Krugman Warns About Hyping Iran Threat — That His Own Paper Pushed

By: E&P Staff

In a Monday column for The New York Times, Paul Krugman warns of the dangers of hyping the use of weapons from Iran against U.S. soldiers in Iraq — stories based on anonymous sources that his own paper had featured prominently on its front page and the top of its Web site all weekend.

A story by Michael Gordon suggested that the “deadliest weapon” used against Americans in Iraq now comes from Iran. On Sunday, the Times and other media closely covered a briefing in Baghdad offering some evidence — given by three officials who were not named.

Excerpts from Krugman’s column follows. The entire piece can be found online for subscribers at

Attacking Iran would be a catastrophic mistake, even if all the allegations now being made about Iranian actions in Iraq are true….

Before we get to the apparent war-mongering, let?s talk about the basics. Are there people in Iran providing aid to factions in Iraq, factions that sometimes kill Americans as well as other Iraqis? Yes, probably. But you can say the same about Saudi Arabia, which is believed to be a major source of financial support for Sunni insurgents ? and Sunnis, not Iranian-backed Shiites, are still responsible for most American combat deaths….

Now, let?s do an O. J. Simpson: if you were determined to start a war with Iran, how would you do it?

First, you?d set up a special intelligence unit to cook up rationales for war. A good model would be the Pentagon?s now-infamous Office of Special Plans, led by Abram Shulsky, that helped sell the Iraq war with false claims about links to Al Qaeda.

Sure enough, last year Donald Rumsfeld set up a new ?Iranian directorate? inside the Pentagon?s policy shop….

Next, you?d go for a repeat of the highly successful strategy by which scare stories about the Iraqi threat were disseminated to the public.

This time, however, the assertions wouldn?t be about W.M.D.; they?d be that Iranian actions are endangering U.S. forces in Iraq. Why? Because there?s no way Congress will approve another war resolution. But if you can claim that Iran is doing evil in Iraq, you can assert that you don?t need authorization to attack ? that Congress has already empowered the administration to do whatever is necessary to stabilize Iraq. And by the time the lawyers are finished arguing ? well, the war would be in full swing.

Finally, you?d build up forces in the area, both to prepare for the strike and, if necessary, to provoke a casus belli. There?s precedent for the idea of provocation: in a January 2003 meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair, The New York Times reported last year, President Bush ?talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire.?

In the end, Mr. Bush decided that he didn?t need a confrontation to start that particular war. But war with Iran is a harder sell, so sending several aircraft carrier groups into the narrow waters of the Persian Gulf, where a Gulf of Tonkin-type incident could all too easily happen, might be just the thing….

But you have to wonder about the other stuff. Why would the Pentagon put someone who got everything wrong on Iraq in charge of intelligence on Iran? Why wasn?t any official willing to take personal responsibility for the reliability of alleged evidence of Iranian mischief, as opposed to being an anonymous source? If the evidence is solid enough to bear close scrutiny, why were all cameras and recording devices, including cellphones, banned from yesterday?s Baghdad briefing?

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