If we’ve learned one thing about the Bush administration, it’s that if at first they don’t succeed with a stunt, they’ll pull, pull and pull it again until they get away with it.  Thus it is that even as Senators Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) and Joe Lieberman (?-Connecticut) attempted to sneak a declaration of war against Iran into the defense spending bill, the military’s propaganda machine in Iraq was spoon feeding the press more “evidence” that Iran is helping Iraqi militants attack U.S. troops.  

We’ve seen this sort of thing before.

Have I Got a Used Bomb for You!

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Jim Webb (D-Virginia) called the Kyl-Lieberman proposal “Dick Cheney’s fondest pipe dream.”  (As journalists like Seymour Hersh, Larisa Alexandrovna and Gareth Porter have been telling us, Cheney has been pressing behind the scenes for war with Iran for some time.)

While Lieberman and Kyl were trying to help Cheney realize his dream in Washington, Major General Kevin Bergner, the chief of public affairs in Iraq, invited members of the press to the latest in a series of Iran bashing dog-and-pony shows in Baghdad’s Green Zone.  Bergner and his staff let reporters see two roadside bombs disguised as rocks that, according to Andrew E. Kramer of the New York Times, “General Bergner said were likely of Iranian provenance.”

Likely of Iranian provenance?  Likely?  What kind of half-seated accusation was that for a U.S. Army general to level at the Iranians while Congress debates declaring war on them?  (Perhaps more importantly: Why do media outlets like the New York Times continue to play echo chamberlain for this kind of irresponsible inflammatory rhetoric?)

The rock bombs were part of a display General Bergner had prepared for the reporters that showcased what “the military says is Iranian support for the insurgency.”  An “American military explosives expert” was “made available” to reporters.  This is like a car dealer making one of his own mechanics “available” to inspect the used Ford he’s trying to sell you.  

The explosives expert said that the rock bombs “were consistent with other munitions of this type suspected of having been smuggled from Iran.”  The reporters also got to see two mortar shells that the arms expert said “were positively identified as Iranian-made, based on the markings and the design of the tail fins.”

And you’re sure to be shocked, shocked to learn that the arms expert only spoke with reporters “on the condition that his name not be revealed.”

This press briefing in Baghdad was a continuation of a pattern that began to gel sometime around January 2007–also the time that we learned of the Iraq “surge” strategy.  

Sound Familiar?

Claims about Iran’s intentions to build nuclear weapons had failed to take sufficient traction and the propaganda vector shifted to accusing Iran of arming and training Iraqi militants.  Then U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who was also a charter member of the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century, promised to offer “proof” of “Iranian meddling” in Iraq.  

On February 11, Joshua Partlow of the Washington Post was among the members of the press corps invited to a classified briefing that was “the first time during the Bush administration that officials had sought to make a public intelligence case against Iran.”  Reporters met with anonymous “Senior U.S. military officials” and an unnamed military explosives expert “who would normally not speak to the news media.”  They were treated to a “display” of “mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades and a powerful cylindrical bomb, capable of blasting through an armored Humvee.”  The unnamed officials “said weapons were smuggled into the country by the Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that U.S. officials believe is under the control of Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”  The officials also alleged that the “highest levels” of the Iranian government had directed use of weapons that were killing U.S. troops in Iraq.  

By the next day, the “proof of Iranian meddling” had been received with a “healthy dose of skepticism.” Even General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted there was no evidence he knew of to support the claim that Iran’s government was involved in aiding Iraqi militants.

In normal times, such negative results would have caused the administration to drop its disinformation effort and try a new stratagem.  But these are not normal times, and this is not a normal administration.

Next: The war of words against Iran gains Joe-mentum.

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Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Military.com.  Jeff’s novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.