Politico Inaccurately Reports CAP’s Positions On The Middle East

By Ken Gude and Faiz Shakir

An article published today by Politico’s Ben Smith charges that Center for American Progress bloggers are at the heart of an “Israel rift” in the “Democratic ranks.” While we welcome the discussion, the article misrepresents our views by cherrypicking a few posts from over 300 we’ve written this year on Iran and the Middle East. In the process, Smith makes a number of mistakes. We take this as an opportunity to clarify our positions on Iran and call attention to the article’s errors.

Our view in favor of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the consensus view of administrations of both parties dating back to President Clinton. Our position is based on our strong belief that it is in the national security interests of the United States to achieve a resolution to this conflict. Politico relies on sources who claim our work is “anti-Israel” and “borderline anti-Semitic.” We categorically reject and are offended by the idea that any of our work is anti-Semitic, unless one believes the Middle East peace plan itself and ensuring Israel’s long term security by securing its neighborhood is anti-Semitic.

Iran’s nuclear program is a strong point of concern for us, the U.S., and its allies. CAP’s view is that the multilateral sanctions framework engineered by the Obama administration is an important tool in pressuring Iran to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) requirements. While we take nothing off the table, we do not believe there is any evidence that a military strike would achieve those goals, a view shared by America’s top military officials. Furthermore, we will continue to push back against the overheated rhetoric that regularly throws around calls for full scale war with Iran because such activity has an impact in the real world. Indeed, it is our belief that conservative sabre rattling not only undermines American diplomacy but also emboldens hardliners in Iran and strengthens their push for nuclear weapons.


Therefore, the best policy to weaken Iran’s push for nuclear weapons rests on diplomacy — not a military strategy. So we believe it is critically important for assertions made on policy towards Iran and elsewhere in the region be subject to careful scrutiny with the goal of ensuring that U.S. policy will be as effective as possible in limiting threats posed by Iran.

Politico also misrepresents a number of our writings on Iran. The article states:

ThinkProgress National Security reporter Eli Clifton took issue with a Quinnipiac University poll that made reference to Iran’s “nuclear program.” The belief that such a program exists undergirds the Obama administration’s drive for sanctions, and was recently bolstered by a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which wrote of “increasing” concerns, though not definitive evidence.

It is a widely accepted fact that Iran has a nuclear program but Eli’s post on the Quinnipiac poll took issue with the pollsters’ reference to the existence of “Iran’s nuclear weapons program” in polling questions. The pollsters’ assumption that a nuclear weapons program exists, a determination that neither the IAEA nor the White House has made, may have impacted the poll’s outcome. Politico, by conflating the Iranian “nuclear program” and alleged “nuclear weapons program,” is making the same mistake we were trying to highlight.

The article also asserts:

ThinkProgress also scrambled to call into question an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi diplomats in the United States.

This we find very odd. Practically the entire U.S. foreign policy establishment reacted with skepticism to the bizarre and amateurish details of this plot. Eli’s post pointed to the leap to judgment made by a number of hawkish think tanks using the allegations to justify military action against Iran. Urging policymakers to wait for the conclusion of the investigation is not “call[ing] into question” the details of the plot. It is an observation that the rule of law should be respected and that all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty.


And in the very next paragraph after quoting Eli’s post on the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, Politico gave the false impression that we were blaming the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for the rush to judgment:

The villain: AIPAC. “It would appear that AIPAC is now using the same escalating measures against Iran that were used before the invasion of Iraq,” Clifton wrote in August.

AIPAC is not mentioned in Eli’s post about the assassination plot nor have we suggested that AIPAC bears any responsibility for rush to judgment on the plot, nor the right-wing calls to attack Iran because of it.

Politico’s article inaccurately portrays our positions as: anti-Israel; denying the seriousness of the charges in the alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador; and denying the existence of an Iranian nuclear program. None of these positions are reflected in any posts by CAP bloggers.


Politico has updated the article with a correction to an issue not addressed in the above post:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article attributed to Jim Lobe a quote from an article that appeared under his byline on the website Lobe and the site’s editor, Eric Garris, said the article was incorrectly attributed to him, and was in fact written by someone else.


Politico updated its correction, adding, “Also, the earlier version said that Matthew Duss considers himself a foreign policy ‘realist.’ He does not, he said.”


Politico added this section to the body of the article: “(Alterman called the charge [that he is anti-Semitic] ‘ludicrous’ and ‘character assassination,’ not[ing] that he is a columnist for Jewish publications, and described himself as a ‘proud, pro-Zionist Jew.’)”