Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pace, Gates: Extent of Iraq-Iran link 'unknown'

Spinning the narrative - "this is what we meant all along, honest!":
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It is not known whether senior Iranian political leaders are aware of the military Quds force's involvement in providing armor-piercing explosives to militants in Iraq, two top U.S. defense officials have said.

Comments by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff came a day after U.S. President George W. Bush said he too did not know the extent, if any, of the Iranian government's involvement.

"We know that the Quds force is involved," Gates said.

"We know the Quds force is a paramilitary arm of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). So we assume that the leadership of the IRGC knows about this. Whether or not more senior political leaders in Iran know about it, we don't know -- and frankly, for me, either way it's a worry. Either they do know and have approved it, or they don't know, and the IRGC may be acting on their own in Iraq."

On Sunday, three unnamed U.S. military officials -- a senior defense official, a senior defense analyst and an explosives expert -- told journalists that the Quds force was providing armor-piercing weapons to Shiite groups in Iraq.

The allegation is a serious one, because the Quds force answers directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is charged with defending the Islamic regime and its ideology.

The U.S. assessment was that orders for the Quds force's operations were "coming from the highest levels of government," the officials added.

But Pace on Thursday acknowledged that "we do not have proof that the senior leadership in Iran is directing these activities in Iraq."

The key word, he said, is "assessment ... Either those who were speaking (Sunday) didn't make a clear enough break between fact and assessment, or those who were listening didn't hear the break between fact and assessment."
So now its the reporters fault for not understanding that they didn't actually outright say they had proof-positive of a causus belli with Iran even though it was clearly meant? Or are they going to stick with throwing an anonymous briefer under the bus?

I told you they would spin this to bridge the gap between what Pace was saying and what the White House was saying. They will now point to that key phrase from the briefing - "We assess that these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government" - and pretend they weren't directly accusing the Iranian government all along. It enables them to keep arguing by innuendo while the rightwing noise machine does the heavy lifting of establishing that innuendo as "what everyone knows". Pace has damaged their narrative but not killed it, and he is now back under the thumb.

But if they're going to play the "either way it's a worry" then I hope someone in the Press Corps has the guts to ask Gates or Bush about Pakistan's ISI. Or they could maybe try this from Salon's Tim Grieve (H/T Carpetbagger Report):
How does this one sound, Mr. President? What we do know is that members of the U.S. military were responsible for acts of torture at Abu Ghraib. We know that. And we also know that the U.S. military is part of the U.S. government. That’s a known. What we don’t know is whether or not the head leaders of the U.S. government ordered the U.S. personnel at Abu Ghraib to do what they did. But here’s our point: Either they knew or didn’t know, and what matters is, is that they did it. What’s worse, that the government knew or that the government didn’t know?
But it is even more important now that those who think the White House is fixing the facts around the policy again question their evidence as well as their arguments. There's plenty to question.

Update It occurs to me that, while the White House can make any "assertions" it wants and let innuendo do the rest, the only bit of hard evidence for Quods involvement they have so far opened up to the world's scrutiny is a slide of what they claim is an Iranian Revolutionary Guards ID card. The rest of the supposedly definitive connection is, so far, just more 'assertions" without evidence.

Have a look at the slide from the Baghdad briefing. If a US prosecutor had to appear in court alleging a tie between the accused and a murder victim based only on that slide, would he be laughed out of court? You betcha.

For one thing, it could easily have been manufactured on someone's PC. Where are the sworn statements from named individuals that this ID card was in fact found at such-and-such a place at such-and-such a time and in a particular identified person's possession? Where's the accepted standard of evidence?

For another, it raises a couple of commonsense questions. The slide says the ID card "did not match the detainee's name".

  • If this was a super-secret program ordered by the Iranian leadership to destabilize Iraq, why were their "agents" carrying IRGC-QF cards at all?

  • If the detainees were in fact IRGC-QF commanders carrying IRGC-QF cards, why would they carry false ones? It's a bit of a puzzler, unless of course they were making some black market cash at their government's expense and needed to a) prove to their buyers they could really provide the merchandise they were offering and b) hoped to conceal from their own superiors what they were up to.

    Question everything about the administration's narrative, because much of it doesn't make sense.

    Update Via TPM Muckraker - Tony Snow is increasingly getting caught in the crossfire as reporters try to get a straight story on Iran out of the White House.
    Q Have you been able to reconstruct the transcript of the briefing in Baghdad on Sunday?
    MR. SNOW: No, but I think the general purpose of the briefing in Baghdad was to outline Iranian activities in terms of supplying weaponry, or weaponry that had made its way from Iran into Iraq that had been used to kill coalition forces, among others.

    One of the most prominent parts of the briefing were the EFPs, the explosively formed projectiles, which are a new form of IED. And so that's basically what was laid out at the briefing. I have not been able -- we're still working on trying to come up with some sort of rendering so that we can find out precisely what the briefer said.

    Q Why wouldn't you offer a transcript?

    MR. SNOW: Because it wasn't transcribed at the time. People are looking for a tape to see if they can rebuild it just for you guys.
    Spencer Ackerman says:
    Most likely, Snow is just blowing smoke. But if a transcript of the briefing mysteriously surfaces, it'll probably be yet another embarassment for the administration -- why weren't reporters allowed to tape or video the presentation in the first place? And why all the administration disharmony if there was a recording all along of what was in fact said in Baghdad?
    I would add that if they are going to withdraw all the way back to just the "new form of IED" then they will have serious truble keeping even the wingnuts on message. The IED's aren't new and there are experts who have already given their opinion that they were probably made in some Baghdad garage. The wingnuts are zealots, not dumbos - many pride themselves on their military acumen and they already think this part is the weakest link (which is why so many jumped on a recent highly dubious Daily Telegraph story).

    No, the uber-right want their causus belli with Iran, Godammit! The EFPs alone aren't it and there will be tears before bedtime if they don't get it.
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