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Tilting at Windmills

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July 31, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

TRIGGER HAPPY....This is weird. I missed this nugget buried deep in Seymour Hersh's July piece in the New Yorker when I first read it, but it turns out that our little run-in with those Iranian boats earlier this year sparked some conversation in the White House:

[A] lesson was learned in the incident: The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn't do more. [A former senior intelligence] official said that, a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President's office. "The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington," he said.

The story contains no further details, but apparently that's not because Hersh doesn't know them. ThinkProgress asked Hersh about the Cheney meeting at a recent conference, and he said this:

There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don't we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives.

And it was rejected because you can't have Americans killing Americans. That's the kind of — that's the level of stuff we're talking about. Provocation. But that was rejected.

Fascinating. So why wasn't that in his story? According to Hersh, it's because his editors didn't think he should write about options that were discussed but subsequently rejected.

You gotta be kidding. The fact that they're even talking about stuff like this is news. If Hersh's editors thought his sourcing was no good, then his piece shouldn't have mentioned the meeting at all. But if the sourcing was good enough to report the meeting in the first place, it was good enough to report what they talked about. What were the New Yorker's editors thinking?

POSTSCRIPT: If this story sounds familiar, that's because it is. In one of David Manning's famous memos describing a prewar meeting between George Bush and Tony Blair, he says that Bush admitted that WMD was unlikely to be found in Iraq and then mused on some possible options for justifying a war anyway:

"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

In the end, of course, we didn't do this. We just didn't bother with any pretext at all.

Kevin Drum 7:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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Comments


Remember the Maine !

I'm sure that Al Quaeda in Cuba was responsible for that torpedo.

Posted by: joel hanes on July 31, 2008 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

So, tell me again how crazy all those 9/11 conspiracies are...

Posted by: Catpain Haddock on July 31, 2008 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

The New Yorker's editors were thinking, that since thwy worked for a Republican owned magazine, they must bury the story.

Posted by: capitalistpig on July 31, 2008 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

I respect much of the work Hersh has done in the past, but he has a habit of making unverifiable, unsourced, and ultimately unpublished claims that are far more extreme than what ends up in his articles. Some of the statements he made about Abu Grahib were never followed up - crazy shit like child rape. This is obviously something that really needs to be followed up on, and I'd like to hear this supposed conversation confirmed somewhere else before I join the mob with pitchforks. I wouldn't put anything past these assholes, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

Posted by: Nat on July 31, 2008 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Nat. Bush's suggestion is gross; but it's a far cry from dressing up as Iranians and killing our own service people to gin up a war.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on July 31, 2008 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

Nat/Larry: I agree, but the editors can't have it both ways. If the story's source wasn't good enough, then they shouldn't even have mentioned the meeting. Either tell the story or don't, depending on whether the source is good enough or not. You can't go halfway.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on July 31, 2008 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin must be the last remaining person in the world still to believe any of the things which Hersh says.

I mean, how many of the past zero Iran wars has that guy predicted?

Posted by: ab on July 31, 2008 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds to me an awful lot like what the Germans did to justify their invasion of Poland in 1939.

Posted by: Bob on July 31, 2008 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

He started it, officer! He kept hitting my fist with his chin!

Posted by: thersites on July 31, 2008 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

does anyone on this blog have any aquaintance with history whatsoever? Leaders throughout history have constantly sought or outright fabricate pretexts for war - it's standard fucking practice you morons. Now obviously it's a practice open to abuse, and one can obviously argue Bush has abused with abandon, but don't pontificate as if this is a shocking revelation. FDR did it, so did Kennedy.

Posted by: orlo on July 31, 2008 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

Hersh's MO is to make a thousand crazy claims. When one of them turns out to be true, he's a genius. He's the stereotypical broken clock. I'll personally eat "4 or 5 Iranian PT boats" if that story is ever verified. Total crap.

Posted by: Pat on July 31, 2008 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

"Nat/Larry: I agree, but the editors can't have it both ways. If the story's source wasn't good enough, then they shouldn't even have mentioned the meeting. Either tell the story or don't, depending on whether the source is good enough or not. You can't go halfway."

I disagree with this.

To a very real extent, the more incendiary the charge, the more assured an editor would want to feel on the sourcing.

But that's not what Hersh is saying about why it was edited out.

Tangentially, I liked Hersh's general assessment:

My attitude always towards editors is theyre mice training to be rats.
Posted by: Petey on July 31, 2008 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

From Wikipedia:

Much of what is known about the Gleiwitz incident comes from the sworn affidavit of Alfred Naujocks at the Nuremberg Trials. According to his testimony, the incident was organized by Naujocks under orders from Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Müller, the chief of the Gestapo.[1]

On the night of August 31, 1939 a small group of German operatives, dressed in Polish uniforms and led by Naujocks[2] seized the Gleiwitz station and broadcast a short anti-German message in Polish (sources vary on the content on the message). The Germans' goal was to make the attack and the broadcast look like the work of anti-German Polish saboteurs.[3][2]

In order to make the attack seem more convincing, the Germans brought in Franciszek Honiok, a German Silesian known for sympathizing with the Poles, who had been arrested the previous day by the Gestapo. Honiok was dressed to look like a saboteur; then killed by lethal injection, given gunshot wounds, and left dead at the scene, so that he appeared to have been killed while attacking the station. His corpse was subsequently presented as proof of the attack to the police and press.[4]

In addition to Honiok, several other convicts from the Dachau concentration camp[2] were kept available for this purpose.[3] The Germans referred to them by the code phrase "Konserve" ("canned goods"). For this reason some sources incorrectly refer to the incident as "Operation Canned Goods."[5]

Posted by: arkie on July 31, 2008 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

don't pontificate as if this is a shocking revelation

Do you see any pontificating here, you mouthbreathing jackass? No. You see most of the commenters actually questioning Hersh's story and his accuracy.

As for Presidents stretching the truth in the past to get us into war: sure it's been done. But that doesn't make it right or legal. And typically Americans didn't know until long after the fact that it had been, whereas here we're in the unusual situation where we know a President lied us into war for indefensible reasons.

It's perfectly legitimate to demand accountability for that. Why do you hate democracy?

And why do you rightwing fucktards excuse Republican lawbreaking every single time on the basis that somebody has broken the law in the past. Do you really think that's a good excuse?

Posted by: trex on July 31, 2008 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

Leaders throughout history have constantly sought or outright fabricate pretexts for war - it's standard fucking practice you morons.

I'm too blown away by the rhetorical force of your argument to respond at length, but leaders throughout history have usually not actively mounted attacks on their own soldiers to provide a casus belli, and I'm pretty certain that neither FDR nor Kennedy tried this. Ignoring warning signs is standard operating procedure when war is the desired outcome, but we're talking about an action that would almost certainly lead to a military coup. Bush is an arrogant, clueless war criminal, but he's not suicidal.

Posted by: Nat on July 31, 2008 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

Leaders throughout history have constantly sought or outright fabricate pretexts for war - it's standard fucking practice you morons.

Does this asshole think he's an American, or a good German?

Now obviously it's a practice open to abuse, ...
Posted by: orlo

Jeeesus fucking christ ... the stupidity of this sentence following the prior leaves me breathless.

Posted by: Gonads on July 31, 2008 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

And why do you rightwing fucktards excuse Republican lawbreaking every single time on the basis that somebody has broken the law in the past. Do you really think that's a good excuse?

Of course they don't. There are still plenty of Republicans who think Nixon didn't do a single goddamn thing wrong. People like that are why I support the 2nd amendment.

Posted by: Nat on July 31, 2008 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

You all know about the almost-war between the U.S. and Canada? The Aroostook War, also known as the Pork and Beans War?

Aye, those were the days:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aroostook_War

Posted by: lampwick on July 31, 2008 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

If the story's source wasn't good enough, then they shouldn't even have mentioned the meeting. Either tell the story or don't, depending on whether the source is good enough or not. You can't go halfway.

As Hersh said, "There was a dozen ideas...". That doesn't mean they were subject to serious consideration; if they weren't, then there's little reason to pursue them. While it would be interesting if Hersh packaged those into an article that focused on how far-ranging and sick those (and other) ideas were, he didn't really need to that for this piece.

I suppose Hersh could have added "with a range of lunatic ideas using artificial means and subterfuge that put American lives and the region unnecessarily at risk, such as...", but that I took that as a given, as the objective was "...how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington".

Once creating a lie to force conflict is on the table as an acceptable strategy, the specific tactics used to implement that lie aren't that significant--you accept or you don't that the government was willing to create an artificial conflict and promote a lie at extreme cost and risk; the rest is, relatively speaking, noise. Hersh properly stressed the former over the latter.

Posted by: has407 on July 31, 2008 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

I despise Bush as much as anyone, but doesn't Hersh write a column warning of an impending Iranian attack like every month?

Posted by: Amanda in San Jose on July 31, 2008 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

So what if he does write a column about attacking Iran every month? If these wackos can discuss having Americans shooting at each other, maybe they are talking about attacking Iran every month. In which case, Hersh would be... right?

Posted by: tomeck on July 31, 2008 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

Nat, I have a friend who is ex-military (purple heart) who frequently tells me that the only reason we don't have martial law right now with Cheney as dictator is because there are too many guns in the hands of civilians for it to be pulled off.

Posted by: on July 31, 2008 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

You know, I am suffering from outrage fatigue. This should be the subject of an intense, televised Congressional hearing, with a strong likelihood of leading to articles of impeachment. Instead, our worthless Democratic leaders in Congress will shrug their shoulders and mouth some half-ass words and hope that Obama gets elected in November. Meanwhile Bush and his fascist cronies saunter off into the sunset to draw a big fat government pension at taxpayer expense with no accountability whatsoever.

Jesus Fucking Christ what happened to America?

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 31, 2008 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

It's not like the Bush administration ever started a war on false pretenses before--so Hersh must be lying. Wait!

I believe that Cheney was behind the Anthrax attacks myself--came from highly protected stocks of America's own arsenal. Targeted democrats. And the media. Cheney was safe underground with cipro and an inoculation from Bioport.

No effort was ever made to round up the real culprits either. These guys are worse than we ever imagined. It does seem like they look on most of us (the 99%) as acceptable losses. That is probably the most chilling definition of evil one can summon for an administration.

Posted by: Sparko on July 31, 2008 at 11:19 PM | PERMALINK

And it was rejected because you can't have Americans killing Americans. That's the kind of — that's the level of stuff we're talking about. Provocation. But that was rejected.

It makes you really wonder about 9/11 and those divided up Iraq oilfield maps in Cheney's pre 9/11 energy task meeting.

Remember Bush wanted Richard Clarke to say that 9/11 was Iraq's fault - even as Clarke told Bush it was not Iraq's fault, so Bush would NEVER have gone after Osama bin Ladin at all, indeed Bush was never really interest enough in catching Osama.

Posted by: Independent Perspective on July 31, 2008 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

Might cost some lives.

What a couple of Navy Seals?

Dick Cheney is talking about murdering a couple a members of the our own military in order to started another lied about war - so why isn't that news?

Why does Nancy keep impeachment off the table, knowing how sinister Dick Cheney and Bush are?

Posted by: Me_again on July 31, 2008 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

Would Navy SEALs open fire on American Vessels? Who'd have to be in on this conspiracy, regional commanders or just fire team commanders? Why would any commanding officer sign off on this plan?

Perhaps Hersh's editors let Hersh show what kind of ideas were being batted around by these loons knowing that all these ideas were impossible to implement. Impossible. Hersh provided a window into the Neocon psyche, not legitimate disastrous plans that needed public pushback.

Posted by: A Different matt on July 31, 2008 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

I recall when they wanted to paint some airliner and fly it over cuba, then shoot it down, then claim Cuba did it so we could start a war with them.

This is a very old method of rule and empowerment. Kings used to foment wars so the people would not revolt against the King.

War is, in effect, a means of hierarchial control.

Posted by: on August 1, 2008 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

What outrage fatigue?? This kind of stuff should enrage every decent American.

Posted by: on August 1, 2008 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

If these guys wanted war with Iraq so bad, why didn't they volunteer to be in the PT boats? Yah, I know, I already know why.

Posted by: fafner1 on August 1, 2008 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

Call Pelosi @1-202-225-0200 DEMAND IMPEACHMET

Posted by: Mike Meyer on August 1, 2008 at 1:20 AM | PERMALINK

typo 1-202-225-0100

Posted by: Mike Meyer on August 1, 2008 at 1:22 AM | PERMALINK

The real question here is, who is the source? Obviously someone at the meeting. Why is he talking? Isn't it obvious he's afraid something really stupid will be done by these goons, and he wants to let the world know via Hersch? Yet the editors scrub the story.

Wonder if they'll regret that one day?

Posted by: KathyF on August 1, 2008 at 2:07 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Nat. Bush's suggestion is gross; but it's a far cry from dressing up as Iranians and killing our own service people to gin up a war.

Why is this a far cry? If they found a different causus belli and triggered a war, there would be some American casualties. If these jerks were planning a provocation that would eventually lead to some American deaths, why is it so hard to accept that they might use some American soldiers to trigger the war?

Such a suggestion would have been rejected because it would have been unacceptable to the military brass, even if it was acceptable to their civilian bosses. Besides, such a plan would have involved too many Americans and would have eventually leaked to the press, before or after the incident was staged.

Posted by: rational on August 1, 2008 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK

This almost seems to me like Reagan's:

"We begin bombing (Russia) in five minutes."

I suspect these guys were sitting around trying to figure out a reason to go to war, and some egghead jokingly put this out there.

The problem is, you never really know what the context is.

Posted by: tripoley on August 1, 2008 at 5:56 AM | PERMALINK

How gullible.

But then the gullibility is predicated on a rock-solid faith that the U.S. government is evil. Strangely enough this faith is reversed during a democratic-party presidency.

I guess we have always been at war with east-asia, eh? Double-plus-ungood!

Posted by: Brad on August 1, 2008 at 6:08 AM | PERMALINK

Good Ford, it's the Gulf of Tonkin all over again.

And hell, yes, if the Administration is even considering a false-flag op to start a war, it's news, even if -- and I'm far from convinced this is the case -- Cheney's goons rejected the idea.

Posted by: Gregory on August 1, 2008 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Would Navy SEALs open fire on American Vessels? Who'd have to be in on this conspiracy, regional commanders or just fire team commanders? Why would any commanding officer sign off on this plan?

The SEALS would depend on the information given them and their orders. Sure they would attack Americans, if the op was designed so that they wouldn't know they were attacking Americans.

As a particularly dark example, reference the speech General Ripper gives his men to defend Burpleson AFB in Dr. Strangelove. He tells them the US troops trying to retake the base would be Commies in disguise.

Posted by: Gregory on August 1, 2008 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Famously, there was "Operation Northwoods," the JFK-era false-flag operation alluded to in an earlier post. But we don't have to go there:
Bush/Cheney sent Americans to die in a phony war. I believe that qualifies as Americans killing Americans. We can argue about the operational details til the 'Cons come home. Or, hopefully, go to prison....

Posted by: JeremiadJones on August 1, 2008 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

We just didn't bother with any pretext at all.

Except for 17 UN Resolutions that were defied by Saddam. Come on, Kevin. You know better.

Posted by: Mike K on August 1, 2008 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

"The SEALS would depend on the information given them and their orders. Sure they would attack Americans, if the op was designed so that they wouldn't know they were attacking Americans."

So, you base your belief of the abilities and operational willingness of America's most elite soldiers on a 40 year old satire? Could you really be more ignorant?

Oh, sure, those Navy SEALs don't know shit but killing. You just have to turn their "murder knob" setting to "baby killer" and they can't tell the difference from Iranian vessels and American ones, and don't really give a shit who they kill anyway.

You people give new meaning to the term "Leftarded".

Posted by: Marshall Gill on August 1, 2008 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

So, you base your belief of the abilities and operational willingness of America's most elite soldiers on a 40 year old satire? Could you really be more ignorant?

No, I base my belief of the abilities and operational willingness of America's most elite soldiers on the fact that they only have the information available to them that is 1) provided by their orders and 2) available on the scene.

Friendly fire incidents occur all the time, even among elite soldiers -- does the name Pat Tillman ring a bell? If an operation was designed to obscure the objective of the target, there's absolutely no reason to think soldiers -- especially elite soldiers -- would violate their mission parameters to go around checking IDs. Hell, even something as simple as a night attack would make it easier for mistaken identity to occur.

I used Dr. Strangelove as a simple and familiar example, as I made clear.

I think one of us is operating out of bias and prejudice, Marshall, and it ain't me. Though if I were to indulge in your kind of bias, I'd imagine you base your belief of the abilities and operational willingness of America's most elite soldiers on Tom Clancy novels.

Jackass.

Posted by: Gregory on August 1, 2008 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Mike K wrote: Except for 17 UN Resolutions that were defied by Saddam.

...which alleged defiance the UNSC specifically declined authorizing military action over. Come on, Mike K. You know better.

That canard has been debunked ages ago. Invading Iraq was a war of choice, period, full stop.

And don't bother pretending that Saddam's alleged defiance meant the US was already justified to act. By seeking a new authorization, the US tacitly admitted it wasn't.

But then, the facts don't really matter to you when it comes to justifying Bush's disastrous invasion, do they?

Posted by: Gregory on August 1, 2008 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Did somebody drop Hersh on his head when he was a baby?

Posted by: jimc5499 on August 1, 2008 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Who is the world would believe Seymour Hersh? The Left must really be in trouble if they are spouting his fabrications.

Drum needs to better than this.

Posted by: BillSanford on August 1, 2008 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK
Except for 17 UN Resolutions that were defied by Saddam.

You mean, the same ones that the US was violating daily with its illegally armed violations of Iraq soveriegn territory, including frequent actual attacks on Iraqi targets, that were expressly prohibited by those resolutions?

I'm not sure those really help your case all that much.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 1, 2008 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

guys this was no big deal. just some brainstorming. youre supposed to think outside of the box.

it's not even that outside of the box. i could come up with it.

Posted by: fdgnsfdgm on August 2, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Seymour Hersh, Professional Liar
The work of Seymour Hersh, journalist extraordinaire, often comes in for praise for its fearless revelations about the covert criminality of the US government. Hersh, reads the blurb on the back of his latest book, reveals the stories the others cant -- or wont -- get.

Yet an intelligent reading of Hershs work, especially his most recent books dealing with JFK and 9/11, will expose this Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for what he is: a professional liar for the Zionist establishment.

http://800poundgorilla.100webspace.net/geeklog//article.php?story=20080813053842851

http://ehpg.07x.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18&Itemid=26

Posted by: ehpg on October 2, 2008 at 6:06 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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