Non-Denial Denial Watch

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I'm not supporting or challenging Seymour Hersh's claim about U.S. plans for a nuclear strike on Iraq Iran. I've always been more of a Seymour Heiney fan than a Seymour Hersh fan, and the great thing about Hersh is that his tales always have just about a 50-50 chance of being accurate. And of course if the question is "does the United States have plans to nuke Iran?" somebody will always chime in with the chestnut that Of course we have plans to nuke Iran; we have contingency plans for every region on earth, many of which were shown on the big screen by WOPR.

However, due diligence compels me to point out that calling a claim "wild speculation" is not the same as saying the claim isn't true. In fact, in political speech, it's exactly the opposite of saying it's not true.

Enjoy a treasury of fantasy and nature art by "Becky" at WildSpeculation.net.

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  1. “Seymour Heiney ”

    Oh, I see what you did there. Har har, good one.

  2. I think you mean Iran, not Iraq.

  3. I have learned time and time again never to underestimate the current administration? or is it overestimate?

  4. Sean,
    According to Bush, the word is “misunderestimated”.

  5. Um…in this case the charge against Hersh would be a mis-overestimation of the Bush admin.

  6. Um…in this case the charge against Hersh would be a mis-overestimation of the Bush admin.

  7. Could someone point out some claims made by Hersh that have turned out to be false? That way I can understand Tim’s “50-50” comment. Have half his claims turned out to be false?

  8. I’m just guessing here, but I don’t think we’re planning to nuke Iran. Jesus, that’s not even remotely credible. The political repercussions for the U.S. would be mindboggling, and we’d ensure a real terrorist jihad against us. Conquering Iran and declaring it U.S. territory would cost us less.

    Sounds to me like Hersh is once again running with something that is maybe 5% true. Hersh is saying a whole lot more than there’s been some analysis of the nuclear option–which I’m sure is true–so “wild speculation” is probably an entirely accurate description.

  9. I think you mean Iran, not Iraq.

    Duh. Fixed.

  10. I’m just guessing here, but I don’t think we’re planning to nuke Iran. Jesus, that’s not even remotely credible.

    That’s not what Hersh says. He says we have been drawing up military plans to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites and that those plans include the possible use of nuclear weapons. He says there are top military leaders who have asked for that option to be removed precisely because “the political repercussions for the U.S. would be mindboggling.”

  11. Could someone point out some claims made by Hersh that have turned out to be false?

    The Americans shot down KAL 007 on purpose to create an incident with the Russians, and there was no way they could have known anyway because it was being used as cover by a spy plane, had they shot it down, which it was impossible for them to have done, so they didn’t. QED.

    …and then Russian pilot who shot it down came out and said, “I shot it down.” Somehow Hersch never put out a second book detailing that incident.

  12. Could someone point out some claims made by Hersh that have turned out to be false?

    He predicted the Taliban would prove intractable a month before they fell, and claimed the invasion of Iraq had faltered 10 days before Baghdad fell. He got hoodwinked by the Marilyn Monroe-JFK blackmail story. There have been some pretty inaccurate predictions over the years. Jack Shafer wrote a funny column using Hersh as a reverse-accuracy barometer back in ’03. Unfortunately for Shafer, who later conceded he’d been wrong, he was using Hersh’s reverse-prediction to predict that WMDs would be found in Iraq. As it turns out Hersh’s correct prediction on WMDs began a long string of accurate scoops that has so far not ben broken. When he put out the Abu Ghraib story, there was a lot of consider-the-source dismissal based on his past gaffes, but you don’t hear much of that anymore. Hersh will get a big one wrong again sooner or later, but I don’t blame him for that: It’s the nature of what he does.

  13. Nations are starting to build (presumably Iran’s one of them) bunkers that are so deep that nothing short of a specially made low yeild nuke can destroy them. The pentegon has been working on designs for low yeild bunker busting nukes for several years now. I have never seen anywhere where the pentegon has actually built any, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t. I have no doubt that one of the options being looked at for bombing Iran’s nuke facilities is using low yeild bunker busting nukes. An option developed by the planning trolls in the pentegon is a long way from actually using the nukes. I am sure Hershe talked to someone who is privy to the planning process who told him that nukes were one of the options being considered and presto we get this story. They pentegon plans for everything and gives the President all of the options available. That is their job. Just because the option is presented and thought about doesn’t mean that there is a real chance it could happen.

  14. Remember, it’s only a miniscule change of fortune that makes a yahoo like Sy Hersh into a Ralph Nader….

    I’ve grown to look forward to Hersh’s increasingly fantastic charges over the last 15 years…He’s like Wile E. Coyote, constantly ordering larger, more elaborate contraptions that invariably fail.

  15. The Americans shot down KAL 007 on purpose to create an incident with the Russians, and there was no way they could have known anyway because it was being used as cover by a spy plane, had they shot it down, which it was impossible for them to have done, so they didn’t. QED.

    …and then Russian pilot who shot it down came out and said, “I shot it down.” Somehow Hersch never put out a second book detailing that incident.

    That’s incredibly confusing. I hope you’re not saying Hersh said the Americans shot down the plane? The Russians shot down KAL and Hersh asserted it was because they thought it was a spy plane. The interview with the pilot who shot it down said he still believes it was a spy plane.

    If you try again, could you at least provide a source for your assertions. It would also help to get the basic facts straight.

  16. It just doesn’t ring true. Every time we need to blow up a bunker or something hard to get to, some military guy inserts “nuclear weapons” into the plan as a contingency. Naturally, we never get remotely close to using them or even actually planning to use them. Suddenly we have military people who are freaking out over that? I suppose it’s possible that the story is true, but it’s also possible that Bush thinks he’s Martin Sheen in The Dead Zone. Just not likely.

    Hersh has had some credibility issues of his own in the past, so I admit to doubting his version of the story from the get-go. A journalist who throws “breaking news” against the wall, hoping it will stick, should expect people not to believe his stories without independent corroboration.

    I say all of this holding back one thing–we may very well use force against Iran. I’d like to say that that won’t happen, but it’s getting serious enough that we likely will do so with a Gulf War I-like coalition (which, of course, makes the use of force all the more likely). I’m anti-war enough to regret that turn of events if it happens, but I’m not 100% sure that force won’t be necessary in the end. Thanks to some stupid policies and actions on our part, of course.

  17. Thanks, Tim. Good info. But c’mon, he’s earned at least a 60% chance of being right, hasn’t he? 55%? 😉

  18. Well, there’s an election coming up in November. Gotta bomb something.

    Still, I don’t think $10/gallon gasoline is going to do wonders for W’s approval ratings.

  19. Pro Liberate,

    Other than the fact that we should have done something about Kohamani taking power back in the 1970s, exactly what has the United States done to bring on what appears to be an apocolyptic, theocracy in Iran?

  20. To be fair to Hersh, getting predictions about the future wrong is a whole different ballgame from getting a current story wrong. Also, the way I recall it, the invasion of Iraq did get briefly “bogged down” when Hersh wrote about it; of course it turned out to be a very brief snag in the road. That doesn’t really make his story wrong though.

  21. Pro, that all sounds reasonable. I think it boils down to Hersh reporting what some very high up military guys are telling him, for whatever that’s worth.

    Every time we need to blow up a bunker or something hard to get to, some military guy inserts “nuclear weapons” into the plan as a contingency.

    But is this true? Do they always have nuclear weapons as part of the operational plans? I must do research. Eventually. Or I can wait for someone to do it for me and post their findings here. That works best for me.

  22. Les,

    I don’t think they always have nukes as a planning option. Recently, however, there have been advocates of using nukes to deal with exceptionally deep bunkers. For that reason, I do believe that it is part of the planning process here.

  23. Les–I own Hersch’s book on it. I was exaggerating, yes, but basically he said “there’s no way they could have known it was not a spy plane” even though later research had come out that controllers knew damn well what it was and the pilot had radioed back details of it that were completely inconsistent with a spy plane.

    I don’t have time to look up the later covereage for you, but essentially it’s well-agreed-upon now that they shot it down in order to cover up that they’d let it get that far into their airspace unchallenged. Hersch went out of his way to carry water for the Sovs.

  24. Actually, whether we always bring up nukes is a good question. I’m sure that we don’t, especially if the country in question lacks nuclear weapons. I’ve wondered whether we’re certain that Iran isn’t already in possession of a nuclear bomb or two. Which would explain a few things.

    John, our big screw up–and it was huge–was in the 70s. We had the influence to get the shah to behave, but instead we played realpolitik games one time too many. I think we’ve blown it a few times since then, but that was the big mistake.

  25. Les, it could’ve been Dr. Strangeglove. That old prankster.

  26. Pro Liberate,

    True, we should have done something to get the Shah to fix his corrupt system. What I can’t figure out is why Russia is being so non-cooperative in dealing with Iran. A nuclear armed Iran is a much bigger nightmare for the Russians, sitting next door to traditional rival Iran and with its oppressed muslim minorities, than it is even for the U.S.. Yet, Putin seems deadset on derailing any real action security council and seems willing to let the Iranians build the bomb.

  27. Yeah, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Unless Russia plans to use a nuclear Iran as a later casus bellum for an invasion of Iran. Putin may figure a nuked southern city is a fine trade for a warm water port and even more oil.

  28. I was exaggerating, yes…

    If you meant to say that the Americans shot it down, you were doing a little more than exaggerating. 😉

    This info is on Wikipedia:

    “The ‘official’ resolution of the puzzle came in 1991 when the hitherto-concealed voice and data recorders were released by Moscow, apparently confirming the original professional accident investigation judgments that overconfident carelessness allowed a simple navigation error to go undetected. The alleged Soviet failure to properly attempt communication with the crew, and their urgency to stop the flight as it was passing out of Soviet airspace led to this tragedy.”

    I’m not saying this is right or not, but it contrasts with what you’re saying. There are several differing opinions from a google search, so it doesn’t appear to be “well-agreed-upon.”

  29. “Seymour Heiney “

    Oh, I see what you did there. Har har, good one.

    I thought he must be some obscure economist.

    (There’s a reason I was able to pull of the RPG character for so long…)

  30. I’m sure there are lots of plans on the table. I don’t find it that surprising that they’d consider using nuclear bunkerbusters, though I confess to not knowing much about these, or their operational status.

    What the administration actually is quite another thing. They seem, if anything, to have gone rather timid lately. To me, it looks as if the administration is in the process of backing off on the Iran question, but that could just be the “public” aspect of things. Guess we’ll know for sure if and when the bombs start falling.

  31. I don’t waste a lot of time on Hersch anymore–I couldn’t remember until you challenged me which particular theory he was advancing. He and Woodward got lucky with a source early in their careers and then spent the rest of the time trying to top those original stories. Not that they haven’t done any good work since, but there have been significant stories (KAL 007, the “deathbed confession” of Bill Casey) that only their previous reputations saved them from Stephen Glass-like spankings, that I wait until I see other reporters confirm or deny before I get excited.

  32. Pro L & John – there could be other reasons for Putin’s intransigence vis-a-vis Iran.

    One would be as a bartering chip to limit US & EU influence in Ukraine, Belarus, former Central Asian republics. He could present the State Dept with a quid pro quo – we stop trying to influence these places, he stops trying to work against us in Iran.

    Another would be because Russia really doesn’t have much to sell other than their natural resources, but nuke tech (both civil & military) is certainly something they do have.

    The last thing I can think of is simply what might be termed “DeGaulle syndrome” – the bluster of a leader of a former super power, now weak, who wants to thumb his nose at the US.

    Of course, these are not mutually exclusive.

  33. Penguin,

    I think you bring up some good points, especially the “DeGaulle syndrom”. It is pure insantity, but probably true.

  34. No Jennifer they are not reading Nzitsche but I am glad to see what I really said sailed right over your head.

  35. Andrew Sullivan posted a link to a London Times article the other day that corroborates at least part of Hersh’s story, and names one of their (the Times’) sources specifically as Richard Perle –

    Gunning for Iran

    The Times story downplays the more sensational (i.e. tactical nuke) portion of Hersh’s story, and my guess is that whoever fed that to Hersh is someone who wanted to make sure that a nuclear contingency is killed before any further planning takes place.

    The most worrisome aspect of all of this brouhaha is not the remote possibility of a nuclear strike, but the Bush Administration’s continued belief in forcible regime change as a solution to Middle Eastern political problems. If this attitude doesn’t change, the probability of direct military action against Iran between now and November, 2008 is very high indeed.

  36. John, Penguin et al,

    Russia currently wants to help Iran believing that aiding and cooperating for mutual benefit with an enemy of the US diminishes US global power and influence; it’s certainly not based on past or future friendship. Actually, that would also help explain their cooperation of late with China, another previous enemy . . .

  37. Hmmm, pretty good guess.

    It’s not true because seymour Hersh is anti-bushie (and it’s bad for the nuclear industry).

    You bombatarians are SO predictable.

  38. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that Hersch is correct insofar as we have “plans” for executing some kind of nuclear attack against Iran the same way we probably have “plans” for invading Canada. That is to say, he is not distinguishing between “plans” and intentions. Further, it is my guess (fwiw) that these plans were leaked strategically in an attempt to strengthen the negotiating position of whoever is currently on the other side of the negotiating table from Iran (are the Euros still heading up this effort?). I am agnostic as to the wisdom of this strategy, but it would surprise me if this is not exactly what is happening right now.

  39. Does anybody know whether or not after you reach a certain age your ear hair starts to grow into your brain?

    That would explain a few things.

  40. What I’ve learned from this thread:

    The characterization of Hersch’s work as unreliable doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

  41. I’d like to say that that won’t happen, but it’s getting serious enough that we likely will do so with a Gulf War I-like coalition

    How would they do that?

  42. Russia realizes that it can simply tell Tehran that if an Iranian nuke goes off on it’s territory, then Iran will be destroyed. Deterrence worked well enough with the US — sure, the Soviet Union fell apart, not because of a US invasion or nuclear strike.

    Russia also realizes that it is not necessarily in it’s own best interests that the US control what happens in the Middle East all by it’s lonesome. This has less to do with a feeling of lost prestige than the real-world fact that what is best for US interests is not necessarily best for Russian (or Chinese) interests.

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