Yesterday, John McCain asserted, erroneously, that Iranian operatives were “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.” McCain walked the statement back after being corrected by traveling companion Joe Lieberman. (As Think Progress noted yesterday, this wasn’t a mere “gaffe,” as McCain had made the same claim several times before.)
Responding to Think Progress’s post, Red State blogger Jeff Emanuel offers “the truth“:
Here is the truth al Qaeda has been receiving funding, training, and equipment from Iran during the last year-plus of the Iraq War.
Interestingly, Emanuel offers no evidence for this “truth,” (apart from the assertion that those who disagree have “a desire to remain ignorant”) because, of course, there isn’t any.
Weekly Standard blogger Thomas Joscelyn does a little better. Taking up an argument that, to repeat, even John McCain has now abandoned, Joscelyn insists that “McCain was right the first time. He shouldn’t have taken his statement back.”
National Review columnist Michael Ledeen agrees, lamenting that McCain “got spooked when he said it, and ran away” from his claim.
Joscelyn’s evidence is wafer-thin. Several of his sources link to a single New York Sun item claiming that the Quds Force, a division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, “is working with individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq.” Joscelyn also suggests that the fact that “Iran has been targeting al Qaeda’s enemies–not al Qaeda itself–inside Iraq” is proof of an Al Qaeda-Iran alliance, when it’s nothing of the sort. Iran supported attacks against Awakenings groups because the Sunni militias threatened Iran’s Shia allies; Al Qaeda attacked Awakenings groups because they threatened al Qaeda. This is not an alliance, this is “Six Degrees of Osama Bin Laden.”
To the extent that Bush administration officials, like Crocker and Petraeus, have discussed Iranian training of Iraqi extremists, they have focused on Iranian support of Shias. While it is incorrect to simply assume that AQ being Sunni and Iran being Shia would preclude any sort of proxy relationship at all, (there is some evidence of Iran’s past connections with operatives loosely associated with al Qaeda; There is also evidence that al-Qaeda has threatened to attack Iran) Joscelyn doesn’t come close to demonstrating his claim that “John McCain was right” about Iran training al-Qaeda fighters and sending them back into Iraq, for the simple reason that it’s untrue, as even McCain now admits.
UPDATE: The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb offers more evidence of the Al Qaeda-Iran relationship…oh, wait, nevermind. It’s the same New York Sun article again.
UPDATE II: Andrew Sullivan writes, “I assumed [McCain] was more cognizant of the complex realities of Iraq than our current president. And it’s staggering to me that it hasn’t even occurred to McCain that exploiting some of the divisions between Shiite and Sunni Islam might actually be a tactic worth considering in our increasingly complex battle over there. Was this more Bush-Rove dumbing-don for the American public? Or is he really that ignorant?“