaper objects to the ceasefire agreement that it says beleaguered Kyiv was pressured to sign in Minsk, Belarus on February 15, 2015. The editorial was headlined, ‘Putting Ukraine in an untenable position’ and its reads, “Yet now the German and French governments have enlisted the help of the Obama administration in seeking unilateral Ukrainian compliance with Minsk 2’s onerous political terms, which if fully implemented would implant a Russian-controlled entity inside Ukraine’s political system.”
The editors of the Post are pulling off a ruse. Kyiv has not abided by a single clause of Minsk-2, and the regime’s foreign backers, including in the editorial offices of the nearly all of Western media, keep a careful silence on the subject.
Points ten, eleven and twelve of the Minsk-2 agreement read as follows:
10. Pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under OSCE supervision. Disarmament of all illegal groups.
11. Constitutional reform in Ukraine, with a new constitution to come into effect by the end of 2015, the key element of which is decentralisation (taking into account peculiarities of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, agreed with representatives of these districts), and also approval of permanent legislation on the special status of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in accordance with the measures spelt out in the attached footnote, by the end of 2015.
12. Based on the Law of Ukraine “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts”, questions related to local elections will be discussed and agreed upon with representatives of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group. Elections will be held in accordance with relevant OSCE standards and monitored by OSCE/ODIHR.
So the obligations are clear, but they are being utterly disregarded by Kyiv and, as we see, by its foreign backers.
The Post‘s editorial is also a clear example of the ‘two worlds, two realities’ which prevail in the world today over the Ukraine crisis. One view sees an extreme, right-wing government in Kyiv waging a civil war against a population in the east of Ukraine which rejects Kyiv’s anti-Russia, intolerant nationalism and Kyiv’s pro-austerity embrace of the European Union. The opposite view sees ongoing Russian “invasions”, “occupations” and intervention in Ukraine. Most regretfully, the latter view is shared by a sizable body of liberal, social democratic and even pseudo-Marxist opinion in the West.
The Post editorial describes the present situation in eastern Ukraine as follows: “[Russia’s] forces continue to shell and rocket Ukrainian positions on a daily basis. Far from pulling back heavy weapons or withdrawing its troops as required by the agreement, it has built military bases and deployed 9,000 troops inside Ukraine and stationed another 50,000 just outside the border, according to Ukrainian and NATO officials.”
Funny, on the Post‘s extensive ‘Ukraine crisis‘ compilation of articles, one searches in vain for a single news report confirming the editors’ claims of Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine and ongoing shelling and bombardment. The closest we get to that are reports by Post journalists embedded with the Ukrainian army. But their reports do not come close to verifying the editors’ claims; they consist merely of war-tourism style observations and photos.
So let’s pause for a moment to reflect. The Washington Post (and some other mainstream media) publishes articles and photo stories by journalists in and around Kyiv-controlled eastern Ukraine. But the Post‘s journalists can’t seem to provide examples of how “Russia’s forces continue to shell and rocket Ukrainian positions on a daily basis”. Surely, if the situation is that severe, there must be no shortage of visual examples to provide to readers? And surely the U.S. government can provide satellite images to mainstream media of the “9,000 Russian soldiers” in eastern Ukraine as well as other examples of Russian intervention?
Unless… it’s all, or mostly, make believe.
On the rebel side of eastern Ukraine, there is no shortage of examples of grim, daily shelling by Ukrainian armed forces, which are backed by NATO. Alas, and not by accident, such reports never, ever grace the pages of the Western media.
Canadian opposition parties cheer for more war
The blind, anti-Russia stand of the Washington Post is shared by the parties of the political mainstreams in the United States and Canada.
In Canada, the two main opposition parties are not only aligned with the pro-Kyiv, Conservative Party government in Ottawa. Similar to the Post editors in the U.S., they criticize the federal government in Ottawa for being too soft on Russia.
The New Cold War.org website has recently reported the pro-war views of the leader of the social-democratic New Democratic Party. Tom Mulcair presented his views to the first televised debate of the federal election in Canada on August 6. “We are proud members of NATO,” he declared. Mulcair criticized Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for not adding even more Russian government and business leaders on the government’s war-threatening sanctions list. (The Canadian election will take place on October 19.)
Concerning the Liberal Party in Canada, it appreciates and backs the Harper government’s support of Kyiv, but it also criticizes both the government and the NDP for being too soft on Russia and the “pro-Russian separatists” in eastern Ukraine.
Key ideologues of Liberal Party foreign policy spoke to a public forum on Ukraine in Toronto on August 11. You can view excerpts of the forum here on YouTube, and you can read a favourable print report of the event here. A key demand on the Liberal Party wish-list for Ukraine is that the Canadian government begin to provide heavy weaponry to the Ukrainian army.
One of Canada’s better-known journalists, Dianne Francis, provides a particularly zany version of the “soft on Russia” argument in an article published by the neo-conservative Atlantic Council on August 17. She writes: “World attention focuses on ISIS and Iran, with its half an atomic weapon. But the biggest geopolitical issue is Vladimir Putin, backed by thousands of nuclear weapons, who is gradually conquering Ukraine, a democracy with 45 million people the size of Germany and Poland combined.
“In just over a year, Russia has seized nine per cent of Ukraine, killed 6,200, wounded 30,000, displaced 1.38 million people and shot down a commercial airliner with 298 people aboard.
“Even so, European and American retaliation has been soft, and ineffective…”
Only last month, Francis published several articles praising as heroes Ukraine’s extreme-right and neo-Nazi paramilitary battalions. She is Distinguished Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto and a former editor of the National Post.
Canada is already providing military training to Ukraine’s army, along with non-lethal (sic) military equipment and spying and communication equipment and data. The government and the media support or turn a blind eye to the fundraising going on in Canada by Ukrainian ultranationalists to purchase military equipment for the war. Some of the purchased or supplied equipment serves the ongoing shelling of civilian areas of eastern Ukraine.
The Minsk-2 ceasefire provides a roadmap to end the hostilities in eastern Ukraine. A real ceasefire could open the road to resolution of the large social, economic and political issues that have split Ukraine politically and driven a sizable portion of the its population into revolt. But for now, the cheering for war taking place in Western capitals and editorial offices is a major obstacle for achieving all this.
Roger Annis is an editor of the website The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond. On June 12, he gave a talk in Vancouver, Canada reporting on his visit to Donetsk, eastern Ukraine in April 2015 as part of a media tour group. A video broadcast of that talk is here: The NATO offensive in eastern Europe and the class and the national dynamics of the war in eastern Ukraine.
America’s neocons insist that their only mistake was falling for some false intelligence about Iraq’s WMD and that they shouldn’t be stripped of their powerful positions of influence for just one little boo-boo. That’s the point of view taken by Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt as he whines about the unfairness of applying “a single-interest litmus test,” i.e., the Iraq War debacle, to judge him and his fellow war boosters.
After noting that many other important people were on the same pro-war bandwagon with him, Hiatt criticizes President Barack Obama for citing the Iraq War as an argument not to listen to many of the same neocons who now are trying to sabotage the Iran nuclear agreement. Hiatt thinks it’s the height of unfairness for Obama or anyone else to suggest that people who want to kill the Iran deal — and thus keep alive the option to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran — “are lusting for another war.”
Hiatt also faults Obama for not issuing a serious war threat to Iran, a missing ultimatum that explains why the nuclear agreement falls “so far short.” Hiatt adds: “war is not always avoidable, and the judicious use of force early in a crisis, or even the threat of force, can sometimes forestall worse bloodshed later.”
But it should be noted that the neocons – and Hiatt in particular – did not simply make one mistake when they joined President George W. Bush’s rush to war in 2002-03. They continued with their warmongering in Iraq for years, often bashing the handful of brave souls in Official Washington who dared challenge the neocons’ pro-war enthusiasm. Hiatt and his fellow “opinion leaders” were, in effect, the enforcers of the Iraq War “group think” – and they have never sought to make amends for that bullying.
The Destruction of Joe Wilson
Take, for instance, the case of CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Hiatt’s editorial section waged a long vendetta against Wilson for challenging one particularly egregious lie, Bush’s nationally televised claim about Iraq seeking “yellowcake” uranium from Niger, a suggestion that Iraq was working on a secret nuclear bomb. The Post’s get-Wilson campaign included publishing a column that identified Plame as a CIA officer, thus destroying her undercover career.
At that point, you might have thought that Hiatt would have stepped forward and tried to ameliorate the harm that he and his editorial page had inflicted on this patriotic American family, whose offense was to point out a false claim that Bush had used to sell the Iraq War to the American people. But instead Hiatt simply piled on the abuse, essentially driving Wilson and Plame out of government circles and indeed out of Washington.
In effect, Hiatt applied a “a single-issue litmus test” to disqualify the Wilson family from the ranks of those Americans who should be listened to. Joe Wilson had failed the test by being right about the Iraq War, so he obviously needed to be drummed out of public life.
The fact that Hiatt remains the Post’s editorial-page editor and that Wilson ended up decamping his family to New Mexico speaks volumes about the upside-down world that Official Washington has become. Be conspicuously, obstinately and nastily wrong about possibly the biggest foreign-policy blunder in U.S. history and you should be cut some slack, but dare be right and off with your head.
And the Iraq War wasn’t just a minor error. In the dozen years since Bush launched his war of aggression in Iraq, the bloody folly has destabilized the entire Middle East, resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths (including nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers), wasted well over $1 trillion, spread the grotesque violence of Sunni terrorism across the region, and sent a flood of refugees into Europe threatening the Continent’s unity.
Yet, what is perhaps most remarkable is that almost no one who aided and abetted the catastrophic and illegal decision has been held accountable in any meaningful way. That applies to Bush and his senior advisers who haven’t spent a single day inside a jail cell; it applies to Official Washington’s well-funded think tanks where neoconservatives still dominate; and it applies to the national news media where almost no one who disseminated pro-war propaganda was fired (with the possible exception of Judith Miller who was dumped by The New York Times but landed on her feet as a Fox News “on-air personality” and an op-ed contributor to The Wall Street Journal ).
The Plame-Gate Affair
While the overall performance of the Post’s editorial page during the Iraq War was one of the most shameful examples of journalistic malfeasance in modern U.S. history, arguably the ugliest part was the Post’s years-long assault on Wilson and Plame. The so-called “Plame-gate Affair” began in early 2002 when the CIA recruited ex-Ambassador Wilson to investigate what turned out to be a forged document indicating a possible Iraqi yellowcake purchase in Niger. The document had aroused Vice President Dick Cheney’s interest.
Having served in Africa, Wilson accepted the CIA’s assignment and returned with a conclusion that Iraq had almost surely not obtained any uranium from Niger, an assessment shared by other U.S. officials who checked out the story. However, the bogus allegation was not so easily quashed.
Wilson was stunned when Bush included the Niger allegations in his State of the Union Address in January 2003. Initially, Wilson began alerting a few journalists about the discredited claim while trying to keep his name out of the newspapers. However, in July 2003 – after the U.S. invasion in March 2003 had failed to turn up any WMD stockpiles – Wilson penned an op-ed article for The New York Times describing what he didn’t find in Africa and saying the White House had “twisted” pre-war intelligence.
Though Wilson’s article focused on his own investigation, it represented the first time a Washington insider had gone public with evidence regarding the Bush administration’s fraudulent case for war. Thus, Wilson became a major target for retribution from the White House and particularly Cheney’s office.
As part of the campaign to destroy Wilson’s credibility, senior Bush administration officials leaked to journalists that Wilson’s wife worked in the CIA office that had dispatched him to Niger, a suggestion that the trip might have been some kind of junket. When right-wing columnist Robert Novak published Plame’s covert identity in The Washington Post’s op-ed section, Plame’s CIA career was destroyed.
Accusations of Lying
However, instead of showing any remorse for the harm his editorial section had done, Hiatt simply enlisted in the Bush administration’s war against Wilson, promoting every anti-Wilson talking point that the White House could dream up. The Post’s assault on Wilson went on for years.
For instance, in a Sept. 1, 2006, editorial, Hiatt accused Wilson of lying when he had claimed the White House had leaked his wife’s name. The context of Hiatt’s broadside was the disclosure that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the first administration official to tell Novak that Plame was a CIA officer and had played a small role in Wilson’s Niger trip.
Because Armitage was considered a reluctant supporter of the Iraq War, the Post editorial jumped to the conclusion that “it follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House – that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame’s identity – is untrue.”
But Hiatt’s logic was faulty for several reasons. First, Armitage may have been cozier with some senior officials in Bush’s White House than was generally understood. And, just because Armitage may have been the first to share the classified information with Novak didn’t mean that there was no parallel White House operation to peddle Plame’s identity to reporters.
In fact, evidence uncovered by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who examined the Plame leak, supported a conclusion that White House officials, under the direction of Vice President Cheney and including Cheney aide Lewis Libby and Bush political adviser Karl Rove, approached a number of reporters with this information.
Indeed, Rove appears to have confirmed Plame’s identity for Novak and also leaked the information to Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper. Meanwhile, Libby, who was indicted on perjury and obstruction charges in the case, had pitched the information to The New York Times’ Judith Miller. The Post’s editorial acknowledged that Libby and other White House officials were not “blameless,” since they allegedly released Plame’s identity while “trying to discredit Mr. Wilson.” But the Post reserved its harshest condemnation for Wilson.
“It now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame’s CIA career is Mr. Wilson,” the editorial said. “Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming – falsely, as it turned out – that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials.
“He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.”
A Smear or a Lie
The Post’s editorial, however, was at best an argumentative smear and most likely a willful lie. By then, the evidence was clear that Wilson, along with other government investigators, had debunked the reports of Iraq acquiring yellowcake in Niger and that those findings did circulate to senior levels, explaining why CIA Director George Tenet struck the yellowcake claims from other Bush speeches.
The Post’s accusation about Wilson “falsely” claiming to have debunked the yellowcake reports apparently was based on Wilson’s inclusion in his report of speculation from one Niger official who suspected that Iraq might have been interested in buying yellowcake, although the Iraqi officials never mentioned yellowcake and made no effort to buy any. This irrelevant point had become a centerpiece of Republican attacks on Wilson and was recycled by the Post.
Plus, contrary to the Post’s assertion that Wilson “ought to have expected” that the White House and Novak would zero in on Wilson’s wife, a reasonable expectation in a normal world would have been just the opposite. Even amid the ugly partisanship of modern Washington, it was shocking to many longtime observers of government that any administration official or an experienced journalist would disclose the name of a covert CIA officer for such a flimsy reason as trying to discredit her husband.
Hiatt also bought into the Republican argument that Plame really wasn’t “covert” at all – and thus there was nothing wrong in exposing her counter-proliferation work for the CIA. The Post was among the U.S. media outlets that gave a podium for right-wing lawyer Victoria Toensing to make this bogus argument in defense of Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby.
On Feb. 18, 2007, as jurors were about to begin deliberations in Libby’s obstruction case, the Post ran a prominent Outlook article by Toensing, who had been buzzing around the TV pundit shows decrying Libby’s prosecution. In the Post article, she wrote that “Plame was not covert. She worked at CIA headquarters and had not been stationed abroad within five years of the date of Novak’s column.”
A Tendentious Argument
Though it might not have been clear to a reader, Toensing was hanging her claim about Plame not being “covert” on a contention that Plame didn’t meet the coverage standards of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Toensing’s claim was legalistic at best since it obscured the larger point that Plame was working undercover in a classified CIA position and was running agents abroad whose safety would be put at risk by an unauthorized disclosure of Plame’s identity.
But Toensing, who promoted herself as an author of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, wasn’t even right about the legal details. The law doesn’t require that a CIA officer be “stationed” abroad in the preceding five years; it simply refers to an officer who “has served within the last five years outside the United States.”
That would cover someone who – while based in the United States – went abroad on official CIA business, as Plame testified under oath in a congressional hearing that she had done within the five-year period. Toensing, who appeared as a Republican witness at the same congressional hearing on March 16, 2007, was asked about her bald assertion that “Plame was not covert.”
“Not under the law,” Toensing responded. “I’m giving you the legal interpretation under the law and I helped draft the law. The person is supposed to reside outside the United States.” But that’s not what the law says, either. It says “served” abroad, not “reside.”
At the hearing, Toensing was reduced to looking like a quibbling kook who missed the forest of damage – done to U.S. national security, to Plame and possibly to the lives of foreign agents – for the trees of how a definition in a law was phrased, and then getting that wrong, too.
After watching Toensing’s bizarre testimony, one had to wonder why the Post would have granted her space on the widely read Outlook section’s front page to issue what she called “indictments” of Joe Wilson, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and others who had played a role in exposing the White House hand behind the Plame leak.
Despite Toensing’s high-profile smear of Wilson and Fitzgerald, Libby still was convicted of four felony counts. In response to the conviction, the Post reacted with another dose of its false history of the Plame case and a final insult directed at Wilson, declaring that he “will be remembered as a blowhard.”
With Plame’s CIA career destroyed and Wilson’s reputation battered by Hiatt and his Post colleagues, the Wilsons moved away from Washington. Their ordeal was later recounted in the 2010 movie, “Fair Game,” starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. Though Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison, his sentence was commuted by President Bush to eliminate any jail time.
A Pattern of Dishonesty
While perhaps Hiatt’s vendetta against Joe Wilson was the meanest personal attack in the Post’s multi-year pro-war advocacy, it was just part of a larger picture of complicity and intimidation. Post readers often learned about voices of dissent only by reading Post columnists denouncing the dissenters, a scene reminiscent of a totalitarian society where dissidents never get space to express their opinions but are still excoriated in the official media.
For instance, on Sept. 23, 2002, when former Vice President Al Gore gave a speech criticizing Bush’s “preemptive war” doctrine and Bush’s push for the Iraq invasion, Gore’s talk got scant media coverage, but still elicited a round of Gore-bashing on the TV talk shows and on the Post’s op-ed page.
Post columnist Michael Kelly called Gore’s speech “dishonest, cheap, low” before labeling it “wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible.” [Washington Post, Sept. 25, 2002] Post columnist Charles Krauthammer added that the speech was “a series of cheap shots strung together without logic or coherence.” [Washington Post, Sept. 27, 2002]
While the Post’s wrongheadedness on the Iraq War extended into its news pages – with the rare skeptical article either buried or spiked – Hiatt’s editorial section was like a chorus with virtually every columnist singing from the same pro-invasion song book and Hiatt’s editorials serving as lead vocalist. A study by Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin noted, “The [Post ] editorials during December  and January  numbered nine, and all were hawkish.” [American Prospect, April 1, 2003]
The Post’s martial harmony reached its crescendo after Secretary of State Colin Powell made his bogus presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, accusing Iraq of hiding vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. The next day, Hiatt’s lead editorial hailed Powell’s evidence as “irrefutable” and chastised any remaining skeptics.
“It is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction,” the editorial said. Hiatt’s judgment was echoed across the Post’s op-ed page, with Post columnists from Right to Left singing the same note of misguided consensus.
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq on March 19-20, 2003, and months of fruitless searching for the promised WMD caches, Hiatt finally acknowledged that the Post should have been more circumspect in its confident claims about the WMD.
“If you look at the editorials we write running up [to the war], we state as flat fact that he [Saddam Hussein] has weapons of mass destruction,” Hiatt said in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. “If that’s not true, it would have been better not to say it.” [CJR, March/April 2004]
Concealing the Truth
But Hiatt’s supposed remorse didn’t stop him and the Post editorial page from continuing its single-minded support for the Iraq War. Hiatt was especially hostile when evidence emerged that revealed how thoroughly he and his colleagues had been gulled.
In June 2005, for instance, The Washington Post decided to ignore the leak of the “Downing Street Memo” in the British press. The “memo” – actually minutes of a meeting of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his national security team on July 23, 2002 – recounted the words of MI6 chief Richard Dearlove who had just returned from discussions with his intelligence counterparts in Washington.
“Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” Dearlove said.
Though the Downing Street Memo amounted to a smoking gun regarding how Bush had set his goal first – overthrowing Saddam Hussein – and then searched for a sellable rationalization, the Post’s senior editors deemed the document unworthy to share with their readers.
Only after thousands of Post readers complained did the newspaper deign to give its reasoning. On June 15, 2005, the Post’s lead editorial asserted that “the memos add not a single fact to what was previously known about the administration’s prewar deliberations. Not only that: They add nothing to what was publicly known in July 2002.”
But Hiatt was simply wrong in that assertion. Looking back to 2002 and early 2003, it would be hard to find any commentary in the Post or any other mainstream U.S. news outlet calling Bush’s actions fraudulent, which is what the “Downing Street Memo” and other British evidence revealed Bush’s actions to be.
The British documents also proved that much of the pre-war debate inside the U.S. and British governments was how best to manipulate public opinion by playing games with the intelligence.
Further, official documents of this nature are almost always regarded as front-page news, even if they confirm long-held suspicions. By Hiatt’s and the Post’s reasoning, the Pentagon Papers wouldn’t have been news since some people had previously alleged that U.S. officials had lied about the Vietnam War.
Not a One-Off
In other words, Hiatt’s Iraq War failure wasn’t a one-off affair. It was a long-running campaign to keep the truth from the American people and to silence and even destroy critics of the war. The overall impact of this strategy was to ensure that war was the only option.
And, in that sense, Hiatt’s history as a neocon war propagandist belies his current defense of fellow neocon pundits who are rallying opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. While Hiatt claims that his colleagues shouldn’t be accused of “lusting for another war,” that could well be the consequence if their obstructionism succeeds.
It has long been part of the neocon playbook to pretend that, of course, they don’t want war but then put the United States on a path that leads inevitably to war. Before the Iraq War, for instance, neocons argued that U.S. troops should be deployed to the region to compel Saddam Hussein to let in United Nations weapons inspectors – yet once the soldiers got there and the inspectors inside Iraq were finding no WMD, the neocons argued that the invasion had to proceed because the troops couldn’t just sit there indefinitely while the inspectors raced around futilely searching for the WMD.
Similarly, you could expect that if the neocons succeed in torpedoing the Iran deal, the next move would be to demand that the United States deliver an ultimatum to Iran: capitulate or get bombed. Then, if Iran balked at surrender, the neocons would say that war and “regime change” were the only options to maintain American “credibility.” The neocons are experts at leading the U.S. media, politicians and public by the nose – to precisely the war outcome that the neocons wanted from the beginning. Hiatt is doing his part.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
The United States and five other powers that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran based it on verification, not on trust. The media need to start applying to same standard rather than trusting the often questionable claims of their favorite expert on nuclear proliferation, David Albright.
Albright, who is president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, has long been a loud and oft-quoted critic of Iran’s nuclear intentions. His latest salvo was his widely reported claim that Iran is engaging in suspicious activity at Parchin, a military facility in northern Iran, that “could be related” to “sanitization efforts” to defeat verification efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Albright’s suspicions were buttressed by two anti-Iran-deal columnists who reported that the “U.S. intelligence community” was also studying recent photos of the site for possible evidence of clean-up work ahead of planned inspections. His claims were touted by the Washington Post’s right-wing blogger Jennifer Rubin as one more reason to reject the Iran nuclear deal. The Post’s neoconservative-leaning opinion page also gave Albright a column to repeat his assertions, and to ridicule as “mirthful” Iran’s denials.
But credible experts with much more serious credentials than Albright have undercut his latest report along with many of his earlier warnings about Iran’s nuclear plans. Needless to say, they have received much less media attention.
Albright’s Aug. 5 report — a mere one page of text along with three photos — began by describing Parchin as a facility “that is linked to past high explosive work on nuclear weapons.” That unqualified phrase should have concerned reporters right from the start.
Yes, there have been unproven claims that Iran tested non-nuclear high-explosive devices at Parchin — but they have been debunked by no less an authority than Robert Kelley, former director of the Department of Energy’s Remote Sensing Laboratory and former director of the IAEA’s nuclear inspections in Iraq. Moreover, IAEA found nothing amiss during two unrestricted visits to Parchin in 2005, though Iran has rebuffed its requests for return visits.
Albright’s report then analyzed several recent satellite photos, which show something happening on the roofs of two buildings, several “possible oil spills,” and a couple of vehicles, possibly including a bulldozer. In contrast, a photo taken before the signing of the agreement showed “little activity” and no vehicles. In addition, two new structures “of unknown purpose” had been erected since May. All of this pointed, in Albright’s fevered imagination, to a “last ditch effort to try to ensure that no incriminating evidence will be found.”
He offered not a shred of evidence to link the mundane visual clues to his dramatic conclusion. One wonders if any reporters actually looked at his photo evidence critically.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, stated in response that the activities at Parchin were related to road construction. Opponents of the deal “have spread these lies before,” he added. “Their goal is to damage the agreement.”
In his Washington Post column, Albright twisted Zarif’s words to claim that he “chose to deny the visible evidence in commercial satellite imagery. Iran’s comments would be mirthful if the topic were not so serious.” Of course, Zarif was disputing not the imagery but the tendentious conclusions that Albright drew from it.
Albright’s conclusions were also disputed by Kelley, the American nuclear weapons scientist and inspector, who studied a much larger sample of satellite photos over the past five years and found no evidence of any unexplained activity. He also took issue with a subsequent Albright “imagery brief” calling suspicious attention to more than 20 cars parked between Parchin and a nearby dam.
“The ‘parking lot of death’ has been imaged dozens of times and there are clear patterns of passenger cars parked there,” Kelley told Bloomberg News. “There have been no indicators of a change in Iranian activities of any significance — no earth moving or sanitization whatsoever.”
Other experts also derided Albright’s overheated conclusions. “Parchin is an active site and movement is inevitable,” said Paul Ingram, executive director of the British American Security Information Council. “Attempting an impossible cleanup in full view of satellites and just before Congressional votes would be stretching conspiracy theories beyond breaking point.”
Who should one believe? Expert nuclear inspectors like Kelley, or Albright, who apparently has no advanced training as a nuclear engineer or photographic interpreter?
Scott Ritter, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector and IAEA consultant, unloaded on Albright several years ago, saying he has “a track record of making half-baked analyses derived from questionable sources seem mainstream. He breathes false legitimacy into these factually challenged stories by cloaking himself in a résumé which is disingenuous in the extreme. Eventually, one must begin to question the motives of Albright and ISIS” (the unfortunate acronym of Albright’s organization).
Ritter cited example after example of Albright peddling misinformation: “On each occasion, Albright is fed sensitive information from a third party, and then packages it in a manner that is consumable by the media. The media, engrossed with Albright’s misleading résumé (“former U.N. weapons inspector,” “Doctor,” “physicist” and “nuclear expert”), give Albright a full hearing, during which time the particulars the third-party source wanted made public are broadcast or printed for all the world to see. More often than not, it turns out that the core of the story pushed by Albright is, in fact, wrong.”
Ritter concluded his blast, “It is high time the mainstream media began dealing with David Albright for what he is (a third-rate reporter and analyst), and what he isn’t (a former U.N. weapons inspector, doctor, nuclear physicist or nuclear expert). It is time for David Albright, the accidental inspector, to exit stage right. Issues pertaining to nuclear weapons and their potential proliferation are simply too serious to be handled by amateurs and dilettantes.”
Judging by the latest dust-up, Albright remains a media darling, able to garner headlines whenever he lobs new charges into the political battlefield. The issues at stake in the Iran nuclear deal, to echo Ritter, are simply too serious to be muddied by such irresponsible speculation. It’s high time the media began subjecting Albright — and all quoted experts — to more careful verification of their credentials and claims.
For more on Albright and other fake experts on Iran’s nuclear program, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Israel Clears the Bench in Iran Fight.”
The Washington Post’s descent into the depths of neoconservative propaganda – willfully misleading its readers on matters of grave importance – apparently knows no bounds as was demonstrated with two deceptive articles regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin and why his government is cracking down on “foreign agents.”
If you read the Post’s editorial on Wednesday and a companion op-ed by National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, you would have been led to believe that Putin is delusional, paranoid and “power mad” in his concern that outside money funneled into non-governmental organizations represents a threat to Russian sovereignty.
The Post and Gershman were especially outraged that the Russians have enacted laws requiring NGOs financed from abroad and seeking to influence Russian policies to register as “foreign agents” – and that one of the first funding operations to fall prey to these tightened rules was Gershman’s NED.
The Post’s editors wrote that Putin’s “latest move, announced Tuesday, is to declare the NED an ‘undesirable’ organization under the terms of a law that Mr. Putin signed in May. The law bans groups from abroad who are deemed a ‘threat to the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, its defense capabilities and its national security.’
“The charge against the NED is patently ridiculous. The NED’s grantees in Russia last year ran the gamut of civil society. They advocated transparency in public affairs, fought corruption and promoted human rights, freedom of information and freedom of association, among other things. All these activities make for a healthy democracy but are seen as threatening from the Kremlin’s ramparts. …
“The new law on ‘undesirables’ comes in addition to one signed in 2012 that gave authorities the power to declare organizations ‘foreign agents’ if they engaged in any kind of politics and receive money from abroad. The designation, from the Stalin era, implies espionage.”
But there are several salient facts that the Post’s editors surely know but don’t want you to know. The first is that NED is a U.S. government-funded organization created in 1983 to do what the Central Intelligence Agency previously had done in financing organizations inside target countries to advance U.S. policy interests and, if needed, help in “regime change.”
The secret hand behind NED’s creation was CIA Director William J. Casey who worked with senior CIA covert operation specialist Walter Raymond Jr. to establish NED in 1983. Casey – from the CIA – and Raymond – from his assignment inside President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council – focused on creating a funding mechanism to support groups inside foreign countries that would engage in propaganda and political action that the CIA had historically organized and paid for covertly. To partially replace that CIA role, the idea emerged for a congressionally funded entity that would serve as a conduit for this money.
But Casey recognized the need to hide the strings being pulled by the CIA. “Obviously we here [at CIA] should not get out front in the development of such an organization, nor should we appear to be a sponsor or advocate,” Casey said in one undated letter to then-White House counselor Edwin Meese III – as Casey urged creation of a “National Endowment.”
NED Is Born
The National Endowment for Democracy took shape in late 1983 as Congress decided to also set aside pots of money — within NED — for the Republican and Democratic parties and for organized labor, creating enough bipartisan largesse that passage was assured. But some in Congress thought it was important to wall the NED off from any association with the CIA, so a provision was included to bar the participation of any current or former CIA official, according to one congressional aide who helped write the legislation.
This aide told me that one night late in the 1983 session, as the bill was about to go to the House floor, the CIA’s congressional liaison came pounding at the door to the office of Rep. Dante Fascell, a senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a chief sponsor of the bill. The frantic CIA official conveyed a single message from CIA Director Casey: the language barring the participation of CIA personnel must be struck from the bill, the aide recalled, noting that Fascell consented, not fully recognizing the significance of the demand.
The aide said Fascell also consented to the Reagan administration’s choice of Carl Gershman to head the National Endowment for Democracy, again not recognizing how this decision would affect the future of the new entity and American foreign policy. Gershman, who had followed the classic neoconservative path from youthful socialism to fierce anticommunism, became NED’s first (and, to this day, only) president.
Though NED is technically independent of U.S. foreign policy, Gershman in the early years coordinated decisions on grants with Raymond at the NSC. For instance, on Jan. 2, 1985, Raymond wrote to two NSC Asian experts that “Carl Gershman has called concerning a possible grant to the Chinese Alliance for Democracy (CAD). I am concerned about the political dimension to this request. We should not find ourselves in a position where we have to respond to pressure, but this request poses a real problem to Carl.”
Currently, Gershman’s NED dispenses more than $100 million a year in U.S. government funds to various NGOs, media outlets and activists around the world. The NED also has found itself in the middle of political destabilization campaigns against governments that have gotten on the wrong side of U.S. foreign policy. For instance, prior to the February 2014 coup in Ukraine, overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych and installing an anti-Russian regime in Kiev, NED was funding scores of projects.
A second point left out of the Post’s editorial was the fact that Gershman took a personal hand in the Ukraine crisis and recognized it as an interim step toward regime change in Moscow. On Sept. 26, 2013, Gershman published an op-ed in the Washington Post that called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and explained how pulling it into the Western camp could contribute to the ultimate defeat of Russian President Putin.
“Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents,” Gershman wrote. “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” In other words, NED is a U.S. government-financed entity that has set its sights on ousting Russia’s current government.
A third point that the Post ignored is that the Russian law requiring outside-funded political organizations to register as “foreign agents” was modeled on a U.S. law, the Foreign Agent Registration Act. In other words, the U.S. government also requires individuals and entities working for foreign interests and seeking to influence U.S. policies to disclose those relationships with the U.S. Justice Department or face prison.
If the Post’s editors had included any or all of these three relevant factors, you would have come away with a more balanced understanding of why Russia is acting as it is. You might still object but at least you would be aware of the full story. By concealing all three points, the Post’s editors were tricking you and other readers into accepting a propagandistic viewpoint – that the Russian actions were crazy and that Putin was, according to the Post’s headline, “power mad.”
But you might think that Gershman would at least acknowledge some of these points in his Post op-ed, surely admitting that NED is financed by the U.S. government. But Gershman didn’t. He simply portrayed Russia’s actions as despicable and desperate.
“Russia’s newest anti-NGO law, under which the National Endowment for Democracy on Tuesday was declared an “undesirable organization” prohibited from operating in Russia, is the latest evidence that the regime of President Vladimir Putin faces a worsening crisis of political legitimacy,” Gershman wrote, adding:
“This is the context in which Russia has passed the law prohibiting Russian democrats from getting any international assistance to promote freedom of expression, the rule of law and a democratic political system. Significantly, democrats have not backed down. They have not been deterred by the criminal penalties contained in the ‘foreign agents’ law and other repressive laws. They know that these laws contradict international law, which allows for such aid, and that the laws are meant to block a better future for Russia.”
The reference to how a “foreign agents” registration law conflicts with international law might have been a good place for Gershman to explain why what is good for the goose in the United States isn’t good for the gander in Russia. But hypocrisy is a hard thing to rationalize and would have undermined the propagandistic impact of the op-ed.
So would an acknowledgement of where NED’s money comes from. How many governments would allow a hostile foreign power to sponsor politicians and civic organizations whose mission is to undermine and overthrow the existing government and put in someone who would be compliant to that foreign power?
Not surprisingly, Gershman couldn’t find the space to include any balance in his op-ed – and the Post’s editors didn’t insist on any.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
If the neoconservatives have their way again, U.S. ground troops will reoccupy Iraq, the U.S. military will take out Syria’s secular government (likely helping Al Qaeda and the Islamic State take over), and the U.S. Congress will not only kill the Iran nuclear deal but follow that with a massive increase in military spending.
Like spraying lighter fluid on a roaring barbecue, the neocons also want a military escalation in Ukraine to burn the ethnic Russians out of the east and the neocons dream of spreading the blaze to Moscow with the goal of forcing Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin. In other words, more and more fires of Imperial “regime change” abroad even as the last embers of the American Republic die at home.
Much of this “strategy” is personified by a single Washington power couple: arch-neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century and an early advocate of the Iraq War, and his wife, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who engineered last year’s coup in Ukraine that started a nasty civil war and created a confrontation between nuclear-armed United States and Russia.
Kagan, who cut his teeth as a propaganda specialist in support of the Reagan administration’s brutal Central American policies in the 1980s, is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributing columnist to The Washington Post’s neocon-dominated opinion pages.
On Friday, Kagan’s column baited the Republican Party to do more than just object to President Barack Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal. Kagan called for an all-out commitment to neoconservative goals, including military escalations in the Middle East, belligerence toward Russia and casting aside fiscal discipline in favor of funneling tens of billions of new dollars to the Pentagon.
Kagan also showed how the neocons’ world view remains the conventional wisdom of Official Washington despite their disastrous Iraq War. The neocon narrative gets repeated over and over in the mainstream media no matter how delusional it is.
For instance, a sane person might trace the origins of the bloodthirsty Islamic State back to President George W. Bush’s neocon-inspired Iraq War when this hyper-violent Sunni movement began as “Al Qaeda in Iraq” blowing up Shiite mosques and instigating sectarian bloodshed. It later expanded into Syria where Sunni militants were seeking the ouster of a secular regime led by Alawites, a Shiite offshoot. Though changing its name to the Islamic State, the movement continued with its trademark brutality.
But Kagan doesn’t acknowledge that he and his fellow neocons bear any responsibility for this head-chopping phenomenon. In his neocon narrative, the Islamic State gets blamed on Iran and Syria, even though those governments are leading much of the resistance to the Islamic State and its former colleagues in Al Qaeda, which in Syria backs a separate terrorist organization, the Nusra Front.
But here is how Kagan explains the situation to the Smart People of Official Washington: “Critics of the recent nuclear deal struck between Iran and the United States are entirely right to point out the serious challenge that will now be posed by the Islamic republic. It is an aspiring hegemon in an important region of the world.
“It is deeply engaged in a region-wide war that encompasses Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, the Gulf States and the Palestinian territories. It subsidizes the murderous but collapsing regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and therefore bears primary responsibility for the growing strength of the Islamic State and other radical jihadist forces in that country and in neighboring Iraq, where it is simultaneously expanding its influence and inflaming sectarian violence.”
The Real Hegemon
While ranting about “Iranian hegemony,” Kagan called for direct military intervention by the world’s true hegemonic power, the United States. He wants the U.S. military to weigh in against Iran on the side of two far more militarily advanced regional powers, Israel and Saudi Arabia, whose combined weapons spending dwarfs Iran’s and includes – with Israel – a sophisticated nuclear arsenal.
Yet reality has never had much relationship to neocon ideology. Kagan continued: “Any serious strategy aimed at resisting Iranian hegemony has also required confronting Iran on the several fronts of the Middle East battlefield. In Syria, it has required a determined policy to remove Assad by force, using U.S. air power to provide cover for civilians and create a safe zone for Syrians willing to fight.
“In Iraq, it has required using American forces to push back and destroy the forces of the Islamic State so that we would not have to rely, de facto, on Iranian power to do the job. Overall, it has required a greater U.S. military commitment to the region, a reversal of both the perceived and the real withdrawal of American power.
“And therefore it has required a reversal of the downward trend in U.S. defense spending, especially the undoing of the sequestration of defense funds, which has made it harder for the military even to think about addressing these challenges, should it be called upon to do so. So the question for Republicans who are rightly warning of the danger posed by Iran is: What have they done to make it possible for the United States to begin to have any strategy for responding?”
In Kagan’s call for war and more war, we’re seeing, again, the consequence of failing to hold neocons accountable after they pushed the country into the illegal and catastrophic Iraq War by selling lies about weapons of mass destruction and telling tales about how easy it would be.
Instead of facing a purge that should have followed the Iraq calamity, the neocons consolidated their power, holding onto key jobs in U.S. foreign policy, ensconcing themselves in influential think tanks, and remaining the go-to experts for mainstream media coverage. Being wrong about Iraq has almost become a badge of honor in the upside-down world of Official Washington.
But we need to unpack the truckload of sophistry that Kagan is peddling. First, it is simply crazy to talk about “Iranian hegemony.” That was part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rhetoric before the U.S. Congress on March 3 about Iran “gobbling up” nations – and it has now become a neocon-driven litany, but it is no more real just because it gets repeated endlessly.
For instance, take the Iraq case. It has a Shiite-led government not because Iran invaded Iraq, but because the United States did. After the U.S. military ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, the United States stood up a new government dominated by Shiites who, in turn, sought friendly relations with their co-religionists in Iran, which is entirely understandable and represents no aggression by Iran. Then, after the Islamic State’s dramatic military gains across Iraq last summer, the Iraqi government turned to Iran for military assistance, also no surprise.
Back to Iraq
However, leaving aside Kagan’s delusional hyperbole about Iran, look at what he’s proposing. He wants to return a sizable U.S. occupation force to Iraq, apparently caring little about the U.S. soldiers who were rotated multiple times into the war zone where almost 4,500 died (along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis). Having promoted Iraq War I and having paid no price, Kagan now wants to give us Iraq War II. [III!]
But that’s not enough. Kagan wants the U.S. military to intervene to make sure the secular government of Syria is overthrown, even though the almost certain winners would be Sunni extremists from the Islamic State or Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. Such a victory could lead to genocides against Syria’s Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other minorities. At that point, there would be tremendous pressure for a full-scale U.S. invasion and occupation of Syria, too.
That may be why Kagan wants to throw tens of billions of dollar more into the military-industrial complex, although the true price tag for Kagan’s new wars would likely run into the trillions of dollars. Yet, Kagan still isn’t satisfied. He wants even more military spending to confront “growing Chinese power, an aggressive Russia and an increasingly hegemonic Iran.”
In his conclusion, Kagan mocks the Republicans for not backing up their tough talk: “So, yes, by all means, rail about the [Iran] deal. We all look forward to the hours of floor speeches and campaign speeches that lie ahead. But it will be hard to take Republican criticisms seriously unless they start doing the things that are in their power to do to begin to address the challenge.”
While it’s true that Kagan is now “just” a neocon ideologue – albeit one with important platforms to present his views – his wife Assistant Secretary of State Nuland shares his foreign policy views and even edits many of his articles. As she told The New York Times last year, “nothing goes out of the house that I don’t think is worthy of his talents. Let’s put it that way.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama’s True Foreign Policy ‘Weakness.’”]
But Nuland is a foreign policy force of her own, considered by some in Washington to be the up-and-coming “star” at the State Department. By organizing the “regime change” in Ukraine – with the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 – Nuland also earned her spurs as an accomplished neocon.
Nuland has even outdone her husband, who may get “credit” for the Iraq War and the resulting chaos, but Nuland did him one better, instigating Cold War II and reviving hostilities between nuclear-armed Russia and the United States. After all, that’s where the really big money will go – toward modernizing nuclear arsenals and ordering top-of-the-line strategic weaponry.
A Family Business
There’s also a family-business aspect to these wars and confrontations, since the Kagans collectively serve not just to start conflicts but to profit from grateful military contractors who kick back a share of the money to the think tanks that employ the Kagans.
For instance, Robert’s brother Frederick works at the American Enterprise Institute, which has long benefited from the largesse of the Military-Industrial Complex, and his wife Kimberly runs her own think tank called the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
According to ISW’s annual reports, its original supporters were mostly right-wing foundations, such as the Smith-Richardson Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, but it was later backed by a host of national security contractors, including major ones like General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and CACI, as well as lesser-known firms such as DynCorp International, which provided training for Afghan police, and Palantir, a technology company founded with the backing of the CIA’s venture-capital arm, In-Q-Tel. Palantir supplied software to U.S. military intelligence in Afghanistan.
Since its founding in 2007, ISW has focused mostly on wars in the Middle East, especially Iraq and Afghanistan, including closely cooperating with Gen. David Petraeus when he commanded U.S. forces in those countries. However, more recently, ISW has begun reporting extensively on the civil war in Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons Guided Petraeus on Afghan War.”]
So, to understand the enduring influence of the neocons – and the Kagan clan, in particular – you have to appreciate the money connections between the business of war and the business of selling war. When the military contractors do well, the think tanks that advocate for heightened global tensions do well, too.
And, it doesn’t hurt to have friends and family inside the government making sure that policymakers do their part to give war a chance — and to give peace the old heave-ho.
[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Family Business of Perpetual War.”]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
There is a madness in how the mainstream U.S. media presents the world to the American people, a delusional perspective that arguably creates an existential threat to humanity’s survival. We have seen this pattern in the biased depiction of the Ukraine crisis and now in how Official Washington is framing the debate over the Iranian nuclear agreement.
In this American land of make-believe, Iran is assailed as the chief instigator of instability in the Middle East. Yet, any sane and informed person would dispute that assessment, noting the far greater contributions made by Israel, Saudi Arabia and, indeed, the United States.
Israel’s belligerence, including frequently attacking its Arab neighbors and brutally repressing the Palestinians, has roiled the region for almost 70 years. Not to mention that Israel is a rogue nuclear state that has been hiding a sophisticated atomic-bomb arsenal.
An objective observer also would note that Saudi Arabia has been investing its oil wealth for generations to advance the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, which has inspired terrorist groups from Al Qaeda to the Islamic State. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were identified as Saudis and the U.S. government is still concealing those 28 pages of the congressional 9/11 inquiry regarding Saudi financing of Al Qaeda terrorists.
The Saudis also have participated directly and indirectly in regional wars, including encouragement of Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980, support for Al Qaeda-affiliate Nusra Front’s subversion of Syria, and the current Saudi bombardment of Yemen, killing hundreds of civilians, touching off a humanitarian crisis and helping Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate expand its territory.
Then there’s the United States, which has been meddling in the Middle East overtly and covertly for a very long time, including one of the CIA’s first covert operations, the overthrow of Iran’s elected government in 1953, and one of U.S. foreign policy’s biggest overt blunders, President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Iran coup engendered a deep-seated hatred and suspicion of the U.S. government among Iranians that extends to the present day. And, the Iraq invasion not only spread death and destruction across Iraq but has spilled over into Syria, where U.S. “allies” – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel – have been seeking another “regime change” that is being spearheaded by Sunni terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State.
The U.S. government has further aided in the destabilization of the region by flooding U.S. “allies” with powerful military equipment, including aircraft that both Israel and Saudi Arabia have used to bomb neighboring countries.
Yet, in the fantasy land that is Official Washington, the politicians and pundits decry “Iranian aggression,” parroting the propaganda theme dictated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he spoke before an adoring audience of senators and congressmen at a joint session of Congress on March 3.
This Iranian “bad behavior” includes helping the Iraqi government withstand brutal attacks by the Islamic State and assisting the Syrian government in blocking a major victory for Islamic terrorism that would follow the fall of Damascus. Iran is also being blamed for the Houthi uprising in Yemen although most informed observers believe the Iranian influence and assistance are minimal.
In other words, the neoconservatives who dominate Official Washington’s “group think” may detest Iran’s regional activities since they are not in line with Israeli (and Saudi) desires, but less ideological analysts might conclude that – on balance – Iran is contributing to the stability of the region or at least helping to avert the worst outcomes.
A Lost Mind
The question becomes: Has Official Washington so lost its collective mind that it actually favors Al Qaeda or the Islamic State raising the black flag of Islamic terrorism over Damascus and even Baghdad? Is Iranian assistance in averting such a calamity such a terrible thing?
Apparently yes. Here’s how The Washington Post’s foreign affairs honcho David Ignatius – in a column entitled “Will Tehran Behave?” – describes the geopolitical situation following Tuesday’s signing of a deal to tightly constrain Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions:
“The problem isn’t the agreement but Iran itself. Its behavior remains defiantly belligerent, even as it signs an accord pledging to be peaceful. Its operatives subvert neighboring regimes, even as their front companies are about to be removed from the sanctions lists. The agreement welcomes Iran to the community of nations, even though its leader proclaims that Iran is a revolutionary cause.
“Obama argues that dealing with a menacing Iran will be easier if the nuclear issue is off the table for the next 10 years. He’s probably right, but the Iran problem won’t vanish with this accord. Iranian behavior in the region becomes the core issue. Having played the dealmaker, Obama must now press Iran to become a more responsible neighbor.”
By the way, I always thought that the United States proclaimed itself “a revolutionary cause.” But here is Ignatius, who is regarded as a “big thinker,” setting the parameters of the acceptable debate about the Iran nuclear deal. It’s all about Iran’s “behavior.”
Ignatius even quotes Netanyahu decrying the danger that, after 10 years, the agreement will give Iran “a sure path to nuclear weapons.” Of course, Ignatius doesn’t bother to note that Israel already has taken its own path to nuclear weapons. That context is almost never mentioned.
Nor does Ignatius admit how he and many of his fellow pundits supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which in a normal, parallel universe would disqualify Ignatius and his friends from lecturing anyone about how to “behave.” But in today’s Official Washington, a pre-war endorsement of the Iraq disaster is not a disqualifier but a prerequisite for being taken seriously.
Similarly, The Washington Post’s editorial page, which in 2002-03 eagerly backed Bush’s invasion and routinely asserted as flat fact that Iraq possessed hidden WMD stockpiles, now says the real risk in the Iran deal is, you guessed it, “Iranian behavior.”
The Post says the deal could unleash “a dangerous threshold nuclear state that poses a major threat to the United States and its allies.” And, the Post warns that Iran’s “leaders will probably use” the money from the sanctions relief “to finance wars and terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, the Gaza Strip, Yemen and elsewhere.”
Step into Crazy Land
Again, to appreciate the Post’s thinking, you have to step into crazy land. In the real Iraq and the real Syria, the Iranians are supporting internationally recognized governments battling against terrorist groups, Al Qaeda’s affiliate and the Islamic State.
In Yemen, Iranian involvement is probably minor at most. Plus, the Houthis are not a terrorist group, but rather an indigenous popular movement that has been fighting Al Qaeda’s terrorist affiliate in Yemen.
While it’s not clear what the Post thinks that Iran is doing in the Gaza Strip, which is under a tight Israeli military blockade, only fully committed neocons would think that the long-suffering people of the Gaza Strip don’t deserve some outside help.
Still, the larger issue for the American people is what to do with this insane political-media system that dominates Official Washington. Either these powers-that-be are detached from reality or they are deceitful propagandists who think they can manipulate us with lies and distortions.
Yet, by creating a false reality, whether from madness or cynicism, this system guides the nation into terrible decision-making. And, given the immense military power of the United States, this long national detour into a dark psychosis of delusion must be addressed or the future of humankind will be put into serious jeopardy.
It now appears that the longest drawn out negotiations in history since the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War will again be prorogued. I am, of course, referring to the P5+1 talks in Vienna seeking to come up with a peaceful resolution to the problem of Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons program. Today represents the third deadline as the negotiations have already been extended twice, ostensibly to permit further discussion of details of timing for the lifting of sanctions as well as verification and inspection procedures.
I refer to a “nonexistent” program as the frequently cited intelligence suggesting that a weapon was being developed has turned out to be based on forgeries provided by the Israelis. Currently, both the CIA and Mossad agree that no such program exists though both Washington and Tel Aviv persist in suggesting that Iran might change its mind and therefore must not even be able to develop relevant technologies in the future.
In theory an agreement should have been reached long ago as the two basic elements are well understood: Iran wants an end to sanctions and the United States plus its negotiating partners want a verifiable end to existing and potential programs in Iran that could possibly produce a nuclear weapon. The devil would appear to be in the details but that is not necessarily the case as the real problem is political. The talks have in fact been subject to a relentless media campaign by Israel and its friends in the U.S. to derail any possible agreement, to include a number of appearances by none other than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before both the United Nations and the U.S. Congress. Netanyahu has been warning that an Iranian weapon is imminent since 1996 and he has even produced a cartoon showing a bomb with a ticking fuse to illustrate his thinking on the issue.
The intensity of the anti-Iran campaign has increased to a boiling point as the end of June deadline has approached, to include full page ads in newspapers and a rash of editorials, op-eds and letters to the editor. If you read an article about the negotiations on an unmoderated site like yahoo you will see numerous comments trashing Iran using the same misspellings and phrases, suggesting that they originate in the banks of paid students organized and directed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
In order to avoid constantly rehashing the same material, the well-funded and highly creative exploration of Persian perfidy has meant in practice that the media and punditry are constantly raising new issues that have nothing to do with the nuclear weapons themselves. These have included demanding that a contrite Iran confess that it once sought a weapon, addressing the state of possible missile delivery systems in the discussions, assessing Iran’s intentions as a regional power, critiquing the country’s human rights record and examining Tehran’s support of organizations that critics choose to describe as terroristic. Congress is on record calling for the prevention of Iran’s “capability” to construct a weapon, a threshold that it already has passed. Presidential wannabe Senator Marco Rubio has even demanded that Iran recognize “Israel’s right to exist.” The latest wrinkle is to insist on assurances over what might happen in ten years’ time when any agreement negotiated currently will presumably expire.
Assuming that the neocons’ other pet projects to go to war with Russia and eventually also China do not actually materialize and that we will all still be here in a decade, it has to be recognized that what is occurring in Vienna this week is already a war. On one side are the serious players, including Secretary of State John Kerry acting for the president as well as the Russians, Germans, Chinese, British and French, all of whom understand that no agreement leaves armed conflict as the only remaining option. They realize that a major explosion in the Persian Gulf would be disastrous for all parties and potentially even for the world economy. On the other side are the naysayers from Israel and its formidable amen section, deeply embedded in the media and among politicians at all levels. Many believe that, as Israel firster mega billionaire Sheldon Adelson has recommended, all Iran really needs is an admonitory nuclear strike to show the Mullahs that we are serious about the military option.
As in any war it is important to know what the enemy is doing. That generally requires massive mobilization of resources to collect intelligence, but in this case we are fortunate in that our enemies write for the Washington Post, The Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal when they are not, collectively speaking, busy appearing on the Sunday morning talk shows and on Fox.
My favorite Queen of Mean among the pro-Israel shock troops is Jennifer Rubin, who writes a blog appropriately labeled “Right Turn” for the Washington Post. In previous incarnations before she found her niche with editorial page chief Fred Hiatt at the Post Jennifer wrote for neocon house organs Commentary, Human Events and Bill Kristol’s The Weekly Standard. Jenn has ungraciously referred to President Barack Obama as the “most anti-Israel president ever.” Ben Smith at Politico describes her as “caustic and single minded” possessing an “intense and combative interest in foreign affairs and politics in general, and in Israel in particular – the sole bumper sticker on her gray Honda Pilot reads, “JERUSALEM IS NOT A SETTLEMENT. It’s Israel’s Eternal And Undivided Capital.” A recent comment on one of her pieces observed “Science is wrong. The world revolves around Israel. Jennifer knows it to be true. Bibi told her.”
Rubin writes about Iran frequently. Between June 16th and the 26th she penned no less than seven articles attacking the Mullahs – “Obama ignores Iran’s human rights atrocities,” “The Iran missile mistake,” “Democrats, Republicans, neutral experts reject Iran sellout,” “The Iran debacle unfolds,” “Iran appeasement relies on self-delusion,” “Can these forces stop a rotten Iran deal?” and “Iran sanctions back on the table.” All of her writing on Iran beats to death the same theme, i.e. that Iranians are both evil and liars and are out to destroy Israel. Driven by her obsession with Israel, she is constantly at work finding connections and seeing things that the rest of us cannot discern, appreciating as she does that there is always an Israeli angle as well as an evil Muslim narrative hidden somewhere as long as one looks long and hard enough. One of her most recent gems “Can these forces stop a rotten Iran deal?”, which appeared on June 25th, does a good job recounting recent commentary by all her friends in the Israel Lobby who are opposing a nuclear deal, which to her mind represents objective opinion. As is always the case, I searched in vain for any real evidence that Iran in any way threatens the United States but that does not appear to be on her agenda. She does, however, quote a number of Israeli politicians.
And Rubin is far from a lonely voice crying in the wilderness. The New York Times featured a story last Wednesday revealing that “former members of President Obama’s inner circle of Iran advisers” had written a letter advising caution on the possible Iran agreement. The article describes in some detail the objections of Dennis Ross, David Petraeus, Robert Einhorn, Gary Samore, Stephen Hadley and General James E. Cartwright. The signatories, who are accepted at face value in the article, should give one pause. Ross is chairman of the Jewish People Policy Institute (which opposes intermarriage of Jews with non-Jews) and has been described as “Israel’s lawyer” while Hadley, a National Security Adviser for George W. Bush, believes that Iran is intent on dominating much of the Middle East and has a nuclear program that “…is a complex threat to international peace and stability.” Einhorn, who helped “devise and enforce the sanctions against Iran,” and Gary Samore have been persistent critics of the ongoing negotiations. Samore is a fixture at the Harvard Belfer Center, a neocon stronghold, and heads United Against Nuclear Iran. Petraeus is probably the best known of the signatories but I will leave it up to the reader to judge his integrity.
If one were looking for someone who might just entertain the thought that Iran has a legitimate point of view it would not be found in the letter nor in the Times coverage. But the most astonishing thing about the article is what the editors chose not to mention, an omission that would appear to constitute deliberate obfuscation of the letter’s intent. The Times notes towards the end of the article that the letter was commissioned by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), but it does not reveal that WINEP is a spin-off of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). AIPAC is an organization that is de facto opposed to any agreement with Iran that is not endorsed by Benjamin Netanyahu, which means no deal at all.
Interestingly, Israel is not mentioned even once in the letter nor in the Times coverage of it even though it certainly loomed large in the mind of Ross in particular and likely for all of the other co-authors. One might also note that the arguments against the possible agreement made by the signatories is based on the reader’s acceptance of the view that Iran is some kind of global threat, though they make no attempt to explain how that is so and they also assume that its rulers are not to be trusted without an intrusive inspection regime directed against all military facilities in the country, something that no government anywhere could possibly accept. The five signatories of the letter all claim to support a negotiated settlement with Iran but they are just not happy with what Obama has come up with, which is a characteristic line for many of those who in reality want no agreement at all.
Finally, in a completely bizarre instance of the Israel Lobby’s unwillingness to miss any opportunity in its campaign against Iran, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft traveled to Israel last week with an entourage of 20 Hall of Fame football players. They met with Prime Minister Netanyahu who lectured the players, attired in their Hall of Fame gold Jackets, all about Iran by using a football metaphor: “Iran is one yard away from the goal line. If they get nukes, the preeminent terrorist regime of our day will be armed with nuclear weapons. That’s dangerous for the United States and for Israel and for the entire world. And our effort today is to make sure that we block them and push them back.” The appreciative players gave Bibi a game jersey, a helmet and a signed football in return.
And so the enormous smear campaign against Iran goes on, though I suppose we can always hope that Obama will show a little intestinal fortitude and go ahead with an agreement. I will most certainly never watch the New England Patriots again, but I made that decision some time ago based on their win at any cost ethos. Indeed, since the Israel Lobby is very much in the game of punishing critics as it is doing with its odious website Canary Mission perhaps it is past time for a little pushback coming from Americans who would like to take their government back. Folks like myself who object to the Lobby’s overweening influence over our foreign policy might initiate personal boycotts of the products and business interests of those billionaires who are the most enthusiastic supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu and who are the enablers of Israel’s crimes against humanity. It would be partial payback for nearly seventy years of systematic abuse of America’s true interests. Don’t attend their sporting activities, don’t buy their products, don’t watch their films and don’t stay in their hotels or play in their casinos. Such a reckoning would certainly include people like Robert Kraft, Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, as well as Hollywood moguls Haim Saban and Arnon Milchan. Milchan notoriously spied against the U.S. for Israel and is still walking around free, which I don’t quite get. I won’t suggest any additional names but other over the top friends of Likudnik Israel are easily identifiable through Google. As the Mikado’s Lord High Executioner once put it, “I’ve got a little list.”
There once was a time when the U.S. news media investigated U.S. imperial adventures overseas, such as Washington-sponsored coups. Journalists also asked tough questions to officials implicated in corruption even if those queries were inconvenient to the desired propaganda themes. But those days are long gone, as the Washington Post demonstrated again this week.
On Wednesday, the Post’s editorial board had a chance to press Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk about the U.S. government’s role in the Feb. 22, 2014 coup that elevated him to his current post – after he was handpicked by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who declared “Yats is the guy” in a pre-coup intercepted phone call.
Wouldn’t it have been interesting to ask Yatsenyuk about his pre-coup contacts with Nuland and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and what their role was in fomenting the “regime change” that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych and hurtled Ukraine into a civil war? Sure, Yatsenyuk might have ducked the questions, but isn’t that the role that journalists are supposed to play, at least ask? [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]
Or why not question Yatsenyuk about the presence of neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists who spearheaded the violent coup and then were deployed as the shock troops in Ukraine’s “anti-terrorism operation” that has slaughtered thousands of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine? Wouldn’t that question have spiced up the interview? [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Wretched US Journalism on Ukraine.”]
And, since Ukraine’s Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko was at the editorial board meeting as well, wouldn’t it have made sense to ask her about the propriety of her enriching herself while managing a $150 million U.S.-taxpayer-financed investment fund for Ukraine over the past decade? What kind of message does her prior work send to the people of Ukraine as they’re asked to tighten their belts even more, with cuts to pensions, reduction of worker protections, and elimination of heating subsidies?
How would Jaresko justify her various schemes to increase her compensation beyond the $150,000 limit set by the U.S. Agency for International Development and her decision to take court action to gag her ex-husband when he tried to blow the whistle on some improprieties? Wouldn’t such an exchange enlighten the Post’s readers about the complexities of the crisis? [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine Finance Minister’s American ‘Values.’”]
Yet, based on what the Post decided to report to its readers, the editorial board simply performed the stenographic task of taking down whatever Yatsenyuk and Jaresko wanted to say. There was no indication of any probing question or even the slightest skepticism toward their assertions.
On Thursday, the Post combined a news article on the visit with an editorial that repeated pretty much as flat fact what Yatsenyuk and Jaresko had said. So, after Yatsenyuk alleged that Russia had 10,000 troops on the ground inside Ukraine, the Post’s editorial writers simply asserted the same number as a fact in its lead editorial, which stated: “Russia … has deployed an estimated 10,000 troops to eastern Ukraine and, with its local proxies, attacks Ukrainian forces on a near-daily basis.”
Though both assertions are in dispute – with many of the cease-fire violations resulting from Ukrainian government assaults around the rebel-controlled Donetsk Airport – the Post had no interest in showing any skepticism, arguably one of the consequences from the failure to impose any accountability for the Post’s similarly biased writing prior to the Iraq War.
In 2002-03, editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt repeatedly declared as flat fact that Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of WMDs, thus supposedly justifying the U.S.-led invasion. After the invasion failed to locate these WMD stockpiles, Hiatt was asked about his editorials and responded:
“If you look at the editorials we write running up [to the war], we state as flat fact that he [Saddam Hussein] has weapons of mass destruction,” Hiatt said. “If that’s not true, it would have been better not to say it.” [CJR, March/April 2004]
Yes, journalists generally aren’t supposed to say something is a fact when it isn’t – and when a news executive oversees such a catastrophic error, which contributed to the deaths of nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, you might expect him to be fired.
Yet, Hiatt remains the Post’s editorial-page editor today, continuing to push neoconservative propaganda themes, now including equally one-sided accounts of dangerous crises in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why WPost’s Hiatt Should Be Fired.”]
On Ukraine – although the risks of neocon “tough-guy-ism” against nuclear-armed Russia could mean extermination of life on the planet – the Post refuses to present any kind of balanced reporting. Nor apparently will the Post even direct newsworthy questions to Ukrainian officials.
Back on April 27, the Washington Post updated an article about a new poll showing that, despite ongoing multilateral talks, over one-fifth of Republicans currently support a military attack on Iran. The short piece referenced John McCain’s infamous 2007 “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran” quote (sung by a terrible old man to the tune of “Barbara Ann”), but soon after it was published the Post issued the following humble correction and clarification:
Kudos to the Post for forthrightly addressing and correcting such an appalling mistake. It’s comforting that the author is as embarrassed and remorseful as he seems. He should be. Yeeesh. (Still, it’s questionable whether The Beach Boys should ever be described as oldies, in the “Golden Oldies” sense, and even more suspect to place The Beatles in that – or any – category.)
The article, written by Aaron Blake for the paper’s “The Fix” blog, contains another egregious error – and this one has yet to be remedied.
In describing the recent Quinnipiac poll in which bombing Iran is supported by 13% of Americans (including 21% of self-identifying Republicans) over continuing nuclear negotiations, Blake notes that, in official circles, “basically nobody is talking about the United States taking military action to rein in Iran’s nuclear weapons program — at least at this point.”
At this point, it should be perfectly clear to professional journalists and their editors that international intelligence assessments consistently affirm that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. What Iran does have, however, is a nuclear energy program with uranium enrichment facilities, all of which are under international safeguards, strictly monitored and routinely inspected by the IAEA. No move to divert nuclear material to military or weaponization purposes have ever been detected. This is consistently affirmed by U.S., British, Russian, and even Israeli intelligence, as well as the IAEA. In fact, the IAEA itself has said there is “no concrete proof” Iran’s nuclear program “has ever had” a military component.
The poll, albeit misleading and speculative, is more careful in its language than Blake’s summary. Here’s the full question posed to respondents: “Would you prefer military intervention against Iran’s nuclear program or a negotiated settlement to reduce its nuclear potential?”
The conflation of Iran’s nuclear energy program with a nonexistent nuclear weapons program, as Blake demonstrates here, has plagued the news media for years and served to grossly misinform the public on the realities of Iranian intentions and capabilities. Though you wouldn’t know it from Blake’s report, Iran has no “nuclear weapons program” for the United States “to rein in.”
Perhaps more disappointing is that Blake’s offending phrase was published in the first place, especially considering that this precise issue of conflation, journalistic shorthand, and loose language has been specifically addressed before by Blake’s own paper.
In December 2011, Patrick B. Pexton, then The Washington Post‘s ombudsman, challenged the paper’s routinely irresponsible and alarmist reporting on Iran’s nuclear program, writing that the IAEA “does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one,” and warned that such misleading characterizations of such an important issue “can also play into the hands of those who are seeking further confrontation with Iran.”
Others in similar roles at leading media organizations concur. The following month, in January 2012, New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane responded to reader complaints that the paper’s reporting on Iran’s nuclear program was misleading and that the use of shorthand phrases legitimized and perpetuated false narratives. Brisbane agreed.
“I think the readers are correct on this…In this case, the distinction between the two [a nuclear energy program and a nuclear weapons program] is important because the Iranian program has emerged as a possible casus belli,” he wrote.
Days later, National Public Radio ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos weighed in. “Shorthand references are often dangerous in journalism, and listeners are correct to be on the alert for them,” he noted. “Repeated enough as fact – ‘Iran’s nuclear weapons program’ – they take on a life of their own.” Schumacher-Matos added that, at the behest of NPR’s Senior Editor for National Security Bruce Auster, “NPR’s policy is to refer in shorthand to Iran’s ‘nuclear program’ and not ‘nuclear weapons program'” and concluded, “This is a correct formula.”
The next year, in June 2013, The Guardian‘s Readers’ Editor Chris Elliott reached a similar conclusion, agreeing that the use of the term “nuclear weapons program” with regard to Iran is misleading and should be avoided.
In September 2013, after leaving the Post, Pexton chimed in again, doubling down on his assessment that speculating on Iranian intentions had no place in news reporting, especially when there is no evidence of a weapons program.
Offhand, erroneous descriptions repeated constantly in the media clearly go a long way toward turning an evidence-free speculation and hawkish talking point into an assumed fact. Throughout his own post, Blake’s tone is that of disbelief that over a tenth of the America public would want to bomb Iran rather than support diplomacy. Perhaps the problem is that they’ve been reading – and believing – reports like the one Blake himself wrote.
Considering the Post‘s well-known editorial line on Iran and past disregard for the suggestions of its former ombudsman (a position the paper eliminated permanently following Pexton’s departure in early 2013), there is little hope that Blake’s phrase will be corrected.
But, hey, at least they eventually got the Beatles thing right. For chrissake, people.
As embarrassing as the Judith Miller case was for the New York Times, the fiasco underscores a more troubling development that strikes near the heart of American democracy – the press corps’ gradual retreat from the principle of skepticism on national security issues to career-boosting “patriotism.”
Miller – and many other prominent Washington journalists over the past quarter century – largely built their careers by positioning themselves as defenders of supposed “American interests.” Thus, instead of tough reporting about national security operations, these reporters often became conduits for government propaganda.
In that sense, Miller’s prominence at the Times – where she had wide latitude to report and publish whatever she wanted – was a marker for how the “patriotic” journalists had overwhelmed the competing “skeptical” journalists, who saw their duty as bringing a critical eye to all government information, including national security claims, by which the people were informed and empowered to judge what was truly in “American interests.” [For more on that broader history, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
For her part – both in the credulous reporting about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and protection of a White House source who sought to discredit a whistleblower about a key WMD lie – Miller has come to personify the notion that American journalists should tailor their reporting to what is “good for the country” as defined by government officials.
Indeed, Miller seems to have trouble distinguishing between being a journalist and being part of the government team. Note, for instance, two of her comments about her grand jury testimony regarding the White House outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, who was the wife of the WMD whistleblower, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Presumably to give some deniability to one of her anti-Wilson sources – Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby – Miller said she told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “that Mr. Libby might have thought I still had security clearance, given my special embedded status in Iraq,” where she had traveled with a military unit in a fruitless search for WMD stockpiles.
In other words, Miller was saying that Libby might be forgiven for disclosing the identity of a covert CIA officer to a journalist because he might have thought Miller had government authorization to hear such secrets. But the notion that a reporter would accept a security clearance – which is a legally binding commitment to give the government authority over what information can be released – is anathema to anyone who believes in a free and independent press.
It is one thing for “embedded” journalists to accept the necessity of military censorship over tactical details in exchange for access to the battlefield. It is altogether different for a journalist to have a “security clearance.” For some journalistic purists, this statement was the most shocking element of Miller’s lengthy account of her testimony as published in the Times.
Secondly, toward the end of a Times chronology on the case, written by three other reporters, Miller is quoted as saying that she hoped she would eventually return to the newsroom and resume covering “the same thing I’ve always covered – threats to our country.” [NYT, Oct. 16. 2005]
To describe one’s “beat” as covering “threats to our country” amounts to another repudiation of a core journalistic principle – objectivity – the concept of a reporter setting aside his or her personal views so the facts can be researched and presented to the reader in as fair and balanced a way as possible.
Rather than insist on a separation between government and journalism, Miller appears to see little distinction between the two. Her comments suggest that she viewed her job as defending the security interests of the United States, rather than giving the public the unvarnished facts.
What that meant in the run-up to the war in Iraq was her serving as a conveyor belt for bogus intelligence on Iraq’s WMD. Most memorably, Miller co-wrote a key article asserting that Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes was evidence that Saddam Hussein was working on a nuclear bomb.
Cheney and other administration officials then cited the Times article as validation for their case against Iraq for alleged violation of arms control commitments. Both in Miller’s article and in TV appearances, administration officials told the American people that they couldn’t wait for the “smoking gun” proof of Iraq’s WMD to be “a mushroom cloud.”
The aluminum-tube story was later debunked by U.S. Energy Department experts and State Department analysts, but it remained a terrifying argument as George W. Bush stampeded the Congress and the country to war in fall 2002 and winter 2003. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Powell’s Widening Credibility Gap.”]
The aluminum-tube story, which Miller co-authored with Michael R. Gordon, was one of six articles that prompted a post-invasion Times self-criticism. Miller wrote or co-wrote five of the six articles that were deemed overly credulous of the U.S. government’s point of view. “In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged,” the Times editor’s note said. [NYT, May 26, 2004]
Since the Oct. 16, 2005, articles detailing Miller’s role in the Plame controversy, Miller’s image as a journalistic martyr – who went to jail rather than betray the confidence of a source – also has been tarnished.
After 85 days in jail resisting a federal subpoena, Miller finally agreed to testify about her three conversations with Libby regarding Ambassador Wilson’s criticism of another high-profile administration WMD claim, that Iraq had been seeking enriched uranium from the African nation of Niger.
In 2002, Cheney’s office expressed interest in a dubious report from Italy claiming that Iraq was trying to buy “yellowcake” uranium in Niger. Reacting to Cheney’s concern, the CIA dispatched Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador in Africa, to check out the allegations. Wilson returned believing that the claim was most likely baseless, an opinion shared by other U.S. government experts. Nevertheless, the claim ended up in Bush’s State of the Union speech in January 2003.
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Wilson began speaking with journalists on background about how his Niger findings had diverged from Bush’s State of the Union claim. Libby, a leading architect of the Iraq War, learned about Wilson’s criticism and began passing on negative information about Wilson to Miller.
Miller, who said she regarded Libby as “a good-faith source, who was usually straight with me,” met with him on June 23, 2003, in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House, according to the Times chronology. At that meeting, “Ms. Miller said her notes leave open the possibility that Mr. Libby told her Mr. Wilson’s wife might work at the agency,” the Times reported.
But Libby provided clearer details at a second meeting on July 8, 2003, two days after Wilson went public in an Op-Ed piece about his criticism of Bush’s use of the Niger allegations. At a breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel near the White House, Libby told Miller that Wilson’s wife worked at a CIA unit known as Winpac, for weapons intelligence, nonproliferation and arms control, the Times reported.
Miller’s notebook, the one used for that interview, contained a reference to “Valerie Flame,” an apparent misspelling of Mrs. Wilson’s maiden name. In the Times account, Miller said she told Fitzgerald’s grand jury that she believed the name didn’t come from Libby but from another source. But Miller claimed she couldn’t recall the source’s name.
In a third conversation, by telephone on July 12, 2003, Miller and Libby returned to the Wilson topic. Miller’s notes contain a reference to a “Victoria Wilson,” another misspelled reference to Wilson’s wife, Miller said.
Two days later, on July 14, 2003, conservative columnist Robert Novak publicly outed Plame as a CIA operative in an article that cited “two administration sources” and tried to discredit Wilson’s findings on the grounds that his wife had recommended him for the Niger mission.
Miller never wrote an article about the Wilson-Plame affair although she claimed she “made a strong recommendation to my editor” for a story after Novak’s column appeared, but was rebuffed. Times managing editor (and later executive editor) Jill Abramson, who was Washington bureau chief in summer 2003, said Miller never made such a recommendation, and Miller said she wouldn’t divulge the name of the editor who supposedly said no, the Times chronology said.
A Criminal Probe
The Wilson-Plame affair took another turn in the latter half of 2003 when the CIA sought a criminal investigation of the leak of Plame’s covert identity. Because of conflicts of interest in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, Fitzgerald – the U.S. Attorney in Chicago – was named as a special prosecutor in December 2003.
Known as a hard-nosed and independent-minded prosecutor, Fitzgerald demanded testimony from Miller and several other journalists in summer 2004. Miller refused to cooperate, saying she had promised her sources confidentiality and arguing that waivers signed by Libby and other officials had been coerced.
Almost a year later, Miller was imprisoned for contempt of court. After 85 days in jail, she relented and agreed to testify, but only after she received a personal assurance from Libby that he wanted her to appear. But the details of the Miller-Libby minuet over the waiver put Miller’s refusal to testify in a different – and more troubling – light.
According to the Times account, Libby’s lawyer, Joseph A. Tate, assured Miller’s lawyer Abrams as early as summer 2004 that Miller was free to testify, but he added that Libby already had told Fitzgerald’s grand jury that Libby had not given Miller the name or undercover status of Wilson’s wife.
“That raised a potential conflict for Ms. Miller,” the Times reported. “Did the references in her notes to ‘Valerie Flame’ and ‘Victoria Wilson’ suggest that she would have to contradict Mr. Libby’s account of their conversations? Ms. Miller said in an interview that Mr. Tate was sending her a message that Libby did not want her to testify.”
According to Miller’s account, her attorney Abrams told her that Libby’s lawyer Tate “was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn’t give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, ‘Don’t go there, or, we don’t want you there.’”
Responding to a question from the New York Times, Tate called Miller’s interpretation of his position “outrageous.” After all, if Miller were telling the truth, Tate’s maneuver would border on suborning perjury and obstruction of justice.
But there is also a disturbing element for Miller’s defenders. Her subsequent actions could be interpreted as finding another means to protect Libby. By refusing to testify and going to jail, Miller helped Libby – temporarily at least – avoid a possible indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Miller’s jailing also drew the Times editorial page and many Washington journalists into a campaign aimed at pressuring Fitzgerald to back off his investigation. In effect, many members of the Washington news media were pulled, unwittingly or not, into what looks like a cover-up of a criminal conspiracy.
The Times editorialized that Miller would not reverse her refusal to testify and that additional incarceration was unjustified. But the jail time worked. When Miller realized that Fitzgerald wouldn’t relent and that she might stay in prison indefinitely, she decided to reopen negotiations with Libby about whether she should testify.
Libby sent her a friendly letter that read like an invitation to testify but also to stick with the team. “Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning,” Libby wrote. “They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.”
When Miller finally appeared before the grand jury, she offered an account that seemed to twist and turn in underground directions to protect Libby. For instance, she insisted that someone else had mentioned “Valerie Flame,” but she said she couldn’t recall who. Before testifying to the grand jury, Miller also extracted an agreement from Fitzgerald that he wouldn’t ask her questions about any source other than Libby.
But the longer back story of “Plame-gate” was how the Washington media culture changed over a generation, from the skeptical days of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers to an era in which leading journalists see their “roots” connecting to the national security state.
Part Two: Rise of the ‘Patriotic Journalist’
(Originally published on Oct. 20, 2005)
The apex for the “skeptical journalists” came in the mid-1970s when the press followed up disclosure of the Vietnam War’s Pentagon Papers and exposure of Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal with revelations of CIA abuses, such as illegal spying on Americans and helping Chile’s army oust an elected government.
There were reasons for this new press aggressiveness. After some 58,000 U.S. soldiers had died in Vietnam during a long war fought for murky reasons, many reporters no longer gave the government the benefit of the doubt. The press corps’ new rallying cry was the public’s right to know, even when the wrongdoing occurred in the secretive world of national security.
But this journalistic skepticism represented an affront to government officials who had long enjoyed a relatively free hand in the conduct of foreign policy. The Wise Men and the Old Boys – the stewards of the post-World War II era – faced a harder time lining up public consensus behind any action. This national security elite, including then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush, viewed the post-Vietnam journalism as a threat to America’s ability to strike at its perceived enemies around the world.
Yet, it was from these ruins of distrust – the rubble of suspicion left behind by Vietnam and Watergate – that the conservative-leaning national security elite began its climb back, eventually coming full circle, gaining effective control of what a more “patriotic” press would tell the people, before stumbling into another disastrous war in Iraq.
One early turning point in the switch from “skeptical” journalism to “patriotic” journalism occurred in 1976 with the blocking of Rep. Otis Pike’s congressional report on CIA misdeeds. CIA Director Bush had lobbied behind the scenes to convince Congress that suppressing the report was important for national security.
But CBS news correspondent Daniel Schorr got hold of the full document and decided that he couldn’t join in keeping the facts from the public. He leaked the report to the Village Voice – and was fired by CBS amid charges of reckless journalism.
“The media’s shift in attention from the report’s charges to their premature disclosure was skillfully encouraged by the Executive Branch,” wrote Kathryn Olmstead in her book on the media battles of the 1970s, Challenging the Secret Government.
“[Mitchell] Rogovin, the CIA’s counsel, later admitted that the Executive Branch’s ‘concern’ over the report’s damage to national security was less than genuine,” Olmstead wrote. But the Schorr case had laid down an important marker. The counterattack against the “skeptical journalists” had begun.
In the late 1970s, conservative leaders began a concerted drive to finance a media infrastructure of their own along with attack groups that would target mainstream reporters who were viewed as too liberal or insufficiently patriotic.
Richard Nixon’s former Treasury Secretary Bill Simon took the lead. Simon, who headed the conservative Olin Foundation, rallied like-minded foundations – associated with Lynde and Harry Bradley, Smith Richardson, the Scaife family and the Coors family – to invest their resources in advancing the conservative cause.
Money went to fund conservative magazines taking the fight to the liberals and to finance attack groups, like Accuracy in Media, that hammered away at the supposed “liberal bias” of the national news media.
This strategy gained momentum in the early 1980s with the arrival of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Spearheaded by intellectual policymakers now known as the neoconservatives, the government developed a sophisticated approach – described internally as “perception management” – that included targeting journalists who wouldn’t fall into line. [For the latest on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Victory of ‘Perception Management.’”]
So, when New York Times correspondent Raymond Bonner reported from El Salvador about right-wing death squads, his accounts were criticized and his patriotism challenged. Bonner further infuriated the White House in early 1982 when he disclosed a massacre by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army around the town of El Mozote. The story appeared just as Reagan was praising the army’s human rights progress.
Like other journalists who were viewed as overly critical of Reagan’s foreign policy, Bonner faced both public attacks on his reputation and private lobbying of his editors, seeking his removal. Bonner soon found his career sidetracked. After being pulled out of Central America, he resigned from the Times.
Bonner’s ouster was another powerful message to the national news media about the fate that awaited reporters who challenged Ronald Reagan’s White House. (Years later, after a forensic investigation confirmed the El Mozote massacre, the Times rehired Bonner.)
Though conservative activists routinely bemoaned what they called the “liberal media” at the big newspapers and TV networks, the Reagan administration actually found many willing collaborators at senior levels of U.S. news organizations.
At the New York Times, executive editor Abe Rosenthal followed a generally neoconservative line of intense anticommunism and strong support for Israel. Under owner Martin Peretz, the supposedly leftist New Republic slid into a similar set of positions, including enthusiastic backing for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
Where I worked at the Associated Press, general manager Keith Fuller – the company’s top executive – was considered a staunch supporter of Reagan’s foreign policy and a fierce critic of recent social change. In 1982, Fuller gave a speech condemning the 1960s and praising Reagan’s election.
“As we look back on the turbulent Sixties, we shudder with the memory of a time that seemed to tear at the very sinews of this country,” Fuller said during a speech in Worcester, Massachusetts, adding that Reagan’s election a year earlier had represented a nation “crying, ‘Enough.’ …
“We don’t believe that the union of Adam and Bruce is really the same as Adam and Eve in the eyes of Creation. We don’t believe that people should cash welfare checks and spend them on booze and narcotics. We don’t really believe that a simple prayer or a pledge of allegiance is against the national interest in the classroom. We’re sick of your social engineering. We’re fed up with your tolerance of crime, drugs and pornography. But most of all, we’re sick of your self-perpetuating, burdening bureaucracy weighing ever more heavily on our backs.”
Fuller’s sentiments were common in the executive suites of major news organizations, where Reagan’s reassertion of an aggressive U.S. foreign policy mostly was welcomed. Working journalists who didn’t sense the change in the air were headed for danger.
By the time of Reagan’s landslide reelection in 1984, the conservatives had come up with catchy slogans for any journalist or politician who still criticized excesses in U.S. foreign policy. They were known as the “blame America firsters” or – in the case of the Nicaragua conflict – “Sandinista sympathizers.”
The practical effect of these slurs on the patriotism of journalists was to discourage skeptical reporting on Reagan’s foreign policy and to give the administration a freer hand for conducting operations in Central America and the Middle East outside public view.
Gradually, a new generation of journalists began to fill key reporting jobs, bringing with them an understanding that too much skepticism on national security issues could be hazardous to one’s career. Intuitively, these reporters knew there was little or no upside to breaking even important stories that made Reagan’s foreign policy look bad. That would just make you a target of the expanding conservative attack machine. You would be “controversialized,” another term that Reagan operatives used to describe their anti-reporter strategies.
Often I am asked why it took so long for the U.S. news media to uncover the secret operations that later became known as the Iran-Contra Affair, clandestine arms sales to the Islamic fundamentalist government of Iran with some of the profits – and other secret funds – funneled into the Contra war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.
Though the AP was not known as a leading investigative news organization – and my superiors weren’t eager supporters – we were able to get ahead on the story in 1984, 1985 and 1986 because the New York Times, the Washington Post and other top news outlets mostly looked the other way. It took two external events – the shooting down of a supply plane over Nicaragua in October 1986 and the disclosure of the Iran initiative by a Lebanese newspaper in November 1986 – to bring the scandal into focus.
In late 1986 and early 1987, there was a flurry of Iran-Contra coverage, but the Reagan administration largely succeeded in protecting top officials, including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The growing conservative news media, led by Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times, lashed out at journalists and government investigators who dared push the edges of the envelope or closed in on Reagan and Bush.
But resistance to the Iran-Contra scandal also penetrated mainstream news outlets. At Newsweek, where I went to work in early 1987, Editor Maynard Parker was hostile to the possibility that Reagan might be implicated. During one Newsweek dinner/interview with retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft and then-Rep. Dick Cheney, Parker expressed support for the notion that Reagan’s role should be protected even if that required perjury. “Sometimes you have to do what’s good the country,” Parker said. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]
When Iran-Contra conspirator Oliver North went on trial in 1989, Parker and other news executives ordered that Newsweek’s Washington bureau not even cover the trial, presumably because Parker just wanted the scandal to go away. (When the North trial became a major story anyway, I was left scrambling to arrange daily transcripts so we could keep abreast of the trial’s developments. Because of these and other differences over the Iran-Contra scandal, I left Newsweek in 1990.)
Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, a Republican, also encountered press hostility when his investigation finally broke through the White House cover-up in 1991. Moon’s Washington Times routinely lambasted Walsh and his staff over minor issues, such as the elderly Walsh flying first class on airplanes or ordering room-service meals. [See Walsh’s Firewall.]
But the attacks on Walsh were not coming only from the conservative news media. Toward the end of 12 years of Republican rule, mainstream journalists also realized their careers were far better served by staying on the good side of the Reagan-Bush crowd.
So, when President George H.W. Bush sabotaged Walsh’s probe by issuing six Iran-Contra pardons on Christmas Eve 1992, prominent journalists praised Bush’s actions. They brushed aside Walsh’s complaint that the move was the final act in a long-running cover-up that protected a secret history of criminal behavior and Bush’s personal role.
“Liberal” Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen spoke for many of his colleagues when he defended Bush’s fatal blow against the Iran-Contra investigation. Cohen especially liked Bush’s pardon of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who had been indicted for obstruction of justice but was popular around Washington.
In a Dec. 30, 1992, column, Cohen said his view was colored by how impressed he was when he would see Weinberger in the Georgetown Safeway store, pushing his own shopping cart.
“Based on my Safeway encounters, I came to think of Weinberger as a basic sort of guy, candid and no nonsense – which is the way much of official Washington saw him,” Cohen wrote. “Cap, my Safeway buddy, walks, and that’s all right with me.”
For fighting too hard for the truth, Walsh drew derision as a kind of Captain Ahab obsessively pursuing the White Whale. Writer Marjorie Williams delivered this damning judgment against Walsh in a Washington Post magazine article, which read:
“In the utilitarian political universe of Washington, consistency like Walsh’s is distinctly suspect. It began to seem … rigid of him to care so much. So un-Washington. Hence the gathering critique of his efforts as vindictive, extreme. Ideological. … But the truth is that when Walsh finally goes home, he will leave a perceived loser.”
By the time the Reagan-Bush era ended in January 1993, the era of the “skeptical journalist” was dead, too, at least on issues of national security.
The Webb Case
Even years later, when historical facts surfaced suggesting that serious abuses had been missed around the Iran-Contra Affair, mainstream news outlets took the lead in rallying to the Reagan-Bush defense.
When a controversy over Contra-drug trafficking reemerged in 1996, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times went on the attack – against Gary Webb, the reporter who revived interest in the scandal. Even admissions of guilt by the CIA’s inspector general in 1998 didn’t shake the largely dismissive treatment of the issue by the major newspapers. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]
(For Webb’s courageous reporting, he was pushed out of his job at the San Jose Mercury News, his career was ruined, his marriage collapsed and – in December 2004 – he killed himself with his father’s revolver.) [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Warning in Gary Webb’s Death.”]
When Republican rule was restored in 2001 with George W. Bush’s controversial “victory,” major news executives and many rank-and-file journalists understood that their careers could best be protected by wrapping themselves in the old red-white-and-blue. “Patriotic” journalism was in; “skeptical” journalism was definitely out.
That tendency deepened even more after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as many journalists took to wearing American flag lapels and avoided critical reporting about Bush’s sometimes shaky handling of the crisis. For instance, Bush’s seven-minute freeze in a second-grade classroom – after being told “the nation is under attack” – was hidden from the public even though it was filmed and witnessed by White House pool reporters. (Millions of Americans were shocked when they finally saw the footage two years later in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.”)
In November 2001, to avoid other questions about Bush’s legitimacy, the results of a media recount of the Florida vote were misrepresented to obscure the finding that Al Gore would have carried the state – and thus the White House – if all legally cast votes were counted. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “So Bush Did Steal the White House.”]
In 2002, as Bush shifted focus from Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan to Saddam Hussein and Iraq, the “patriotic” journalists moved with him. Some of the few remaining “skeptical” media figures were silenced, such as MSNBC’s host Phil Donahue whose show was canceled because he invited on too many war opponents.
In most newspapers, the occasional critical articles were buried deep inside, while credulous stories accepting the administration’s claims about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction were bannered on Page One.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller was in her element as she tapped into her friendly administration sources to produce WMD stories, like the one about how Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes was proof that it was building a nuclear bomb. The article gave rise to the White House warning that Americans couldn’t risk the “smoking gun” on Iraq’s WMD being “a mushroom cloud.”
In February 2003, when Secretary of State Colin Powell made his United Nations speech accusing Iraq of possessing WMD stockpiles, the national news media swooned at his feet. The Washington Post’s op-ed page was filled with glowing tributes to his supposedly air-tight case, which would later be exposed as a mix of exaggerations and outright lies. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Powell’s Widening Credibility Gap.”]
The rout of “skeptical” journalism was so complete – driven to the fringes of the Internet and to a few brave souls in Knight-Ridder’s Washington bureau – that the “patriotic” reporters often saw no problem casting aside even the pretense of objectivity. In the rush to war, news organizations joined in ridiculing the French and other longtime allies who urged caution. Those countries became the “axis of weasels” and cable TV devoted hours of coverage to diners that renamed “French fries” as “Freedom fries.”
Once the invasion began, the coverage on MSNBC, CNN and the major networks was barely discernable from the patriotic fervor on Fox. Like Fox News, MSNBC produced promotional segments, packaging heroic footage of American soldiers, often surrounded by thankful Iraqis and underscored with stirring music. [See Neck Deep.]
“Embedded” reporters often behaved like excited advocates for the American side of the war. But objectivity also was missing back at the studios where anchors voiced outrage about Geneva Convention violations when Iraqi TV aired pictures of captured American soldiers, but the U.S. media saw nothing wrong with broadcasting images of captured Iraqis. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “International Law a la Carte.”]
As Judith Miller would later remark unabashedly, she saw her beat as “what I’ve always covered – threats to our country.” Referring to her time “embedded” with a U.S. military unit searching for WMD, she claimed that she had received a government “security clearance.” [NYT, Oct. 16, 2005]
While Miller may have been an extreme case of mixing patriotism and journalism, she was far from alone as a member of her generation who absorbed the lessons of the 1980s, that skeptical journalism on national security issues was a fast way to put yourself in the unemployment line.
Only gradually, as Iraq’s WMD stockpiles failed to materialize but a stubborn insurgency did, the bloody consequences of “patriotic” journalism have begun to dawn on the American people. By not asking tough questions, journalists contributed to a mess (that ultimately cost the lives of almost 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis).
Retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom, a top military intelligence official under Ronald Reagan, predicted that the Iraq invasion “will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history.”
At the core of this disaster were the cozy relationships between the “patriotic” journalists and their sources. In her Oct. 16, 2005, account of her interviews with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, Miller gave the public an inadvertent look into that closed world of shared secrets and mutual trust.
Libby talked with Miller in two face-to-face meetings and one phone call in 2003, as the Bush administration tried to beat back post-invasion questions about how the President made his case for war, according to Miller’s story.
As Miller agreed to let Libby hide behind a misleading identification as a “former Hill staffer,” Libby unleashed a harsh attack on one whistleblower, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was challenging Bush’s claims that Iraq had sought enriched uranium from the African nation of Niger. The Miller/Libby interviews included Libby’s references to Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, who was an undercover CIA officer working on proliferation issues.
While the Plame case became a major embarrassment for the Bush administration – and for the New York Times – it did not stop many of Miller’s colleagues from continuing their old roles as “patriotic” journalists opposing the disclosure of too many secrets to the American people. For instance, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen – who hailed George H.W. Bush’s pardons that destroyed the Iran-Contra investigation in 1992 – adopted a similar stance against Fitzgerald’s investigation.
“The best thing Patrick Fitzgerald could do for his country is get out of Washington, return to Chicago and prosecute some real criminals,” Cohen wrote in a column entitled “Let This Leak Go.”
“As it is, all he has done so far is send Judith Miller of the New York Times to jail and repeatedly haul this or that administration high official before a grand jury, investigating a crime that probably wasn’t one in the first place but that now, as is often the case, might have metastasized into some sort of cover-up – but again, of nothing much,” Cohen wrote. “Go home, Pat.” [Washington Post, Oct. 13, 2005]
If Fitzgerald did as Cohen wished and closed down the investigation without indictments, the result would have been the continuation of the status quo in Washington. The Bush administration would get to keep control of the secrets and reward friendly “patriotic” journalists with selective leaks – and protected careers.
It is that cozy status quo that was endangered by the Plame case. But the stakes of the case were even bigger than that, going to the future of American democracy and to two questions in particular: Will journalists return to the standard of an earlier time when disclosing important facts to the electorate was the goal, rather than Cohen’s notion of putting the comfortable relationships between Washington journalists and government officials first?
Put differently, will journalists decide that confronting the powerful with tough questions is the true patriotic test of a journalist?
(Eventually, the Plamegate investigation ended with Fitzgerald bringing no charges for the leak of a covert CIA officer but he did convict Libby of lying to investigators and he was sentenced to 30 months in prison. But Libby never did go to jail because President Bush commuted his sentence.)
In the 1976 docudrama about the Watergate affair and the fall of Richard Nixon, All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward’s source at the FBI, Deep Throat, tells him to “follow the money.” To the Washington Post editorial board in 2015, doing just that is problematic—and probably anti-Semitic. Or at least that’s their charge in a piece published last Friday entitled, “Argentina’s President Resorts to Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories,” the Post opens by asking:
What do lobbyists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the director of a Washington think tank have to do with hedge-fund manager Paul Singer and the Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who died mysteriously in January? Well, according to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, they are all part of a “global modus operandi” that “generates international political operations of any type, shape and color.”[Links added]
The Post’s problem is that Kirchner posted a “rant” on her website highlighting the fact that Paul Singer—whose hedge fund, Elliott Management, is seeking to force Argentina to repay the full amount of its defaulted debt—has contributed a whole lot of cash to the same neoconservative organizations in Washington that have been tarring the South American nation as a deadbeat ally of Iranian-backed terrorism. These same groups have also uncritically promoted the work of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who in 2006 issued a highly controversial 900-page indictment charging seven senior Iranian officials with ordering the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), that killed 85 people. Nisman died in his apartment from a bullet to the head January 18, the night before he was set to testify before the Argentine congress in support of new charges that Kirchner and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, had conspired with Tehran to quash international arrest warrants against those same Iranians, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and then President Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, in exchange for a favorable trade agreement.
Making the Links
In 2013, Inter Press Service (IPS) ran a two-part feature by Charles (here and here) on the links between Singer and Nisman’s neoconservative fan club in the United States. The Argentine press and the president herself recently cited this work. The Post, however, plays dumb: “How do Singer, AIPAC and Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies [FDD] come into this?” it asks.
Mr. Singer—or “the Vulture Lord,” as Ms. Kirchner called him—won a court battle on behalf of holders of Argentine debt last year; Ms. Kirchner chose to default rather than pay. Mr. Dubowitz’s think tank has published papers on Argentine-Iranian relations, while AIPAC has criticized the Obama administration’s preliminary nuclear deal with Iran. Confused?
Conspicuously and no doubt consciously missing from the Post’s retelling is the fourth sentence of Kirchner’s “rant”: “[Singer] contributed to the NGO Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), $3.6 million from 2008 to 2014.” By leaving this out, the Post is better able to pretend the only link between Singer and Dubowitz and Nisman is their Judaism.
Argentina, whose politics are reputedly as byzantine and Machiavellian as any country’s, does indeed have a history of anti-Semitism. Not only did it offer a refuge to fleeing Nazis after World War II, but the military junta that took power in 1976 included elements that extolled the Third Reich, as eloquently retold by perhaps the most famous survivor of the junta’s torture chambers, Jacobo Timerman (the foreign minister’s late father) in his 1981 book, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.
Kirchner may indeed have a political interest in claiming that an international conspiracy is defaming her government, but the evidence for such a conspiracy in this case is much stronger than the Post suggests. As noted above, millions of dollars have flowed from Singer’s pockets to the various neoconservative groups whose advocacy of confrontation with Iran has extended to attacking Argentina, in particular over its ties to the Islamic Republic.
Singer, who sits on the board of the hawkish Republican Jewish Coalition, turns out to be a generous funder of not only FDD, but AIPAC and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), as well as a number of other right-wing groups and politicians that have stoked hostility toward Iran. In 2010, for example, his personal and family foundations contributed a combined $1 million to the American Israel Education Foundation, the fundraising wing of AIPAC and the sponsor of its congressional junkets to Israel. The $3.6 million he gave to FDD between 2008 and 2011, meanwhile, makes him the group’s second largest donor during those three years. So, it’s pretty clear that what ties AIPAC and FDD together is not only their anti-Iran efforts, but also Paul Singer’s largesse. And that’s the link Kirchner highlights but the Post leaves out.
Make no mistake: Singer and Elliott Management stand to make as much as $2 billion if they can collect full value on the debt they bought for pennies on the dollar after the country’s 2001 default. About 93 percent of Argentina’s bondholders agreed to accept a fraction of what they were originally owed (a fact the Post also conveniently omitted). But Singer—who has done this sort of thing before with other nations that have defaulted on their debt—sued in U.S. court to recover the full amount, a move the Kirchner government has fought every step of the way. The Obama administration and the International Monetary Fund, as well as most of Latin America and Washington’s closest European allies, have also sided with Argentina, viewing Singer’s actions as a threat to the international financial system.
The Iranian “Connection”
What has this got to do with Nisman, though? His allegations of Iranian direction in the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires—and subsequent charges that the Kirchner government was trying to cover up that involvement so as to not undermine its growing economic relations with the Tehran—proved quite useful in another arena: the court of public and congressional opinion. According to IPS’s Gareth Porter, Nisman’s 2006 indictments were based virtually entirely on the testimony of a long-discredited former Iranian intelligence officer and several members of the cult-like Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that fought alongside Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war.
But the claims have undoubtedly been useful to Singer’s cause. “We do whatever we can to get our government and media’s attention focused on what a bad actor Argentina is,” Robert Raben, executive director of the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA) explained to The Huffington Post. ATFA, a group Singer helped create with other hold-out creditors in 2007, spent at least $3.8 million dollars over 5 years doing whatever it could to paint Argentina as a pariah, according to IPS. Connecting the Kirchner government to Iran has clearly furthered that purpose.
“Argentina and Iran: Shameful Allies” was the headline of one ATFA ad that ran in Washington newspapers back in June 2013 as the Obama administration was considering whether to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Argentina’s favour. The ad featured adjoining photos of Kirchner and outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad connected by the question, “A Pact With the Devil?”
“What’s the TRUTH About Argentina’s Deal with Iran?” asked another very flashy full-page ad featuring unflattering photos of Kirchner and Hassan Rouhani published in the Post’s front section shortly thereafter. The ad included excerpts of letters denouncing the joint investigation from members of Congress, including Mark Kirk (R-IL) who received more than $95,000 from employees of Singer’s firm, Elliott Management, in the 2010 election. The signer of one letter urging the administration against siding with Argentina, former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY)—who after his re-election in 2014 pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion and resigned shortly thereafter—received $38,000 in campaign contributions from Elliott in 2012, nearly twice as much as his next largest donor.
Singer’s generosity also appears to have produced results in the think tank world, with Dubowitz’s FDD leading the way. In May 2013, as ATFA was running the Kirchner-Ahmadinejad ad, FDD release an English-language summary of a new “ground-breaking” report by Nisman detailing “Iran’s extensive terrorist network in Latin America.” (In an extended exchange with ProPublica here and here, Jim pointed out the summary’s many serious holes, leaps of logic, and other weaknesses.) The report triggered a flood of op-eds by FDD fellows and fellow-travellers at other neo-conservative organizations, as well as a series of hearings held by the House Homeland Security Subcommittee. According to FDD’s vice president, Toby Dershowitz, the report provided:
a virtual road map for how Iran’s long arm of terrorism can reach unsuspecting communities and that the AMIA attack was merely the canary in the coal mine. …The no-holds-barred, courageous report is a ‘must read’ for policy makers and law enforcement around the world and Nisman himself should be tapped for his guidance and profound understanding of Iran’s terrorism strategy.
Nisman’s death, on the eve of his testimony before the Argentine Congress about his charges against Kirchner and Timerman (since dismissed by two courts), produced another outpouring of articles by FDD fellows recalling the prosecutor’s tireless efforts to document Iran’s alleged involvement in the AMIA bombings and Kirchner’s purported courtship of Iran. Within a month, FDD announced the establishment of an “Alberto Nisman Award for Courage.” “We must pay careful attention to the detailed Iranian playbook he left behind and from it, heed important lessons in counter-terrorism and law enforcement,” Dershowitz said in the announcement. (For an interesting take on Nisman’s work, see “Why Nisman is No Hero in Argentine Bombing Case” by Argentine journalist Graciela Mochkofsky published last month in The Forward.)
Although FDD clearly lent itself with gusto to Singer’s efforts to tar Argentina and Kirchner with the Iranian brush, AIPAC has been more reserved. It has focused on the issue of Iranian terrorism in its own tireless drive to promote sanctions legislation and a policy of confrontation against the Islamic Republic. In 2010, however, the same year in which Singer and his foundation contributed $1 million to the premier pro-Israel lobby, Nisman was featured on a panel entitled, “Dangerous Liaisons: Iran’s Alliances With Rogue Regimes” at the group’s annual policy conference.
AEI Joins In
As for AEI, Singer would find it attractive not only for its pro-Israel hawkishness and long-standing hostility toward Iran and leftist governments everywhere, but also to its domestic agenda: a hands-off policy toward Wall Street. In other words, he may have had several reasons to give the group $1.1 million in 2009—its second-biggest donor that year—and another $1.2 million over the next two. Whatever his reasons, those who received those millions surely (and demonstrably) knew well enough not to upset their benefactor. And AEI fellow Roger Noriega, a former senior Bush administration official, has certainly pushed the Argentina-Iran/Nisman connection.
As Charles reported in 2013, Noriega has himself been paid at least $60,000 by Elliott Management since 2007—the same year AFTA was founded—to lobby on the issue of “Sovereign Debt Owed to a U.S. Company.” In 2011, he published an article on AEI’s website citing Nisman’s AMIA indictment and denouncing Iran’s offer to cooperate with Argentina in investigating the AMIA bombing as “shocking, in light of Tehran’s apparent complicity in that attack.” The article—“Argentina’s Secret Deal With Iran?”—cited secret documents suggesting that Tehran and Buenos Aires had recently renewed their cooperation on nuclear development as part of a deal “brokered and paid for” by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
Two years later, Noriega and Jose Cardenas, a contributor to AEI’s “Venezuela-Iran Project,” co-authored a seven-page policy brief on AEI’s website entitled “Argentina’s Race to the Bottom,” which, among other things, charged that Kirchner’s government was “casting its lot with rogue governments like those in Venezuela and Iran.” Noting that two-way trade with Iran had grown from $339 million in 2002 to $18.1 billion in 2011, the article asserted:
…[T]he Kirchner government has been turning its back on its historical alliances and increasingly tilting its economic relationships toward countries of dubious international standing where rule of law is less of a concern.
And a week after FDD announced its Nisman Award for Courage, Noriega was back at it with an article headlined “Argentina’s Kirchner Reeling from Scandal.” The piece called for a “credible international investigation into Nisman’s case… to ensure that his 10-year search for the truth was not in vain and that justice is attained not only for his family but also for the victims of the 1994 AMIA bombing.” In a veiled reference to Singer’s quest, he wrote:
From ongoing battles with bondholders playing out in a New York courtroom to pressuring critical news outlets through threats and intimidation to failed attempts to jumpstart a flagging economy, the Kirchner administration cannot end soon enough for many Argentines. Candidates lining up to replace Kirchner in the October elections will likely position themselves as far away from the kirchnerista record as possible. A new administration will have ample opportunity – and likely significant public support – to chart a new economic course. That means reconciling with international financial institutions and markets, restoring trust among foreign investors, and rooting out corruption.
Perhaps Noriega is simply interested in tarring Argentina with the Iranian brush in keeping with his long-standing crusade against any Latin American government that defies Washington’s writ. But like others engaged in this campaign, he and his organization have been paid generously by a very wealthy individual with a clear financial stake in seeing that Argentina’s current government is excised from the community of respectable nations, at least until it pays what he thinks he is owed.
If the Post had “followed the money,” it perhaps would not have been so “confused” by the connections Kirchner highlighted between Singer and those who have attacked her government over its allegedly nefarious relations with Iran. Ignoring Deep Throat’s advice and acting as if that trail of money doesn’t exist allowed the paper to better roll out the powerful charge of anti-Semitism. In truth, it’s not the president of Argentina’s supposed bigotry that offends, though, but the powerful enemies she’s made (and how much they’re worth).
Read the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal on Baltimore, and they tell you violence broke out there Monday. You hear an NPR correspondent refer to an “eruption of violence” in the city. The New Republic’s Rebecca Traister disagrees. “Violence broke out and erupted not when students threw stones at police, but when Freddie Gray suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody, and, eventually, died.”
Maybe. But the Baltimore Sun concluded last September that, in the preceding four years, “more than 100 people [had] won court judgments or settlements related to allegations,” against police, “of brutality and civil rights violations.” Reporter Mark Puente detailed the “head trauma, organ failure, and even death” awaiting victims. This was when violence broke out.
Perhaps—though Christian Parenti, in 1997, explained that “police violence is soaring.” “By mid-August of this year Baltimore Police had already shot more than 70 civilians,” he added. It was the dawn of the “zero tolerance” era. The approach directs cops to “stop, frisk, and arrest vast numbers of young black and Hispanic men for minor offenses,” Jeffrey Rosen clarified. It made a believer of Martin O’Malley, Democrat, Mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007. The city’s population was 640,000 in 2005. There were more than 100,000 arrests that year.
Was this when violence broke out? Possibly—but in March 1980, “an off-duty police detective, without warning, shot and paralyzed a 17-year-old black youth,” Associated Press reported. “The officer later said he thought the youth, Ja-Wan McGee, was going to rob a pizza parlor, but young McGee was taking a cigarette lighter out of his pocket.” In August 1978, the Baltimore Afro-American broke a story about a trio of white cops. They issued black teenager Derek Copeland “a green pass giving the youth permission to walk neighborhood streets”—“similar,” the paper observed, “to the one issued by the South African government led by John Vorster.”
Was it then that violence erupted? Or was it early the morning of June 27, 1969, when Helen Smith sat on a stoop with Donald Best? Patrolman Alvin Nachman approached with his dog, and an order: “hold the noise down.” No neighbors had complained. The dog attacked Helen first, and the officer maced her as she tried to fight off the animal. She got 75 stitches, and Donald 32 “to close the dog bite wounds in his side and hip,” the Afro disclosed. “Both Mrs. Smith and Mr. Best were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. They were both forced to spend the night in jail after treatment for their wounds.”
If not then, violence hit Baltimore five years earlier. Raymond Petty drove there from Halifax, VA, to visit his sister Hazel in June 1964. She was ill and the outlook was not good. Raymond was in a mild car accident after arriving. His brother Louis was at the scene, the cops arrived. The Afro described how policemen bludgeoned Louis “although they had arrested him illegally, and continued to beat him in a patrol wagon while transporting him to the police station.” He was dead two days later.
But really the violence began before that. It was 1956. There were five police killings in four months. Patrolman Charles Fennell shot Harry Boyd, Jr. in the back on June 25. Patrolman Walter Mina, Jr.’s bullet wounded Robert Harper in the leg on July 7. The blood drained from Harper’s injury until he died. On August 15, Sergeant Albert Heck killed 24-year-old Frank J. Williams. Patrolman Benjamin Ledden opened fire on September 19—in self-defense, he insisted—terminating Donald Jackson’s life at 23. Patrolman Marshall V. Brewer took out 14-year-old Benjamin Brown with a rifle he “didn’t know was loaded.” Of these five policemen, only Brewer was suspended.
Those were just the 1956 shootings. The Afro’s Elizabeth Murphy Oliver wrote of her visit to Northwestern Police Station that September. What she saw shattered her. She “hoped it was a dream.” It wasn’t. She had witnessed “a policeman beat a man and drag him roughly on the floor while the victim writhed and rolled in agony.” Vernon Johnson “was still sobbing and holding his eye” when it ended. “Blood was dripping from somewhere.” Oliver “wondered how an eye could run blood,” watched Johnson’s tears fall, “mixed with blood.” The Afro visited Johnson a week later. “His eye is still closed. He doesn’t sleep much, and his chest hurts when he breathes.” This was when the violence started.
No. In February 1942, Patrolman Edward Bender shot his second black victim, Thomas Broadus, as he fled. His friends rushed over to take him to the hospital. Bender blocked them, and Broadus died in the street before “scores of persons,” according to the Afro. This was when the violence began.
No—it was before that. Officer Charles Harris shot Roland Freeman dead on November 14, 1931. On March 29, 1930, the Afro wrote that “Officer Herman Trautner, white, killed Roosevelt Yates, an unarmed man he was seeking to arrest.” “The trouble is police brutality in Baltimore has gone as far as some people are going to stand,” the paper warned, 85 years ago.
That same year it profiled Rev. E. W. White, pastor of the Provident Baptist Church. “Baptist Minister Says Brutality Surpasses Anything South Has Seen,” ran the headline. Two decades earlier, in 1911, the Afro alerted readers that cops were “shooing colored people out of neighborhoods where a majority of the residents are white.” “It is just this kind of conduct,” a 1906 story on a mass arrest of blacks affirmed, “that often makes well-disposed people do what under other circumstances they would not do.”
“To us,” Baltimore resident D. Watkins explained this week, the city’s “Police Department is a group of terrorists;” major news outlets, on violence in Baltimore, recall the fish in the joke. “How’s the water?” the fisherman asks. “What’s water?” replies the fish, oblivious to what makes its world—like the establishment media, unaware of the violence shaping theirs.
Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: email@example.com.