John McCain can’t seem to make up his mind over whether or not Iran is supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq. On Tuesday, he asserted that Iran was “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back” into Iraq. Then he walked that statement back after being privately corrected by his traveling companion Joe Lieberman.
McCain foreign policy adviser Max Boot defended McCain’s misstatement, asking “What gaffe?”:
There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda.
Maybe Boot should take this question up with McCain’s companion Joe Lieberman, who corrected the Arizona Senator.
To support his claim of Iran “supplying and assisting” Al Qaeda, Boot refers to the 9/11 Commission’s report of “strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.” Boot also directs us to this AEI report which spins a bunch of anecdotes and suppositions into “data” supporting the Iran-Al Qaeda claim.
Boot must be celebrating today because it looks like his campaign is sticking with its faulty argument. Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s senior foreign policy adviser, told the New York Sun, “There is ample documentation that Iran has provided many different forms of support to Sunni extremists, including Al Qaeda as well as Shi’ia extremists in Iraq. It would require a willing suspension of disbelief to deny Iran supports Al Qaeda in Iraq.”
To buttress Scheunemann’s assertion, Sun reporter Eli Lake offers up a stew of dubiously-sourced claims of Iranian connections to groups or individuals “affiliated,” now or in the past, with Al Qaeda figures. Like Boot, Lake also points to the 9/11 Commission report that “intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior Al Qaeda figures,” and noting “evidence suggesting that 8 to 10” of the 9/11 hijackers “traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.” Needless to say, none of this adds up.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno had to say last July:
We don’t see any evidence, significant evidence, that shows that [Iranian-controlled] groups that are funding and providing arms to Shi’a extremists are directly related to al Qaeda. Now, we all know that al Qaeda uses Iran and they do in some cases traffic some of their individuals through Iran to Iraq, but it’s a very small number of people and it’s mostly through the Kurdish regions up north, where you have the old Ansar al-Sunna connections. But beyond that, there is no specific connection between the Shi’a extremists — excuse me — the [Iranian] Quds Force operations and supporting the Shi’a extremists and that of al Qaeda, and supporting al Qaeda.
What does Randy Scheunemann know that Gen. Odierno doesn’t?