Today, National Security Network held a press conference call discussing John McCain’s erroneous assertion that Iran was “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back” into Iraq. The hosts, including CAPAF’s Brian Katulis, VoteVets’ John Soltz, and NSN’s Ilan Goldenberg, also discussed what this misstatement says about McCain’s fitness to be commander-in-chief.
Weekly Standard writer Michael Goldfarb was on the call, and later wrote on the Standard’s blog that he “was struck by their insistence that Iran wouldn’t collaborate with Sunni extremists.”
That would be interesting, if it were true. Unfortunately for Goldfarb, we’ve got the transcript (see below) and the audio.
Contrary to Goldfarb’s assertion, none of participants on the call “insisted” that “Iran wouldn’t collaborate with Sunni extremists.” Moreover, Katulis specifically acknowledged that Iran had cooperated with the Sunni Taliban, something that Goldfarb himself acknowledges. As the recording reveals, Goldfarb was trying to elicit a specific response through leading questions. He failed to get the response he wanted, but went ahead and wrote the story he wanted to. The tape doesn’t lie.
In the call, Katulis stressed, and I stress it again, that arguing over whether Iran would refuse, as a matter of doctrine, to cooperate with Sunni groups is not the point. The point is that John McCain’s misstatement is typical of conservatives, who have, through inentionally deceptive language, constantly tried to elide the differences between groups with different goals and ideologies in order to create the illusion of a united Islamofascist enemy. In doing so, conservatives are practicing bad politics in the service of bad policy.
MICHAEL GOLDFARB: We’ve seen Iran collaborating with Hamas to a large extent, training those Sunni extremists there. So I just wonder, do you think that it’s not possible for Sunni and Shia to work together in this sense, or are you just saying that you haven’t seen any hard evidence that Iran is supporting…al Qaeda in Iraq in this particular instance?
BRIAN KATULIS: I think, again, that there’s not very hard evidence. Most of the support that Iran has provided to different Iraqi groups have largely been to the Shiite militias, as others have said. I don’t think anybody has provided clear and concrete evidence that in particular AQI — and we should distinguish AQI from the rest of the Sunni insurgency — that there’s been strong support provided by Iran in that sort of way. […] These blanket statements, let’s go back to the point. Senator McCain’s statement is not unlike the many statements made throughout the years that are just simply abstracting from some complex realities, and making blanket statements that give the impression — and leave the impression — for instance, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or leave the impression that somehow Saddam Hussein had collaborated with Osama bin Laden, and these are dangerous statements to make in the public arena, where the American public want their leaders to give them the facts, the honest facts, and this, I think any honest intelligence professional would tell you, is a twisting of the broader trends and the threats that we’re facing in that part of the world.
GOLDFARB: I just, I hear a lot of hedging there, you know, “not al Qaeda in Iraq,” “maybe other Sunni groups,” “not strong support.” You do concede that they have, at times, assisted the Taliban, they do assist Hamas, so I’m just wondering, do you think it’s not possible for them to work with Al Qaeda in Iraq, or do you think they are working with other Sunni groups, just not Al Qaeda in Iraq?
KATULIS: I disagree with the premise of your question because it trends toward lumping together threats under a banner of “Islamofascism,” that conservatives tend to do, and frankly that kind of analytical assessment is what got us into this mess in Iraq, and what has gotten us into a situation where U.S. national security strategy is mismatched, the resources we are using are mismatched to the threats that we face out there. And it’s in large part because we see all of these threats combined together, and actually when you talk to people who are working these issues inside the government, they would not support, and I encourage you to talk to people in the intelligence profession, they would not support the statement that Senator McCain made yesterday.
GOLDFARB: I’m just trying to ask something very specific, which is: Do you believe, or do you deny any evidence that Iran has supported Taliban elements in Afghanistan, or do you deny that Iran is giving any assistance to the Sunni insurgency, or Al Qaeda in particular?
KATULIS: If you’re going to ask the question in that sort of way, you can’t deny that anything might be possible in those regards, and certainly on the Afghanistan front there has been strong evidence that Iran, feeling pressure and threatened from the U.S. encircling them, has supported some elements, in the last few years, of the Taliban, but the way you’ve asked the question is intended to get some sort of answer that fulfills whatever storyline you’re trying to promote.
GOLDFARB: I mean, look, I’m a conservative, you’re a liberal, I’m sure you guys are pushing a storyline too, I’m not some sort of criminal.