Thursday, September 10, 2009

WSJ: Iran & Venezuela fight U.S. imperialism . . . and Ecuador?

Rupert Murdoch has made noises about eventually charging for all of his news outlets’ online content. Perhaps he’s planning on using some of that hypothetical money on s fact-checker or two?

Writing in Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, the distinguished Robert Morgenthau, district attorney of New York City since 1974 (jurisdiction: the world), warns of an incipient Iran-Venezuela “axis of unity” -- the word “axis”, or “an imaginary line about which a body rotates”, being super scary -- in a column that fails, in often hilarious ways, to fulfill its overheated rhetoric.

To begin with, Morgenthau writes that signs of an “evolving partnership” between Venezuela and Iran “began to emerge in 2006” and that, a year later, “during a visit by Mr. Chávez to Tehran, the two nations declared an ‘axis of unity’ against the U.S. and Ecuador.”

It would be silly to expect absolute fidelity to the truth from a publication like the WSJ, but errors as glaring as these shouldn’t have gotten past the paper boy, much less the editors. That Morgenthau thinks Venezuela has declared itself in an axis against Ecuador -- whose president, Rafael Correa, was accused in a recent WSJ editorial of being an agent of both Hugo Chavez and the FARC -- is truly stunning in its ignorance. The rest of his piece isn’t much better.

We are all supposed to be very afraid, Morgenthau argues, because “a number of Iranian-owned and controlled factories have sprung up in remote and undeveloped parts of Iran”. We are told these factories are in “ideal locations for the illicit production of weapons,” though he concedes that actual evidence of such production “is limited.” I believe he means nonexistent, otherwise he probably would have led with it.

Moving on, Morgenthau claims that “[i]ntelligence gathered by my office” suggests “Hezbollah supporters in South America are engaged in the trafficking of narcotics.” Repeat: not Iranian agents, not members of Hezbollah (which, by the way, enjoys popular support in Lebanon, suggesting its not merely an Iranian proxy), but merely “Hezbollah supporters”. To propagandists like the New York DA, no doubt drunk off the power of throwing people in prison for more than 30 years, “Hezbollah supporter” = Hezbollah = Iranian government. Back in the real world, though, I can't help but wonder: this is really the best they've got?

A “GAO study also confirms allegations of Venezuelan support for FARC, the Colombian terrorist insurgency group,” Morgenthau continues. And indeed, a July 2009 GAO report (pdf) does state that “Venezuela has extended a lifeline to Colombian illegal armed groups, and their continued existence endangers Colombian security gains achieved with U.S. assistance”. This is, of course, “according to U.S. and Colombian government officials.” Moregenthau’s assertion that a government report citing government officials “confirms” the government’s claims is about as dishonest as Bush administration officials planting a story about Iraqi WMDs in The New York Times and then trotting out Dick Cheney to cite said story as proving the claims they planted.

But as Reuters reports, Morgenthau's apparent lack of evidence -- or a basic understanding of Latin American politics -- is proving to be no obstacle to his plan to investigate Venezuelan banks for allegedly allowing Iran to circumvent economic sanctions (heaven forbid). "The ostensible reason the Iranian-owned bank Banco Internacional de Desarrollo was opened in Caracas was to expand economic ties with Venezuela," Morgenthau said in a speech this week. "Our sources and experiences lead me to suspect an ulterior motive. A foothold into the Venezuelan banking system is a perfect 'sanctions-busting' method -- the main motivator for Iran in its banking relationship with Venezuela."

So again, while there appears to be no firm evidence, Morgenthau nonetheless leaps in one sentence from a suspicion there is “an ulterior motive” in the Iran-Venezuela financial relationship – to beat the sanctions regime – to an unqualified assertion that beating said sanctions is “the main motivator” behind Iran's dealings in Venezuela. Between the two statements is where one would expect to find the facts behind Morgenthau's argument; that they're not present is perhaps indicative of the strength of his case. Like the Obama and Bush administrations' fearmongering about an Iranian nuclear weapons program their own intelligence officials say doesn't exist, there isn't much to Morgenthau's claims beyond speculation and innuendo. But then scaring Americans about the purported threats posed by swarthy and troublesome foreigners has always been a fact-free endeavor.

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