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The Left Eats Itself

UPDATE: I’ve finally got an audio file for the entire BBC Newshour program on which the Iran war plan document was discussed.

During the entire Iran war plan story that’s played out over the past week, I anticipated the fierce reaction of the pro-Israel right. After all, it’s what they do. But harder to credit is the response of many on the left, some of whom I consider friends and allies and others who’ve tried to discredit my work for some time. That’s why I could expect the carping of Moon of Alabama, War in Context or Dimi Reider at 972 Magazine. But some good friends too have bought into the narrative, which does disturb me. The relative of someone who offers technical help to me asked after reading Woodward’s smears whether she should continue being publicly associated with me. Thankfully, she said: Yes.

After he attacked an earlier leak I published, I spent weeks in a fruitless dialogue of the deaf with MoA’s author.  Now, I make it a point not to follow the disparagement from the left. But here’s the general argument. I’m a witting or unwitting tool of Israeli intelligence because they concoct false psy ops material, leak it to me, and I dutifully publish it. The purpose of all this, according to this narrative, appears to be to advance a threatening Israeli posture, throw the fear of God into the Iranians and Americans and generally create a more contentious, propitious environment to advance Israel’s interests.

There’s only one problem with all this: Israeli intelligence, including the Mossad, Shin Bet and IDF (Aman) all oppose a war. The only pockets within the Israeli leadership which support one are the prime minister and defense minister. So you’d have to argue that one of them has duped me. Why Israel’s senior ministers would be taking time to do this to a Seattle blogger is beyond me.

Not to mention the question why Israeli intelligence would’ve leaked to me some incredibly embarrassing stories like the kidnapping of Dirar Abu Sisi or the exposure of the secret arrests of Ameer Makhoul, Anat Kamm or many others. Or why Israeli intelligence would care to accuse newscaster Yoav Even of rape. All of those stories came from the same source. That’s a whole lot of trouble to go to cultivate a media outlet like me.

What especially disturbs me about all these accusations is that they enforce a narrow zone of discourse on the question of war against Iran. According to the left narrative, if you write that Israel will attack Iran, you’re bringing the day that much closer. This gives bloggers like me far too much credit for moving debate.

This attitude in fact reminds me of Freud’s magical thinking, according to which his patients refused to do or say certain things for fear that doing so would cause a personal catastrophe. So you can’t warn of an impending war because doing so will somehow cause one. This loses sight of the fact that the author of the war would be Bibi Netanyahu and not Richard Silverstein.

The attacks of some on the left have the effect of sowing suspicion among us and dividing us.  In effect, without intending to do so, it does the work of the right in helping discredit some among us who take a line that diverges from that of others.

I would ask anyone who believed or believes in me to stand back when they read such magical thinking and try to stay true to the verities rather than getting bogged down in the mire of mistrust and paranoia. I have been doing this since 2003. I have been through my share of scoops and even a hoax perpetrated by one enterprising right-wing funster (not the source in question here). The chances are that I’ve considered every angle of a story or leak, both good and bad, before my detractors have even had a chance to jump.

Though there is an element of risk and trust in what I do regarding sources, the risk of a war insufficiently vetted or criticized or anticipated is far worse. That is something my critics on the left have lost sight of.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gareth Porter August 17, 2012, 7:12 PM

    Richard, I’m not into attacking progressive journalists or bloggers as tools of evil interests, even if I disagree strongly with something they have written,so my comment should be understood as being in that spirit. But I found the text of the document so obviously aimed at serving the interest of Netanyahu and Barak that it seemed clear to me that it could not be a genuine war plan. Indeed you yourself said that it didn’t read like an IDF document. So it’s difficult to understand why you were not similarly skeptical about its genuineness and suspicious that it originated with folks who were seeking to make the misn’ilitary option against Iran look more credible than it really is. I fully agree, of course, with your point that Israeli intelligence officials have been generally opposed to war on Iran, but isn’t it perfectly credible that Israeli intelligence believes that Netanyahu and Barak are serious — or may be serious — about planning an attack and therefore are prepared to pass on a document that they may suspect or even know is dodgy because it may help stir up more opposition to the policy? What I’m suggesting is that the motivation be honorable, but that your source may have been peddling a document that doesn’t really have much credibility and merely confuses readers rather than clarifying the situation. Of course I have come to believe that the dynamic duo have never been serious about the idea of attacking Iran but have found it useful for various reasons. That’s why I ignored this document in my own writing on the current round of war talk in the Israeli media.

    • Richard Silverstein August 18, 2012, 1:54 AM

      Thanks for raising those issues in a respectful way that some others can’t seem to muster.

      Your thoughts on this are entirely possible. I was told that the original IDF leaker was opposed to an attack on Iran, but the fact that he also leaked the document to Fresh may dispute that. I know that the former minister who passed it to me is opposed to the war. It’s very possible, since he’s quite experienced in the affairs discussed in the memo that he thought it made outrageous assumptions that should be exposed (though I don’t know this for a fact). But I also believe that this person, who knows Barak & Bibi quite well, would believe that this document reflects in some ways actual Israeli plans (though of course it’s not even close to an Order of Battle). In fact, that’s why he wrote that he wouldn’t normally leak such a document because even if it is a mess in terms of the military thinking behind it, it does reflect at least some of Israel’s real plans. He wouldn’t normally want to expose such information. But he is now because of the mess that Israel could get itself into if it follows these guys to war.

      If that was his purpose (in leaking it) I wouldn’t have a problem with that motivation. It appears that you may.

  • elhrac August 17, 2012, 8:52 PM

    I think I know your source. Are his initials S.P.?

  • David Nelson August 17, 2012, 9:02 PM

    Richard,

    ” Why Israel’s senior ministers would be taking time to do this to a Seattle blogger is beyond me.”

    Your title answers your question. Because the left eats itself. If Barak and Netanyahu can advance their bullying of the US while at the same time discrediting a critical voice, why not? Of course they would use you.

  • LittleBat August 18, 2012, 1:22 AM

    All of your actions, in the presentation of this document, have been ethical and have advanced important information.

    I wish that, instead of criticising you, the critics would take another look at the Anat Kam case, and protest against the ongoing injustice.

  • yankel August 18, 2012, 1:29 AM

    As I’ve written before, Richard, you’re doing a fine job bringing what information you have to the public eye, accompanied by what you can disclose about the source and its credibility.

    You may (and should!) assume your readers are intelligent enough to make our own minds regarding the degree of reliability we assign to this info.

    The fact that, as I’ve commented earlier, I found this particular supposed action-plan childishly laughable doesn’t mean I’d rather you vetted what you consider reliable sources.

    Please, do keep up the good work!

    • Richard Silverstein August 18, 2012, 1:41 AM

      Thanks very much. I didn’t think the plan/document was childish. I was astonished though that anyone in the Israeli government might be convinced that attacking Iran might be a good idea based on such a thoroughly unpersuasive document.

  • Bob Mann August 18, 2012, 6:00 AM

    It has been fascinating to watch all this unfold.

    One thing is certain, regardless of all the “noise” surrounding the post, you are taken seriously by the establishment.

    Countless mainstream news sources covering your scoop confirm that.

  • Susan Campbell August 18, 2012, 8:29 AM

    Hi Richard – there is the actual left (divided as it is), then there is what Edward Herman called ‘the Cruise Missile left’. The latter are true heirs of pro-imperialist social-democracy from its earliest days.

  • b August 18, 2012, 10:00 AM

    RS says “But here’s the general argument. I’m a witting or unwitting tool of Israeli intelligence because they concoct false psy ops material, leak it to me, and I dutifully publish it. ”

    As far as I remember I have never suggested that you are “a witting or unwitting tool of Israeli intelligence”.

    I said that you are obviously used to spread certain unreliable material to get it out into the “western” public. I have no idea who is doing that to you and why.

    But it is sad that you are falling for it again and again.

    • Richard Silverstein August 18, 2012, 12:43 PM

      So you’re saying I’m the dupe of someone, but you just don’t know who…right. Well, a number of others on the left have filled it in for you and specified that I’m being used by Israeli intelligence. I was summarizing the general tenor of the conspiracy theory.

      As for being used to get material to the western public, every leaker has an agenda and “uses” the media to circulate the leaked material. That’s the nature of leaking esp. when the leak comes from someone in the political echelon as my source is. He has an agenda. He supports Israel’s covert war against Iran (I don’t). He opposes Israel’s military attack on Iran (so do I). I’ve been explicit about this throughout.

      As for the material being unreliable: Jonathan Marcus at the BBC tends to credit it as authentic. I also vetted the material with two figures who you would know very well by name & reputation if I could name them. They are experts who have nothing to do with my source and are entirely independent. One of them vetted the document with U.S. intel sources. They expressed confidence that it was authentic.

      You’ll have to excuse me for placing more confidence both in my source & the experts’ opinions over yours.

    • Richard Silverstein August 18, 2012, 12:44 PM

      So you’re saying I’m the dupe of someone, but you just don’t know who…right. Well, a number of others on the left have filled it in for you and specified that I’m being used by Israeli intelligence. I was summarizing the general tenor of the conspiracy theory.

      As for being used to get material to the western public, every leaker has an agenda and “uses” the media to circulate the leaked material. That’s the nature of leaking esp. when the leak comes from someone in the political echelon as my source is. He has an agenda. He supports Israel’s covert war against Iran (I don’t). He opposes Israel’s military attack on Iran (so do I). I’ve been explicit about this throughout.

      As for the material being unreliable: Jonathan Marcus at the BBC tends to credit it as authentic. I also vetted the material with two figures who you would know very well by name & reputation if I could name them. They are experts who have nothing to do with my source and are entirely independent. One of them vetted the document with U.S. intel sources. They expressed confidence that it was authentic.

      You’ll have to excuse me for placing more confidence both in my source & the experts’ opinions over yours.

  • Alex Illi August 18, 2012, 10:24 AM

    Hello, you are doing fine and I’ve no reasons to suspect any reality behind such allegations as you have described here as being directed at the article’s source and base.
    I also get and appreciate the points you are bringing up, e.g. that even among members of a seeming group (e.g. “left”) fissures and fractions may just oh-so-easily let to be facilitated by using all-too-human sentiments to the detriment of that group and the whole.
    Additionally to these fine points, I would also like to offer for your attention, that by entertaining the seeming polar phases of “left” and “right” without fine differentiation, there might arise more of division and weakening.
    Actually, “left” and “right” hardly exist, and no human being fully fits into any of these seeming categories, every human being has an ever-dynamically-changing mixture of a set of characteristics that are only arbitrarily and subjectively ascribed to one or the other of these drawers, that have arisen at the time of ‘french revolution’ at the behest of ‘master’-would-be-seperators, oriented at the distribution of seats between commons and aristocrats in french parliament at that time – they nearly only benefit the “divide-(would-be)-imperators”

    Greetz from Germany, oh, Ghana :)

  • LeaNder August 18, 2012, 10:54 AM

    That’s why I could expect the carping of Moon of Alabama,

    don’t worry about my co-German “b”, he is mainly hot air, as the English would say. I don’t know if it helps in any way, but I have been hesitant about his self-promotional mission–that is what it ultimately feels to me–for longer now, too.

    Noticed Ross on NYT? What I am really wondering about is, why are Israel’s decision makers so oblivious to the fact that it is really easy to see who drives matters here? Or is that the point? At one point Israel has to walk the talk. For how many years are we watching this now?

  • LeaNder August 18, 2012, 11:17 AM

    I hope, I didn’t create an italics thread?.Would take some time to find the exact way to stop it. Someone once told me, but the blog post is gone. No time either to read up on what reactions confuse you beyond “b”, which I honestly advise you to take with a grain of salt. But there may be a similar pattern to something that made me leave the left on this issue, surrounding the assault on NF. Thus I’ll surely return.

    I have to leave now. If indeed I did start an italic thread, please find out if you can stop it. And sorry for the trouble, if so.

  • Donald August 18, 2012, 12:19 PM

    What Leander said. I loved Billmon at “Whiskey Bar” and miss that blog–which was one of the best blogs ever. But Moon of Alabama (which started out as a comment section for Whiskey Bar when Billmon got sick of policing his comments and ended it) always struck me as a sort of borderline place. Some real insights mixed in with posturing and silliness and personal quarrels and after awhile I stopped bothering with it except for a rare occasional visit.

    I don’t have any strong opinion about your document–I don’t know enough to have the right to one. Assuming it’s genuine, I would take it to be someone’s argument for war, not an actual war plan. But the claim that some have made that it couldn’t be real because it’s so stupid and wildly optimistic (from the Israeli pov) and shallow (I saw people arguing this in the other thread) seems misplaced to me. Imagine all the stupid memos that must have been circulating around Washington during the runup to the Iraq War, all the silly predictions about how easy it would be.

    But I could also believe it is a hoax released either to discredit you or for the reasons Gareth mentioned.

    • Donald August 18, 2012, 12:23 PM

      “when Billmon got sick of policing his comments and ended it”–

      That should read “when Billmon got sick of policing his comment section and got rid of it.” Billmon had a comment section that was fractious and would get insanely long and Billmon himself had a very short fuse with people (sometimes unfairly I thought).

    • Richard Silverstein August 18, 2012, 12:34 PM

      I loved Whiskey Bar and mourned when Billmon gave it up. It’s left a major vacuum in intelligent progressive discourse in the blog world. I would sometimes read his blog posts & experience this feeling of tremendous admiration both for his intellect, humanity & value system. I’ve almost never read any other work for which I felt such genuine excitement.

      Bernhardt took over Moon of Alabama and while he can be incisive & intelligent on some issues, he’s like a dog with a bone & quite obsessive. Unfortunately, he’s leading the charge against me from the left. He seems to have made it part of his life’s work to discredit my own.

      I’ve always meant to say that the document was a “sales pitch” rather than an explicit Order of Battle or detailed war plan. That’s the term I used in the BBC interview.

    • Elisabeth August 18, 2012, 12:40 PM

      “Imagine all the stupid memos that must have been circulating around Washington during the runup to the Iraq War.”

      Indeed! I remember one in which they had forgotten to replace “Deutschmark” with “Dinar”: They simply copied some old plans from the post-war occupation of Germany!

  • Chulent August 18, 2012, 11:10 PM

    Richard
    I am new to your blog and have been enjoying it. Thanks!

    As to the two experts that you consulted as to authenticity, what specific question or issue did you ask them to authenticate?
    One could be a general questions as to Israeli capabilities mentioned in the document and another would be is this the type of document you would find emanating from the Israeki defense establishment.

    In this day and age I think everyone across the political spectrum should be considering that they are targets of disinformation,misinformation and information by all parties involved. Such a major military undertaking is not considered without taking into account psyops.

    As to acqusations that your are being used as a pawn by the Mossad, who knows.

    I make the assumption about everything I read that there some serious orchestration involved. for the sake of a strategic mission I could see Israeli patriots taking on unnatural roles for the sake of the outcome. The dove becomes a hawk, the hawk becomes a dove.

    I may very well be nieve but I take nothing at face value.

    Although a preemptive strike on Iran seems to be the main focus of intention the aftermath wars with Hezbollah and Hamas may have far more disastrous results.

    • Richard Silverstein August 19, 2012, 1:59 AM

      I asked the experts whether they believed the document was authentic. They said yes. I asked them whether they believed the weapons systems mentioned sounded credibly like ones they or those in the intel world they know, believe Israel is developing. They said yes. One also said that an intel source he’d consulted said that this document resembled other Israeli military documents he’d seen in the past.