Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Narrative Recycling

By Cernig

There's a lot of people in the U.S. talking about Guardian foreign affairs commentator Simon Tisdall's piece today entitled "Iran's secret plan for summer offensive to force US out of Iraq". The reactions run from "see, we told you so, and now a Lefty newspaper says it too!" on the Right to outright annoyance from progressives that such an obvious bit of Bush administration neocon-faction propoganda could find itself as a lead on The Guardian, of all places.

Juan Cole is eloquent is describing why the official's story is full of the usual neocon logical holes:
At a time when Sunni Arab guerrillas are said to be opposing "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" for its indiscriminate violence against Iraqis, including Shiites, we are now expected to believe that Shiite Iran is allying with it. And, it claims that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are shelling the Green Zone. The parliament building that was hit to day by such shelling is dominated by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and its paramilitary, the Badr Organization. Who trained Badr? The Iranian Revolutionary Guards. And they are trying to hit their own guys . . . why? By the way, the US has 16,000 suspected insurgents in custody. Tisdall should ask how many of them are Iranian. (Hint: close to none. What, do they just run faster than the others?) The article even traffics in the ridiculous assertion that Iran is backing hyper-Sunni, Shiite-killing Taliban in Afghanistan. Why not just cut to the quick and openly say that Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei is in reality . . . Satan!
But, as usual when US pundits consider stories from beyond their shores, the neccessary context is missing. The story is being considered in a vaccuum, in a way in which had it been written by Broder, Froomkin or even Harper it never would have been. Although the internet has made it easy for American bloggers to find out what British newspapers are saying, very few of those posting about such stories have bothered to do the obvious and get to know the columnists as well as they know their US counterparts. If they had, they would have found, very quickly, Tisdall's January 12th column, "President's back-up plan: blame Iran".
If George Bush's remodelled strategy for halting the Iraq disaster fails to work, it is becoming clear where the US administration will point the finger of blame: Tehran. For some months Washington has been moving aggressively on a range of fronts to "pin back" Iran, in Tony Blair's words. But Mr Bush's Iraq policy speech on Wednesday night marked the opening of a new, far more aggressive phase which could extend the conflict into Iranian territory for the first time since the 2003 invasion.
They don't even bother to look further than the story itself in today's Guardian. If they had, they would have found, right next to it on the frontpage, a companion piece by The Nation's DD Gutenplan:
History really does repeat itself. Either that or the Bush administration has decided to show its commitment to the environment by recycling lies. Those are the only firm conclusions to be drawn from the Guardian's front page story this morning.

Iran, we are told, has a secret plan to force the US and Britain to withdraw from Iraq. Not only that, but "Iran has reversed its previous policy in Afghanistan" and is now supporting the Taliban. So when George Bush's famous "surge" - a desperate gambit to prop up a bankrupt policy - fails to usher in the cooperative commonwealth in Iraq, we Guardian readers will know it's really all Tehran's fault.

Attentive readers may have noticed that the story itself - though obviously based on a single anonymous "senior US official in Baghdad" and "a senior administration official in Washington" - was carefully drafted to include Iranian denials and the acknowledgement that even most of the US congress believe Iraq is in the grip of a civil war. No, what struck me about the story wasn't its credulous tone so much as the sense, as the great philosopher and NY Yankee backstop Yogi Berra once said, of déjà vu all over again.

...Indeed, this particular lie is so old that as Stone told the crowd at a 1965 Berkeley teach-in, the British claimed the revolution in 1776 was a French plot.

There was, of course, some evidence to support that last charge. And there is probably some truth in allegations of Iranian mischief-making in Iraq. But before the Guardian - of all papers! - lends its front page to the propaganda campaign, surely we readers have a right to see the evidence.

Where are these "huge stockpiles" of Iranian weapons? Or the captured infiltrators? I'm not defending the theocrats in Tehran - still less those who foment sectarian violence in Baghdad. And I resist - and resent - the implication that those of us who favour immediate withdrawal of British and American forces are doing the mullahs' dirty work. Instead I'm suggesting we pause before letting tragedy degenerate into farce. Because if that happens I doubt any of us will be laughing.
Tisdall is an assistant editor at The Guardian and one of its valued commodities because of his access. Of course he was going to run such a major story, brought to him by some anonymous US official in Iraq. But he also expected his piece to be seen in the context of what he has previously written and for readers to also note Gutenplan's companion.

That it's a deliberate story plant, placed in the UK press so that it can then be imported to the US via the internet is obvious, and is the answer to Captain Ed's rather perplexed question "why are we hearing about this in the Guardian, rather than the Washington Post?" Although Ed goes on to add "After all, the sources here are American commanders on the ground in Iraq." Convenient to thinks so, eh? Tisdall would have written "military official" if he had spoken to someone in the military and said official would have added the title "General" when talking about Petreaus - the source was a civilian talking about what the military have supposedly found.

Which in turn raises Kevin Drum's question:
It's still telling that a senior U.S. official in Baghdad, presumably with the authorization of his superiors, decided to give a lengthy and public warning to Iran that included the possibility of "retaliating against Iran on its own territory." Question: who is senior enough to say stuff like that? And who is senior enough to give him the green light?
Who indeed.

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