Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 5, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

WHICH MILITIA?....Michael Gordon has a piece in the New York Times today passing along charges from (anonymous) American sources that (a) Hezbollah is in Iran training Iraqi militia fighters and (b) Iran is providing weapons to these militias. Are these charges true? Who knows. Gordon, unfortunately, has a longstanding reputation for repeating official U.S. narratives almost verbatim, so all we really know is that this is something the military and the Bush administration want us to believe. Depending on your temperament, you can read Abu Muqawama for a restrained takedown of Gordon's piece or Glenn Greenwald for the more fire-breathing version.

However, Laura Rozen points out something that also tickled my brain cells when I first read Gordon's article. Picking up on a comment at Abu Muqawama, she notes that "the Gordon piece strikingly doesn't tell us WHICH militia the captured Shiite militants who had trained in Iran belonged to." That's true. Here are the descriptions scattered throughout Gordon's piece:

Iraqi militia fighters....four Shiite militia members....Iraqi militia fighters....Iranian assistance to the militias....militia groups....Iraqi militias....small groups of Iraqi Shiite militants....other groups of Iraqi militants....Shiite militias.

That's nine separate references, all of them purposefully vague. We're obviously meant to believe that Iran is exclusively training and supplying Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, not the Badr militia associated with the Iraqi government, but if that's the case then why not just say so? There hardly seems to be any reason to leave this detail out unless it's not actually true.

Kevin Drum 10:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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Comments

Spot on Kevin. Furthermore, we seem to have little moral high ground here to denounce another nation for interfering in Iraq. We can complain, but the hypocrisy stinks like cheap cologne. English Leather steeped in Bush-sweat.

Posted by: Sparko on May 5, 2008 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

"all we really know is that this is something the military and the Bush administration want us to believe"

A great disclaimer that should be appended to anything the NYT prints, or more, anything that comes out of the Middle East "theater" that cannot be independently corroborated. IOW, everything.

The NYT, by the way, is a straight-up neo-con rag. Oh, they're reliably center-left on domestic issues, but they are compromised when it comes to the Middle East. I just wish everyone would remember this, instead of falling back on "believing" their propaganda, out of convenience.

Posted by: flubber on May 5, 2008 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

It must be lovely to be able to select which news stories to believe based upon one's wish to believe them.

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Posted by: oh minseok on May 5, 2008 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

"It must be lovely to be able to select which news stories to believe based upon one's wish to believe them."


Oh, am, it's more elegant than that. It's a simple matter of knowing the "truth." Around here, that's what passes for certainty. Just step up to the podium, and proclaim. Loudly.

Posted by: BillyBobSchranzburg on May 5, 2008 at 11:22 PM | PERMALINK

For what it's worth, I have my money on Iran's having provided weapons and training to just about every Shiite militia in the country at one point or another, and also on the Tehran government's having less control over what those militias do with their weapons and training than we think.

Here is something I've never quite understood about the argument that we have to keep an American army in Iraq, apparently in perpetuity, because otherwise Tehran would run the show in all of Iraq and use it as a base to dominate the region. Not quite 30 years ago, Saddam Hussein attacked Iran with an army made up mostly of Shiites, and despite severe losses on the battlefield kept the war going for almost a decade. Iran hosted first Hakim's Shiite faction, then Sadr's; first took Sadr's part against cooperation with the Americans, then took the Iraqi government's part when it moved against Sadr in Basra.

The question being this, as far as the Iranians in coalition-less Iraq are concerned: if Iraq is a quagmire for us, why would it not be for them?

Posted by: Zathras on May 5, 2008 at 11:30 PM | PERMALINK

Lets wait to see what Judith Miller has to say about this.If she confirms it,it has to be true.

Posted by: R.L. on May 5, 2008 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

It seems some botnet broke into Gmail and is sending this weird message to lots of blogs.

Maybe the angle is to get people to email that gmail address, and then the botnet gets their address and spams the hell out of them.

Either way, I think our resident trolls should go check it out. It could involve yummy candy.

Posted by: Oh Minsouk on May 5, 2008 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

OMG! BillyBob just broke the matrix!

It's a simple matter of knowing the "truth." Around here, that's what passes for certainty.

In most place, the truth passes for certainty. Where are you living? What do your people shout from rooftops? What are you doing on your roof? You'll break you neck, idiot! Metaphorically!

Posted by: absent observer on May 6, 2008 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

All governments lie. Our government lies more than most, but perhaps slightly less than that of Robert Mugabe. Many of you were pleased to hear that the employment news was much better than expected in April. The BLS reported that only 20,000 jobs had been lost and that there had been a slight dip in the unemployment rate. If you look at the report, you can see some unbelievable items- just to mention one, the BLS claims that 8,000 jobs were added to the financial sector in April.

Now, Michael Gordon is trying to overtake Judith Miller as craven bootlicking reporter #1. Maybe am thinks that the NYT should just regurgitate all the White House lies, but I don't.

A thoughtful reporter would also ask Hillary and Barack how in the world they can give a middle class tax cut and markedly improve healthcare coverage for all Americans. Look at the Massachusetts experience and the large deficits, far above those expected. Then remember that Mass ranks low in the # of uninsured even before the new plan, and is actually increasing real jobs in the first quarter of 2008. The American public and our press are mighty gullible. I say that McClatchy is the only semi-reliable news organization.

Posted by: erewhon on May 6, 2008 at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK

There hardly seems to be any reason to leave this detail out unless it's not actually true.

Gordon doesn't say it, but makes a strong suggestion:

The Iraqi military also seized Iranian-made weapons with 2008 markings during their offensive last month in the southern port of Basra, according to American officials.
That is consistent with the general theme of attempting to link "special groups" with al-Sadr and Mahdi. Gordon continues that theme with his blithe remark:
...Iranians have long sought to arm and train Iraqi militias, which the American military has called "special groups."
As if militias and special groups are interchangeable.

Posted by: has407 on May 6, 2008 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

So this account of Hezbollah's role was all based on the torture, er, interrogation by the US military of four militia members over a six month period, from late last year to now. Six months of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other physical and mental hardships.

Hey, I believe it! Let's go to war!

Iran has a large military arms industry, built up because of US sanctions and the Iraq-Iran War. Their weapons are everywhere. There is no "gun control" in the ME. And anyhow, guns don't kill people, people kill people (NRA).

Posted by: Don Bacon on May 6, 2008 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

It is interesting that the Iraqi government is not supporting the claims of Iranian involvement. From Juan Cole:
"CSM reports on the way the Iraqi government is in between the US and Iran and says it lacks hard proof of Iranian interference. It is forming a commission to look into the matter. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said at his first Sunday news conference that there is no hard evidence that the Iranian government is sending in arms to destabilize Iraq."

Posted by: bigTom on May 6, 2008 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

The Iraqi government's position has apparently changed:

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh called reporters late Sunday night to clarify remarks he made at a news conference earlier in the day, when he appeared to say that there was no hard evidence that Iran was allowing weapons to come into Iraq. Dabbagh said his comments had been misinterpreted.

"There is an interference and evidence that they have interfered in Iraqi affairs," Dabbagh said in an interview arranged by a U.S. official. When asked how he would characterize the proof that Iranian weapons are flowing into Iraq, he said: "It is a concrete evidence."

Posted by: has407 on May 6, 2008 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

Where are the rocket launchers? They would end US air power in Iraq.

Posted by: Brojo on May 6, 2008 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

That's nine separate references, all of them purposefully vague. We're obviously meant to believe that Iran is exclusively training and supplying Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, not the Badr militia associated with the Iraqi government, but if that's the case then why not just say so?

The fine art of parsing what's said and not said... unfortunately necessary in an era when many within the Pentagon and the spook agencies routinely place lies in the media as SOP to help further their agendas (so much easier than having to win the argument in the back-and-forth of democracy)... The aggregate cost to the U.S. of such propaganda of course far, far exceeds any benefits. High time to start stringing up some of these motherfuckers IMESHO. These planted stories aimed at the domestic audience are a form of treason, nothing less. btw, Michael Gordon's stories (often cowritten with Ms. Judith Miller) on Iraqi WMD's were just as obvious concoctions as the sort of shit being served up here though not recognized as such by too many. One of the reasons others of us were pulling out our hair at the time.

Posted by: snicker-snack on May 6, 2008 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

Where are the rocket launchers? They would end US air power in Iraq.
Posted by: Brojo on May 6, 2008 at 1:43 AM

Could you please explain the connection between "rocket launchers" and "US air power in Iraq."

Posted by: majarosh on May 6, 2008 at 3:27 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the last 18 months regarding Iraq is the weird wingnut/Iran alliance and the silence over it. On the one hand, the wingnuts want to bomb Iran. On the other, they claim that it is in our vital interest to back the wholly owned subsidiary of Iran that is the current Iraqi government.

The MSM is of course asleep at the wheel on this point.

But has there ever been another instance in American history where a side of the political debate has been so obviously and blatatntly schizo on a foreign policy issue?

It's weird.

Posted by: mkultra on May 6, 2008 at 3:49 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry for the multiple posts.

Posted by: mkultra on May 6, 2008 at 3:51 AM | PERMALINK

Kev,
I could be mistaken, but it appears you are conceding that members of Iraqi Shia militias are being trained in and supplied by Iran.
It also appears your problem with the NYT article is that it doesn't name which of two militias, Mahdi or Badr, is being trained and supplied by Iran.
May I suggest that you expand the possibilities to militias other than the two you mention, including rogue elements and focus on 1.)those located in Basra, where caches of newly manufactured Iranian weapons have been seized and 2.)those located in Sadr City.

Posted by: majarosh on May 6, 2008 at 4:13 AM | PERMALINK

I vote for invading Saudi Arabia - that's where most of the 9-11 hijackers were from after all. Those Saudi pussies would surrender in a matter of hours - the only reason they haven't been conquered by their neighbors is we support their candy asses. If we are going to build empires, start where the money is!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 6, 2008 at 5:52 AM | PERMALINK

The Bush Administration is simply out of credibility. While from time to time they may not lie, their statements should always be considered lies until proven otherwise.

Posted by: Eric on May 6, 2008 at 7:14 AM | PERMALINK

am wrote:

It must be lovely to be able to select which news stories to believe based upon one's wish to believe them.

Far be it from me to be a big Kevin-defender nowadays, but if you look at the post, he put his supposed reasons in it for any skepticism he allegedly had about it. Those reasons, as is usual of blog-psts on the liberal blogosphere, had to do with facts and with a track record of someone's behavior, not just with the blogger's own feelings.

You're looking for the right-wing blogosophere, if you're looking for people to level that epithet at.

Posted by: Swan on May 6, 2008 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe Petraeus can take some lessons from the Iranians in how to train foreign forces. Seems the Iranians are having some success, yet after 5 years we are still unable to get Iraquis to stand up for themselves.

Posted by: bubba on May 6, 2008 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

Deflator: I vote for invading Saudi Arabia

You forget, my friends, that the whole purpose of the Iraq exercise was to give our troops somewhere to park that was near, but not technically in, Saudi Arabia. That's what Osama wanted, and what Osama wants Osama gets. Mission Accomplished, baby!

Who could have predicted that Iraq wouldn't be a cakewalk?

Posted by: thersites on May 6, 2008 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

"Oh, am, it's more elegant than that. It's a simple matter of knowing the 'truth.' Around here, that's what passes for certainty. Just step up to the podium, and proclaim. Loudly."

Dear heart, where do you see "truth" or "certainty" in Kevin's post or in any of the comments here? Is reading comprehension always this much trouble for you?

In fact, it's the opposite of your claim. We are expressing skepticism about "truth" and "certainty", given that there appears to be no corroborating evidence and that the details of the claims are sketchy at best.

We went to war in Iraq on the basis of claims like this. We would prefer to not make the same mistake again.

Posted by: PaulB on May 6, 2008 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

"I could be mistaken"

You are.

"but it appears you are conceding that members of Iraqi Shia militias are being trained in and supplied by Iran."

No. Kevin wrote: "[A]ll we really know is that this is something the military and the Bush administration want us to believe." That is not a concession of Iranian involvement.

"It also appears your problem with the NYT article is that it doesn't name which of two militias, Mahdi or Badr, is being trained and supplied by Iran."

And, again, no. Kevin is pointing out that at least one reason to be skeptical about the claims is their vagueness.

"May I suggest that you expand the possibilities to militias other than the two you mention"

You do not need to tell Kevin this, or anyone else here, for that matter.

"including rogue elements and focus on 1.)those located in Basra, where caches of newly manufactured Iranian weapons have been seized and 2.)those located in Sadr City."

LOL.... Um, both of the militias in question have power bases in Basra. And the information about the "caches of newly-manufactured Iranian weapons" comes from ... wait for it ... military sources and administration officials.

So what was your point again?

Posted by: PaulB on May 6, 2008 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

"You're looking for the right-wing blogosophere, if you're looking for people to level that epithet at."

Actually, all he has to do is look in the mirror. Our dear little chum, am, is a well-known right-wing nutcase and troll. A simple Google search is quite revealing about the caliber of his posts and the depths of his denial.

Posted by: PaulB on May 6, 2008 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin --

If it isn't true...or if the militias are allied with the government.

Posted by: brendan on May 6, 2008 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Laura Rozen has highlighted a common NYT bamboozlement. Just about any day that you're in a library with 15 minutes to kill before lunch, you can scan the NYT and find one of these.

In this case, we're seeing confusion piled on absurdity (we already know Iran trained the Badr Corps of Maliki) piled on incredulity (Iran is making weapons? Wouldn't that be a little, um redundant?).

The remaining Bushies, however, don't need no stinkin' evidence. In fact, they're kind of immune to it.

Posted by: serial catowner on May 6, 2008 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

I guess we, like the Iranians, are trying to figure out which of the Shiite strongmen is going to emerge as the new Shiite Saddam.

You all realize that Iraq has never had a real national identity. It is just a collection of tribes and religious sects, with an emphasis on the tribes. Saddam was able to hold it together by using his Sunnis to terrorize the various Shiite sects. The Iraqi Sunnis may have been less numerous than the mass of Shiites, but Saddam knew that when you break the Shiites down into their natural factions the Sunnis suddenly become the big dogs.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 6, 2008 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

What the hell is "fire-breathing" about Greenwald's take on Gordon and the NYT? Trying to distance yourself from him, Kevin? For whom? The breaches of core journalistic ethics are blatant, severe and indisputable. There is no repentence whatsoever. An article like this should be, as a single transgression, a firing offense for Gordon and everyone who approved it -- like, say, a doctor who usually is conscientious but deliberately withholds some treatment from someone he doesn't like, or a lawyer who deliberately doesn't bother to read the file before going into court to defend someone he or she believes to be guilty. Is this conclusion by Greenwald "fire-breathing" (quoting another reporter who refused to pull the trigger and called Gordon "a good reporter")?

"I really don't understand how a reporter who 'is in essence repeating a narrative that was given to him' by the Government; none of whose reporting in this article is 'independent'; and whose reporting thus carries 'the risk of creating an echo chamber that produces the illusion of outside corroboration for administration claims' and who 'has a track record of uncritically parroting administration positions' can possibly -- at the same time -- be considered a 'good reporter.' Isn't all of that behavior the defining attribute of a rank government propagandist, and the very antithesis of 'good reporting'?

It was this 'echo chamber' behavior by Gordon that allowed Dick Cheney to go on Meet the Press prior to the invasion and claim that even the NYT reported that Saddam had sought to obtain aluminum tubes of the type necessary to build a centrifuge. The Government had fed Miller and Gordon that claim; they mindlessly re-printed it; and then the Government cited their 'reporting' as proof that it was true. How can someone who did that -- and continues repeatedly to do it -- be anything close to a 'good reporter'?


Posted by: urban legend on May 6, 2008 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

the new Shiite Saddam

The new Saddam in Iraq is the US military. Shiites have not produced dictatorships, and it is doubtful they would.

If Iran really is arming the Iraqi resistance, why have they not provided them with a weapon that would do the most good? The answer is obvious. The US would use the evidence of technologically sophisticated weapons from Iran to justify starting a war with Iran.

Posted by: Brojo on May 6, 2008 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

On Charlie Rose last night or before, I saw Bush-ex operative Meghan O'Sullivan shamelessly giving props to Maliki for having the gumption to fight al Sadr's "Iran-backed" Shiite militia, despite Maliki being a Shiite etc. Of course she didn't admit that the Badr Corps and SCIRI are closer to both Iran and Maliki than Sadr is, who is actually more of a true Iraq nationalist as we are supposed to be supporting. (Not to mention the issues with Chalabi, etc.)

Charlie, so often in the faces of his guests, never batted an eye. He should have know better and challenged it.

Posted by: NB on May 6, 2008 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Could you please explain the connection between "rocket launchers" and "US air power in Iraq."
Posted by: majarosh

Shoulder launched rockets (not to be confused with RPGs) can reach jets flying at lower altitude and all helicopters. If this is all still unclear, read any of the military histories of the Soviet-Afghan War. When the CIA started supplying heavier weapons, including rocket launchers, the once feared and deadly Soviet helicopter gunship (name escapes me) was pretty much grounded.

In short, in many, okay, in most situations, the Iraq "army," like ARVN before it, are pretty useless without U.S. air support or U.S. troops directing the battle.

Posted by: Miss Information on May 6, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

To quote the Bush administration: Wolf!! Wolf!! Wolf!!

Posted by: searcy on May 6, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Could you please explain the connection between "rocket launchers" and "US air power in Iraq."

December 2006: "Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles" (emphasis added). February 2007: "Fifth U.S. chopper goes down in Iraq."

Posted by: croatoan on May 6, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone doubt that Bush & Co. are ratcheting up the tension with Iran to position the Republican party for the presidential elections.

The neocons aren't done with their agenda. They need another eight years.

Posted by: FB on May 6, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Would Pale Rider, Blue Girl or one of the other regular commentors who is knowledgeable about military weapons please explain to Brojo, Miss Information and croatoan the differences between rocket launchers and surface to air missles. Thanks.

Posted by: majarosh on May 6, 2008 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

typo...should read "missiles."

Posted by: majarosh on May 6, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Rocket launchers are used to launch rockets. Some are surface-to-surface, some are surface-to-air, and others are air-to-surface.

Surface-to-air is otherwise known as "anti-aircraft". If a person can carry the launcher/missle, they are referred to as "man portable air defense" (MANPAD), such as the Stinger.

Air-to-surface rocket launchers are generally generally referred to simply as "airplanes" and "helicopters".

Posted by: on May 6, 2008 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

In the popular vernacular, anti-aircraft hand held rocket launching weapons are called rocket launchers. The weapons that helped the Mujahideen defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan are not being used to combat Iraqi's invaders.

Posted by: Brojo on May 6, 2008 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

In the popular vernacular, anti-aircraft hand held rocket launching weapons are called rocket launchers. The weapons that helped the Mujahideen defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan are not being used to combat Iraqi's invaders.
Posted by: Brojo

In the ACCURATE popular vernacular, anti-aircraft SHOULDER fired weapons are called SAMs, surface-to-air MISSILES, not friggin ROCKETS or ROCKET LAUNCHERS.

Rockets are un-guided weapons that are aimed ballistically. They include surface-to-surface and air-to-surface, not surface-to-air or air-to-air.


From Wiki:
Man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) are shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. They typically use infra-red guidance and can be a threat to low-flying aircraft, especially helicopters.

Posted by: majarosh on May 6, 2008 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

If I Had A Rocket Launcher by Bruce Cockburn

Here comes the helicopter -- second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they've murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher...I'd make somebody pay

I don't believe in guarded borders and I don't believe in hate
I don't believe in generals or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher...I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation -- or some less humane fate
Cry for guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher...I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice -- at least I've got to try
Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher...Some son of a bitch would die

Posted by: on May 6, 2008 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

SHOULDER fired weapons are called SAMs, surface-to-air MISSILES, not friggin ROCKETS or ROCKET LAUNCHERS.

Stingers are propelled by...wait for it...rockets.

Posted by: trex on May 6, 2008 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

ver·nac·u·lar
1 : a vernacular language, expression, or mode of expression 2 : the mode of expression of a group or class 3 : a vernacular name of a plant or animal

jar·gon
1 a: confused unintelligible language b: a strange, outlandish, or barbarous language or dialect c: a hybrid language or dialect simplified in vocabulary and grammar and used for communication between peoples of different speech 2: the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group 3: obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words

no·men·cla·ture
1: name, designation 2: the act or process or an instance of naming 3 a: a system or set of terms or symbols especially in a particular science, discipline, or art b: an international system of standardized New Latin names used in biology for kinds and groups of kinds of animals and plants


Posted by: Brojo on May 6, 2008 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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