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August 08, 2007

Iran and Bombs

Front-page headline in the Times: "Iran-Supplied Bomb Is Killing More Troops in Iraq, U.S. Says." So can we believe it? Not sure. We have to wait until the article's 11th paragraph to get anything even resembling evidence, and it's followed up by doubts:

American intelligence says that its report of Iranian involvement is based on a technical analysis of exploded and captured devices, interrogations of Shiite militants, the interdiction of trucks near Iran’s border with Iraq and parallels between the use of the weapons in Iran and in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah.

Some critics of Bush administration policy, saying there is no proof that the top echelons of Iran’s government are involved, accuse the White House of exaggerating the role of Iran and Syria to divert attention from its own mistakes.

So has The New York Times seen any of this evidence? Is it compelling? And is there any evidence that these are Iranian-made in the governmental sense, rather than simply produced by Iranian splinter groups that don't much like our country? We're never told.

And who are these critics? Should we be listening to them? No one knows. They don't even get a quote.

You know, I've seen this movie before, and I didn't like it.

August 8, 2007 in Iran | Permalink


Ezra, no doubt much of the evidence will be discussed on pundit shows this coming weekend. Those advocating for this evidence will invariably wear ties and have columns in Important Journals and Newspapers. Of course we should take heed, because they are Very Serious People. This may even include the Vice President, who points to the NY Times article as evidence. He's wearing a tie, for God's sake! How can you not take him seriously? What are you going to do, ignore their claims for not being based on anything tangible? That would be impolite!

And the critics are just a bunch of dirty hippies who aren't civility-minded. You should ignore them.

Posted by: Tyro | Aug 8, 2007 8:45:48 AM

I think you mean "Iranian-supplied" rather than "Iranian-made" in that paragraph in the middle. I'm sure there are plenty of US-made weapons around that are not US-supplied (not intentionally, anyway).

Posted by: KCinDC | Aug 8, 2007 8:56:53 AM

Here we go again.

Ever noticed they ramp these things up around the anniversaries of 9/11?

I guess it's a good PR strategy--we've been so distracted by the Bush Administration blowing it in Iraq that we've almost totally forgotten that Bush failed to catch Osama bin Laden. In fact, Bush is now making the argument that his failure to catch Osama in Pakistan means we have to stay in Iraq forever, or Congress will get blown up. Bizarrely, the media is buying this argument.

While shit for our national security, you gotta admit, these guys really know how to do PR. What's amazing is that the media STILL doesn't understand they're getting played.

And irony alert? Last night, NYC's PBS station played the Moyers expose indicting the press failures--especially the NYT--in the runup to Iraq. If only the NYT's editor had been watching TV, he might have thought twice before putting such nonsense on the front page.

Posted by: anonymous | Aug 8, 2007 9:22:49 AM

I've yet to see - despite a lot of dark musings on the left - any real sense that the Administration can muster a serious argument about going into Iran that can overcome massive reluctance on the part of the public and much of Congress. Sabre rattling and charge-throwing is all well and good, but we lack the resources, the will, and a serious plan for going into Iran (Yes, I know... this is where people say "that didn't stop us in Iraq." I don't think the circumstances - partly because of Iraq - are really the same, but that's me). So maybe the dark mutterings are what's needed to keep the Bush folks in check. Which is to say, I'd probably buy the notion that some of the munitions being used to make bombs to attack our soldiers in Iraq come from connections in Iran. It also strikes me, though, that we can't do much about it. In which case knowing it is just sort of depressing.

Posted by: weboy | Aug 8, 2007 9:28:26 AM

Someone should check whether the Shiite dominated government is importing bombs from its Iranian allies. That would make it legal, right?

Posted by: FS | Aug 8, 2007 9:50:40 AM

[i]I'd probably buy the notion that some of the munitions being used to make bombs to attack our soldiers in Iraq come from connections in Iran.[/i]

And a lot of them probably come from Saudi Arabia. A hell of a lot of money, too.

And in Afghanistan, Iran is, according to the Afghani leader we support, "part of the solution."

I, for one, am sick and tired of Bush's "enemy of the week, let's all have a moment of hate" approach to foreign diplomacy. It's transparently about DOMESTIC politics, and it's been incredibly destructive to our military strength, our international power, and our public safety.

Enough is enough. It's obvious--or it should be--that even if we (god forbid) wiped Iran off the face of the Earth, we'd still have staggeringly huge problems in Iraq. This is just another distraction, an attempt by the Bush Administration to pin the blame for the catastrophe in Iraq on someone else.

Posted by: anonymous | Aug 8, 2007 9:51:06 AM

I'm sure there are plenty of US-made weapons around that are not US-supplied

Actually, there are plenty of US supplied weapons floating around.

despite a lot of dark musings on the left

There's more than a few Senators and Representatives who have been musing darkly about what Bush might be trying to do with Iran. I would assume that they have some sort of information, perhaps even more than you, on this type of thing.

Obviously talking about what Bush might or might not do regarding Iran is speculation. But I simply cannot understand why, given Bush's history with just this type of thing, people are so determined to dismiss the possibility out of hand. The weakest part of your argument is that the political situation is wrong for Bush to try anything with Iran; Bush has been incredibly weak politically for quite a while. He just doesn't act like he is, and therefore manages to catch everyone off guard and do what he wants.

If he wants to attack Iran, he will. The question is whether he really wants to, and while that question can't be fully answered right now, it's foolish to dismiss the idea.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 8, 2007 10:04:46 AM

As long as "some people say," we'll always have that precious, life-nourishing balance!

Posted by: norbizness | Aug 8, 2007 10:10:13 AM

I find it hard to fathom that no one has yet mentioned what's so damning about the NY Times piece. It's the author. Michael Gordon. The biggest hack after Judy Miller. His byline is what automatically makes this piece suspect.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience | Aug 8, 2007 10:29:05 AM

Iranian EFP's?

Also yesterday, Multinational Division Baghdad troops in the western part of the city found a factory in which explosively formed penetrators, the most deadly form of roadside bomb, were being made

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Aug 8, 2007 10:31:50 AM

Atrios also reports an earlier Boston Globe article that indicated that we had found a EFP factory in Iraq.

Without hard evidence examined by non-US-military experts or journalists that the EFPs are from Iran and distributed by the Iranian government, we should assume that BushCo is lying to get us into war again. It is what they do.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 8, 2007 10:46:14 AM

The funniest bit of the totally sad visit of Karzai to the American Monarch was the fact that the Bush administration's wild and whacky idea that Iran has been helping the Taliban - solemnly conveyed by such as Gordon - struck Karzai, justly, as preposterous. He, of course, thanked Iran for the help they've been giving the Afghanistan government.

So: we have the U.S. making these nutty accusations and at the same time sending U.S. men and women to die for governments in Iraq and Afghanistan who are allies of Iran. I don't understand why the fact that they are allies seems so complicated to U.S. journalists that they simply leave that out of their stories. It is almost like the journalists can't depart in any way from a narrative crafted by the White House. Gee, that can't be the case. That would mean that we have a lousy, suck ass press.

Posted by: roger | Aug 8, 2007 10:51:46 AM

"Iran-Supplied Bomb Is Killing More Troops in Iraq, U.S. Says."

Doesn't the "U.S. says" in the headline mean something? About the credibility of the claims, that is.

I took the headline to mean that article was not worth reading.

Posted by: Auntie American | Aug 8, 2007 10:59:46 AM

It's rather mind-boggling to read claims that a very high percentage of the attacks on US forces are being performed by Shiites, even as we continue to fight Sunni insurrectionists.

It's as if ARVN units were performing a substantial percentage of the attacks on US troops in Vietnam.

Posted by: rea | Aug 8, 2007 12:02:58 PM

Isn't the buried lede in this story the admission that these bombs "are used almost exclusively by Shiite militants"?

Previously, the administration had fudged this fact in an attempt to imply that Iran was supplying Sunni insurgents and even al Qaeda. Military sources would always refer cryptically to "extremist groups," never Shiitte extremist groups.

But no, as one would expect, these bombs are going to Shiite militias, most of whom are allied with the Malaki government that we're supporting.

Posted by: A.L. | Aug 8, 2007 12:04:39 PM

You know, I've seen this movie before, and I didn't like it.

Yeah, me neither. But like Dukes of Hazzard reruns, they're going to keep shoving at you anyway.

Posted by: Graham | Aug 8, 2007 12:05:13 PM

Some misapprehensions here, it seems. First, the news isn't that EFPs are coming from Iran or that there is new evidence of that. The evidence cited for that is the same evidence that was cited months ago when the US invited journalists to a briefing with bombs and parts of bombs on tables and explained the various ways they were traced to Iran. The "doubts" mentioned about the evidence are in regard to what parts of the Iranian government are involved, not whether Iran is involved. The US never claimed that all EFPs come from Iran, only the most effective ones that require major manufacturing tools. Homemade ones are reportedly not as effective.

The news is, as plainly indicated in the article from the headline on, that a record number of troops were killed by EFPs in July.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 8, 2007 12:06:51 PM

Sanpete, I suggest you stop trying to act as some wise judge deigning to tell us what the news story is (or intends to be) about. There are ample quotes from Gen. Odierno trying to push the line that this is all tied to Iran. The headline writer also chose to focus on that aspect of the article.

We know that this isn't some breaking story, we realize that the claims about ties to Iran are a bunch of recycled crap-- in fact that's exactly what Ezra is complaining about! The article is peddling recycled crap on behalf of the government.

Posted by: Tyro | Aug 8, 2007 12:16:45 PM

The "some critics" formulation is one of the most pernicious frames used by the big papers. Anyone who disagrees with a piece of administration spin is by definition a critic, and because they are a critic, their views are immediately discounted. The press could improve its quality drastically if it just dropped the frame and simply described the "critics" properly: "some weapons experts", "some foreign policy academics", "every single country in the world apart from America and maybe Poland". In cases where the people cited have a track record of consistently criticising the Bush administration for its own sake as opposed to, you know, being right about stuff or just not being paid to make the Bush administration look good, then maybe you can label them "some critics of Bush administration policy".

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Aug 8, 2007 12:20:54 PM

I've yet to see - despite a lot of dark musings on the left - any real sense that the Administration can muster a serious argument about going into Iran that can overcome massive reluctance on the part of the public and much of Congress.

I sorta kinda agree with this, but it's neither here nor there with respect to this article.

The administration - or certain forces within the administration - is peddling the line that Iran is engaged in a proxy war with the US in Iraq. Prominent writers who regularly push the administration line are arguing that the US has always been at war with Iran (a cold war since the revolution). The "Faster, Please" brigades have never ceased agitating for military intervention. This article, with its uncritical rehearsal of administration propaganda, fits squarely within this broad movement of aggression toward Iran.

Now, is this aggression going to lead to war? Is this war going to be an invasion, or air strikes, or surgical insertions of special forces units? I would suggest that there are already cross-border actions happening, and the administration is trying to walk a fine line of intervening militarily just up to the point where it would be considered a clear act of war. Articles like this function to slide Americans' notion of what acts against Iran are justified just a little further down.

Nixon's attacks on Cambodia are the model here. Nothing that overt will be possible, but nonetheless it's quite possible to effectively go to war without many people thinking a war is on.

Posted by: DivGuy | Aug 8, 2007 12:25:43 PM

Tyro, which part of what I said are you taking issue with? The news in the piece is what I said it is, which is why the evidence for ties to Iran isn't mentioned until far down in the article. There was no reason to mention the evidence more prominently because the article isn't about that. The ties to Iran are old claims. You're just wrong that Ezra was complaining about what you say he was. Read it again. And then read the other comments here to see why I said what I did.

DivGuy, the last thing Bush wants right now is any kind of hot war with Iran. Public relations campaigns like this one are designed to pressure Iran, not prepare the US for war with Iran.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 8, 2007 12:36:29 PM

Sanpete: the NYT published a story in which the government made unsubstantiated, old, and in some cases disproven assertions about iran. It put those accusations in the headline. The headline misleads the readers and the government engages in some unproven propaganda which is not effectively contradicted by the writer.

So what the hell are you attacking Ezra for, instead of agreeing with him?

Posted by: Tyro | Aug 8, 2007 1:42:30 PM

Tyro, the headline is completely accurate, not misleading. The government has given evidence for its claims about Iran's ties, and the NYT has seen the evidence offered. I don't know what assertions from the government you see as disproved; I already addressed the one that all EFPs are made in Iran, something the government never claimed. It may well be that in some cases only the parts and some equipment are from Iran. There are also homemade versions lacking the materials that would make them most effective. Again, I pointed out what I did to correct some evident misimpressions.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 8, 2007 2:39:52 PM

DivGuy, the last thing Bush wants right now is any kind of hot war with Iran. Public relations campaigns like this one are designed to pressure Iran, not prepare the US for war with Iran.

I think you're missing my point. I do agree that Bush doesn't want an unequivocal, fully known hot war with Iran. (I grant I could be naive here.)

I do think that Bush wants to push the boundaries of what "hot war" constitutes, and he wants to do it in such a way that it's not fully known exactly what the US is doing. I expect there will be some border incursions, certainly more Iranian nationals in Iraq taken prisoner. All in the name of security in Iraq, all kept as quiet as possible, all claimed not to be "war", just security practices in Iraq.

Like Nixon in Cambodia, Bush can't afford another front to the war - I think - but a president can do a hell of lot of bad stuff without publicly being "at war".

Posted by: DivGuy | Aug 8, 2007 3:42:50 PM

I think the Cambodia comment threw me off, since Nixon was bombing there, something that would be impossible to conceal in Iran. You're not talking about Bush bombing Iran, I assume.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 8, 2007 4:43:52 PM

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