Media construct strawman argument on Iran, try to tear it down

This piece at is just one of many which builds a strawman argument that the President has not made about Iraq, and attempts to tear it down. Let’s take a look at the opening two paragraphs (emphasis added):

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is escalating its confrontation with Iran, sending an additional aircraft carrier and minesweepers into the Persian Gulf as it accuses the Islamic regime in Tehran of arming Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq for attacks on American troops.

A new U.S. intelligence estimate on Friday, however, concluded that Iranian and other outside meddling is “not likely” a major cause of the bloodshed in Iraq, and a new McClatchy analysis of U.S. casualties in Iraq found that Sunni Muslim insurgents, not Iranian-backed Shiites, have mounted most – but not all – of the attacks on American forces.

The Bush administration, which made exaggerated or false claims about Iraq’s weapons programs and ties to al-Qaida to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq, hasn’t provided evidence to back up its charges.

In the last month, the administration’s rhetoric on Iran has increased and we expected to see mention of Iran in the SOTU as the President outlined his vision of a course for the future, but has the administration asserted that Iran has been a “major cause” of the bloodshed in Iraq? Let’s take a look at President’s State of the Union (again, with emphasis added):

These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah — a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.

The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. Whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East, and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale.

There we see the President talking about the threat from Shia AND Sunni extremists, noting that there is an “escalating danger” from the Shia extremists, which is a far cry from “major cause of bloodshed in Iraq.”

Continuing on with the speech:

A thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics, and in 2006 they struck back. In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedar Revolution. Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon’s legitimately elected government. In Afghanistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam — the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia — and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.

“Some of whom” – not “major cause of bloodshed in Iraq.”

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country — and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

Again, there is an acknowledgement of multiple enemies in Iraq causing bloodshed: Shia extremists backed by Iran and Sunni extremists aided by AQ.

Nothing anywhere in the President’s SOTU gives any implication or outright declaration that the US believes that Iran is the “major cause” of bloodshed in Iraq. Instead, the speech outlines the multiple enemies we face in Iraq, noting that some of them are backed by Iran. The SOTU did note how Iran has been a destabilizing force in the reason – and that the UN (the be all-end all to liberals) acknowledged as much. Same same for the President’s Iraq speech earlier in January.

Now, the strong implication from the RealCities/McClatchy piece is that the administration is supposedly making the argument that Iran has been a ‘major cause’ of the bloodshed in Iraq. Based on that faulty assertion, the article’s writers claim that the admin hasn’t provided evidence to back up charges it never made, which is clear once you examine both the SOTU and the President’s Iraq speech closely. Furthermore, they introduce the “exaggerated or false claims” ‘reminder’ about the rationale used for the war in Iraq, which is what the media does when they want to automatically give the casual reader pause on believing anything the administration asserted about Iran.

Later in the McClatchy piece:

Bush and his top aides deny that they’ve been exaggerating Iran’s role in Iraq, saying it should be seen in the context of Tehran’s efforts to dominate the oil-rich Persian Gulf, strengthen Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups and bolster Shiite political power in Lebanon and other Arab countries with large Shiite populations.

That’s exactly what they’re doing. They’re not claiming that Iran is the “major cause” of bloodshed in Iraq, but that they are doing enough to undermine the mission there as well as destabilize the region, that has prompted the administration to step up its efforts at dealing with the growing threat coming from Iran.

Later in the article, you’ll see that the NIE report referenced clearly indicates an Iranian influence in Iraq (my comments are in italics):

On Friday, the National Intelligence Council, comprising the top U.S. intelligence analysts, released an assessment of the Iraq crisis that said “lethal support” from Iran to Shiite militants “clearly intensifies” the conflict, but isn’t a significant factor. [I don’t know if the ‘significant factor’ bit was actually in this report or if that’s the writer’s spin. –ST]

“Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events in Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining” sectarian strife, said the analysis, known as a National Intelligence Estimate.

Intelligence officials said they have strong evidence of Iranian support for Iraqi Shiite militias, especially the Madhi Army. The question is how great a role they’re playing in the conflict.

“No one sees a problem,” said a U.S. defense official who requested anonymity because the issue involves top-secret intelligence. [Which is complete BS, because if there is ‘strong evidence’ of Iranian support for Iraqi Shiite militias, then there IS a problem. –ST]

The weapons include shaped-charge explosives capable of breaching advanced armor, armor-piercing rocket-propelled grenades and Katyusha rockets, said the senior U.S. intelligence official.

But Iran’s motives remain murky, he said.

“Are the Iranians mucking around in Iraq? You bet,” he said. “Do they want to make sure they’ve got a government in Baghdad that’s simpatico instead of another war? Yep. But are they fighting a secret war against the Americans in Iraq? We have no evidence of that.”

The fact that some Iranian weaponry is flowing to the Mahdi Army, and that Mahdi Army fighters have attacked Americans, doesn’t prove that the Iranians are targeting Americans, said a second U.S. intelligence official, who also agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity. [Right. The Iranians are sending weapons to the Mahdi Army, but that doesn’t prove Iranians are targeting Americans. Just what kind of clowns are these ‘ingelligence officials’ anyway? –ST]

The LA Times makes similar faulty assertions about the administration’s claims in this piece, in which the LAT reported that the admin ‘can’t back up’ it’s claims about Iran, yet the claims about Iran are clear in that they are part of the problem in Iraq, and a destabilizing force in the region and they need to be dealt with – somehow.

The much heralded NIE report that liberals and their cohorts in the media are latching on to clearly says that Iran is a problem in Iraq – part of the problem, and that intelligence officials at this point are saying is not a ‘major’ problem – but a problem nonetheless, especially in light of Iran’s actions in the region. That is the argument the administration has been making about Iran – not that Iran was the “major cause of bloodshed” in Iraq.

This is a classic example of how the media shapes an argument – and in this case, they’ve outright built up a strawman and are challenging the admin to ‘back it up’, when the admin isn’t the group who created the strawman in the first place. The media are making it clear that they don’t want a confrontation with Iran in any way shape or form, and they’re making their erroneous case against it. This is how most of the articles we’ll see on Iran in the coming days and month will be framed.

Why, they almost sound like Senator Jay Rockefeller and other Congressional Dems, don’t they? Hmm.

Read more via James Joyner, Blue Crab Boulevard, Jules Crittenden

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