Sunday, October 21, 2012

About Those Nuclear Talks With Iran

    The New York Times published a story on Saturday headlined "U.S. Officials Say Iran Has Agreed to Nuclear Talks."  The story has been quickly denounced as untrue by both Iranian and U.S. officials, so speculation has begun about the source of the story and the reason behind it.  Jazz Shaw at Hot Air pondered the question and came up with four possibilities.  Here's #3:
Theory 3: The story is garbage, but the New York Times was misled by an Obama administration official who wanted to plant a seed to make it look like the President’s foreign policy platform isn’t a complete shambles right before the foreign policy debate.
    I'd like to submit some meat for those bones.  The NYT story was written by Helene Cooper and Mark Landler.  Landler has written Times stories in the past with David E. Sanger, notably a February 2012 article about the tension between Israel and the U.S over the Iran threat.  Sanger more recently wrote another article about Iran in August 2012 which included some reports on the negotiations with Iran that were the subject of Saturday's story.  The August story said:

Though Iranian officials have privately expressed some interest in the plan, the deal has gone nowhere, and no new negotiating sessions are scheduled, American officials say.
“For now, the talks are dead in the water,” one senior official said Thursday.
    Of course quoting anonymous "senior officials" in quite common, not just for Sanger but for most national security reporters and understandably so.  But Sanger has also written a book about Iran, reviewed by none other than the Times in June 2012.  That review contains the following insights into Sanger's reporting [emphasis mine]:

And throughout, Mr. Sanger clearly has enjoyed great access to senior White House officials, most notably to Thomas Donilon, the national security adviser.
Mr. Donilon, in effect, is the hero of the book, as well as the commenter of record on events. He leads the team that goes to Israel and spends “five hours wading through the intelligence in the basement of the prime minister’s residence.” He is shown studying the nettlesome problems of foreign relations, working closely with the president, and fending off the villains of this story — which in Mr. Sanger’s account tend to be the government of Pakistan and, surprisingly, the generals of the American military. “We fought the Pentagon every step of the way on this,” a “senior American diplomat” tells Mr. Sanger. At another point, a “senior White House official” reports that, “There was incredible resistance inside the Pentagon.” And so on.
The virtue of this book — its foundation of White House sources who give the author insiders’ material like a transcript of Mr. Obama’s last telephone call with the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak — is also its weakness. That is, Mr. Sanger shows us the world through the eyes of Mr. Obama, Mr. Donilon and those around him. But he also tends to depict Washington and the world as they see it.
     And what is know about the "hero" of Sanger's book, Thomas Donilon?  A profile provided by the Times says the following of Mr. Donilon:

Thomas E. Donilon is President Obama’s national security adviser and a central, if little-known figure in American foreign policy...
He oversaw support for the Libya war that toppled Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. He made sure surge troops left Afghanistan as scheduled. He is a champion of Mr. Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia, in which strengthening regional alliances in the Pacific have become an increasingly important focus of policy.
Yet Mr. Donilon has not escaped controversy... Republicans suspect him of orchestrating national security leaks to make Mr. Obama look good.
    So is Mr. Donilon the "administration official" who floated the Iran-has-agreed-to-talks balloon, which coincidentally are only likely to happen if Barack Obama is reelected?  After putting together this chain of people and information above, I can see how this conspiracy theorizing can be addictive.  But the above scenario is fairly low on conspiracy if I do say so myself.  Even for someone with an aversion to going out on limbs, this particular limb seems pretty thick.

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