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Sy Hersh's
Overactive Imagination

War with Iran has now been imminent for at least 18 months.

12:00 AM, Oct 9, 2007 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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IN THE LATEST EDITION of the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh returns to one of his favorite themes: The Bush administration is preparing for war with Iran. Well, that is, may be preparing for war with Iran.

Anyone familiar with Hersh's writing these last couple of years knows that he has been fixated on claims from anonymous spooks and foreign policy luminaries concerning the Bush administration's supposed dastardly designs on Iran. His latest piece does not disappoint. Former and anonymous CIA officials opine on the Bush administration's gameplan for attacking Iran. The suddenly once-again-in-demand foreign policy guru Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has never shown any particular proclivity for diagnosing Iran or the Middle East correctly, tells Hersh's readers what he has heard about "limited bombing plans for Iran." And, in a new twist, David Kay, the chief weapons inspector in Iraq for the UN, tells Hersh that he thought General Petraeus exaggerated the extent of Iran's nefarious activities inside Iraq.

All in all, one is left with the same impression as after having read any of Hersh's previous contributions to the "neoconservatives vs. Iran" genre. Hersh and his sources believe that the Bush administration is hyping the threat from Iran in preparations for a war (of some sort), which will be disastrous for the U.S. and the Middle East.

Perhaps feeling a bit like the boy who cried wolf once too often, however, Hersh takes a half-step back in his latest piece. He still believes "there has been a significant increase in the tempo of attack planning," which he does not really explain. But, Hersh tells us, he "was repeatedly cautioned, in interviews, that the President has yet to issue the 'execute order' that would be required for a military operation inside Iran, and such an order may never be issued."

Hersh has good reasons for this newfound hesitancy. In April of 2006, he wrote that the Bush administration "has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack." In November 2006, in the wake of the midterm elections, Hersh pondered: "Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more?" He found ample reasons to think that Vice President Cheney and his attending neoconservatives would remain undeterred. And then in March of this year, Hersh told his readers that the Bush administration's new strategy for the Middle East "has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran."

So, in Seymour Hersh's world, the war with Iran has been imminent for at least 18 months now.

It is still possible that Hersh's sources are right, of course, even if their timing is off. Perhaps the Bush administration is planning in earnest for an impending military strike against Iran. But, there is a deeper problem with Hersh's reporting that also infects much of the reporting on the "war on terror." He is so myopically focused on exposing malfeasance--both real and imagined--on the part of the executive branch that he ignores legitimate concerns about Iran's ongoing role in the terrorists' worldwide war.

To understand how this shortsightedness has skewed the reporting on our terrorist enemies, consider what Hersh himself once wrote. In the foreword to long-time CIA operative Bob Baer's book, See No Evil, which was published in 2002, Hersh endorsed Baer's most explosive allegation: al Qaeda did not act alone on September 11, 2001, but instead received help from Iran's long-time terrorist proxy, Hezbollah. Here is what Hersh wrote:

We've hit intelligence rock bottom in America. As this is being written, nearly three months after the September 11 terrorism attacks, the intelligence community still cannot tell us who was responsible, how the assassins worked, where they trained, which groups they worked for, or whether they will strike again. Did Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network pull it off by themselves, as the Bush administration constantly claims, or was at least one other Mideast terrorist group involved, as Bob Baer suggests? We don't know, but I'm betting that the facts, when they emerge, will back up Baer's instinct that the attacks in America were not solely the responsibility of someone operating out of a cave in Afghanistan.