Sy Hersh, Zbiggy Brzezinski embrace conspiracy theory?

Some recent gaffes or revelations (depending on your point of view) by Big Names in the media are providing more fodder for the always-eager conspiracy set. First is Seymour Hersh‘s latest in the March 5 New Yorker, “The Redirection: Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism?” Like most of his recent journalism, it is based overwhelmingly on anonymous, unverfiable sources. It argues that the US is cooperating with (Sunni) Saudi Arabia in covert activities aimed at beating back the influence of (Shi’ite) Iran and Hezbollah in the Middle East, and that a “by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.” This is a rather vague statement (“by-product” implies this “bolstering” is not an intentional policy). But in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer after the piece came out, Hersh went one step further, asserting that the US is directly aiding al-Qaeda-linked groups:

So they essentially, I quote the — I saw Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, and he described it this way, as “fitna,” the Arab word for “civil war.” As far as he is concerned, we are interested in recreating what is happening in Iraq in Lebanon, that is Sunni versus Shia. And in looking into that story, and I saw him in December, I found this. That we have been pumping money, a great deal of money, without congressional authority, without any congressional oversight, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia is putting up some of this money, for covert operations in many areas of the Middle East where we think that the — we want to stop the Shiite spread or the Shiite influence.

This quote is picked up by the left-wing blog Think Progress under the headline “Hersh: U.S. Funds Being Secretly Funneled To Violent Al Qaeda-Linked Groups.” But Hersh just seems to be echoing the claims of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah—not exactly the most objective source. Hersh’s phrase “I found this” implies that he has independently corroborated these assertions. If so, why didn’t that make it into his actual journalism? The text of the New Yorker story (which would have had to pass muster with fact-checkers and the legal department) is significantly more cautious, and puts the claims squarely in the mouth of Nasrallah:

Nasrallah accused the Bush Administration of working with Israel to deliberately instigate fitna, an Arabic word that is used to mean “insurrection and fragmentation within Islam.” “In my opinion, there is a huge campaign through the media throughout the world to put each side up against the other,” he said. “I believe that all this is being run by American and Israeli intelligence.” (He did not provide any specific evidence for this.)

Note the parenthetical caveat, which Hersh did not see fit to include in his CNN interview—in fact, in the interview he implied the opposite (without providing any “specific evidence,” of course)!

The New Yorker story does mention Asbat al-Ansar, a supposedly al-Qaeda-linked group active in Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp—but only says the group “has received arms and supplies from Lebanese internal-security forces and militias associated with the Siniora government.” Far less sexy for the jihadists to be getting their aid from unnamed sources “associated with” Siniora than from the CIA. Ironically, in the prelude to the Iraq invasion, the right-wing media in the US (e.g. the New York Post) touted alarmist claims that Saddam was arming this same group! The London Times aired anonymous claims from “diplomatic sources” that the group was working with Hezbollah!

We have recently observed the beginnings of a tilt back to the Sunnis in US Middle East policy. The ill-conceived neocon strategy to use the Shi’ites as a pawn against the Arab regimes, beginning with Saddam’s, is now seen to have backfired horribly, with Iraq a virtual Iranian satellite state. This is reflected in the Beltway by a tilt away from the neocons and back towards the Arabophile oil-money wing of the ruling elites

Speaking of the ruling elites, further conspiranoid fodder is provided by Zbigniew Brzezinski‘s Feb. 1 testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, in which the former National Security Adviser and vocal critic of Bush’s military adventures states that:

…a plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks, followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure, then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the US blamed on Iran, culminating in a ‘defensive’ US military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The conspiracy-friendly (and oddly-named) site brandishes this quote—with a gratuitous photo of the World Trade Center collapsing!—under the headline “Brzezinski confirms that the United States can organise attacks in their own territory.” But that isn’t what Brzezinski said. His statement was far more modest and ambiguous, being completely agnostic on the question of who really might be behind such a hypothetical terrorist attack. But, like most conspiracy sites, cannot resist providing the readers with a highly subjective translation:

As you must have noticed: Mr Brzezinski evoked the Bush administration plausible organization of an attack in the United States, and the possibility of holding Iran wrongly responsible for it.

In Washington the analysts hesitate between two interpretations of this statement. For certain officials, the former National Security Adviser tried to beat the neoconservatives to it and to cast doubt in advance on any circumstance which would lead to the war. For others, Mr Brzezinski wanted, in addition, to suggest that in case of collision with the war partisans, he could reopen the September 11th file. In any case, Thierry Meyssan’s hypothesis – According to which the September 11th attacks would have been perpetrated by a Military-Industrial Complex faction to provoke the Afghanistan and Iraq wars – Leaves suddenly the taboo domain to be discussed publicly by Washington elites.

As we’ve noted, nothing makes the 9-11 conspiracy set giddier than a whiff of vindication from The Establishment. Which is pretty ironic, given that their entire world view is predicated on the assumption of a monolithic and omnipotent Conspiracy.

Leaving aside the question of 9-11 (which is quite a leap from Brzezinski’s statement), claims of US aid to Sunni extremists in Iraq and elsewhere do have a certain political logic. We have aired such claims ourselves. But we have also pointed out that assuming that all the jihadists are CIA pawns in the absence of evidence is either deluded or cynical.

See our last posts on Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, 9-11 conspiracy theory and the politics of the GWOT.

See also our last post on the always-popular rhetorical device of words-mean-whatever-we-say-they-mean.