Frank Rich Hits Claims on Iranian Weapons in Iraq — Which His Own Paper Hyped

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By: E&P Staff

Five days ago, The New York Times’ editorial page suggested that claims of Iran supply weapons killing American troops were being overplayed. On Sunday, columnist Frank Rich makes the same charge.

Neither exactly makes it clear, but one of the leading news organizations allegedly overhyping the charges was their own newspaper — first in a Feb. 10 front page exclusive by Michael R. Gordon, then in a Feb. 12 front pager by James Glanz, who along with many others attended the now-famous Feb. 11 briefing by three anonymous sources in Baghdad.

Here is part of what Rich writes. The rest is availble via TimesSelect at www.nytimes.com for subscribers.
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Maybe the Bush White House can?t conduct a war, but no one has ever impugned its ability to lie about its conduct of a war. Now even that well-earned reputation for flawless fictionalizing is coming undone. Watching the administration try to get its story straight about Iran?s role in Iraq last week was like watching third graders try to sidestep blame for misbehaving while the substitute teacher was on a bathroom break. The team that once sold the country smoking guns in the shape of mushroom clouds has completely lost its mojo.

Surely these guys can do better than this. No sooner did unnamed military officials unveil their melodramatically secretive briefing in Baghdad last Sunday than Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blew the whole charade. General Pace said he didn?t know about the briefing and couldn?t endorse its contention that the Iranian government?s highest echelons were complicit in anti-American hostilities in Iraq. Public-relations pandemonium ensued as Tony Snow, the State Department and finally the president tried to revise the story line on the fly. Back when Karl Rove ruled, everyone read verbatim from the same script. Last week?s frantic improvisations were vintage Scooter Libby, at best the ur-text for a future perjury trial.

Yet for all the sloppy internal contradictions, the most incriminating indictment of the new White House disinformation campaign is to be found in official assertions made more than a year ago. The press and everyone else seems to have forgotten that the administration has twice sounded the same alarms about Iranian weaponry in Iraq that it did last week…

Timing is everything in propaganda, as in all showmanship. So why would the White House pick this particular moment to mount such an extravagant rerun of old news, complete with photos and props reminiscent of Colin Powell?s infamous presentation of prewar intelligence? Yes, the death toll from these bombs is rising, but it has been rising for some time. (Also rising, and more dramatically, is the death toll from attacks on American helicopters.)

After General Pace rendered inoperative the first official rationale for last Sunday?s E.F.P. briefing, President Bush had to find a new explanation for his sudden focus on the Iranian explosives. That?s why he said at Wednesday?s news conference that it no longer mattered whether the Iranian government (as opposed to black marketeers or freelance thugs) had supplied these weapons to Iraqi killers. ?What matters is, is that they?re there,? he said. The real point of hyping this inexact intelligence was to justify why he had to take urgent action now, no matter what the E.F.P.?s provenance: ?My job is to protect our troops. And when we find devices that are in that country that are hurting our troops, we?re going to do something about it, pure and simple.?

To those who are most suspicious of this White House, the ?something? that Mr. Bush really wants to do has little to do with armor in any case. His real aim is to provoke war with Iran, no matter how overstretched and ill-equipped our armed forces may be for that added burden. By this line of thinking, the run-up to the war in Iraq is now repeating itself exactly and Mr. Bush will seize any handy casus belli he can to ignite a conflagration in Iran.

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