Since yesterday, the right-wing blogosphere has been all aflutter over a report in the New York Post, written by the Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri, that Barack Obama has privately tried to delay an agreement between the Iraqi government and the Bush administration on a draw-down of American forces from Iraq.
Here’s the key passage:
According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.
“He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington,” Zebari said in an interview.
Obama insisted that Congress should be involved in negotiations on the status of US troops – and that it was in the interests of both sides not to have an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in its “state of weakness and political confusion.”
Yesterday evening, the McCain camp sought to get some mileage out of Taheri’s report, releasing a statement from Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s top foreign policy aide, asserting that: “If news reports are accurate, this is an egregious act of political interference by a presidential candidate seeking political advantage overseas.”
But there are a couple reasons why the bloviation looks to be uncalled for. The Obama camp yesterday put out a statement of its own asserting that the story “bears as much resemblance to the truth as a McCain campaign commercial,” and charging that Taheri has confused a long-term Status of Forces agreement with negotations over a shorter-term drawdown.
It’s worth looking at that distinction more closely to get a sense of what the Obama camp means here and where Taheri may have erred. In terms of a Status of Forces agreement, Obama has consistently made clear that he believes any such agreement should be delayed until after the election — so that a President Obama or McCain would not be bound by an agreement negotiated by a weakened Bush administration. The McCain camp did not object when, in June, Obama told reporters at a press conference that he had made exactly this argument to Zebari in a phone call.
The Obama campaign’s statement released yesterday in response to the report was consistent with this position: “Barack Obama has consistently called for any Strategic Framework Agreement to be submitted to the U.S. Congress so that the American people have the same opportunity for review as the Iraqi Parliament,” though, perhaps unwilling to alienate antiwar voters, it artfully omitted the fact that Obama has argued that this should be delayed until the next administration is in charge.
As for a shorter-term drawdown — which is what Taheri seems to mean by “a draw-down of the American military presence” — Obama has never suggested that this should be delayed. And again, yesterday’s statement backs that up: “Unlike John McCain, he supports a clear timetable to redeploy our troops that has the support of the Iraqi government. Barack Obama has never urged a delay in negotiations, nor has he urged a delay in immediately beginning a responsible drawdown of our combat brigades.”
Still, if Taheri’s report were accurate, and Obama had indeed talked to Zebari about delaying any shorter-term deal, it would at least represent a change of position for the candidate.
But Taheri doesn’t exactly have a reputation for care and precision in his work. In May 2006, he published an explosive story in the Post (since removed from the paper’s site), as well as Canada’s National Post, about an Iranian law that forced Jews to wear a yellow stripe, stoking fears of a second Nazi Germany. Only problem: it turned out to be a complete fabrication.
That turned out to be typical of Taheri’s work. A 1989 review of Taheri’s book, Nest of Spies: America’s Journey to Disaster in Iran, written for The New Republic by noted Iranian scholar Shaul Bakhash and unearthed by TPMmuckraker in 2006, noted that Taheri “repeatedly refers us to books where the information cited does not exist,” and is “capable of generalizations of breathtaking sweep and inaccuracy.” According to Bakhash, “[Taheri’s] interpretations of the documents are often egregiously inaccurate,” and he “has trouble transcribing even the simplest information.”
One Iraq scholar told TPMmuckraker after the false yellow-star report, referring to Taheri: “This is a person who doesn’t have any credibility.”
Doesn’t exactly sound like a reliable source.