Here's the premise: To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. The change brings the two countries closer to an open confrontation and propels the U.S. into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
Interestingly, the new strategy has American money flowing to radical Sunni groups, most of whom are avowed enemies of the United States. (Al Qaeda is one.) It also brings Saudi Arabia and Israel, who both see a nuclear Iran as an existential threat, into a clammy diplomatic embrace.
Here's Hersh, unfettered by his New Yorker editors, speaking with Bill Maher on "Real Time":
"This is, without question, the most dangerous Administration we've ever had. They don't understand the Middle East, they have a disaster on their hands in Iraq, and they are trying to 'fail forward' by pushing into Iran, saying, "Maybe we'll bomb Iran, maybe we won't."'Fail forward': nice. I've been struggling for a catchphrase to describe my romantic life.
We're running clandestine, covert operations with the help of the Saudis—in effect, we're outsourcing clandestine operations to the Saudi government, which is pretty amazing for an American government. We're outsourcing the most sensitive operations there are. We're not telling the Congress. We're disobeying the law. We're using money that isn't appropriated. The system is completely broken, and these guys are marching to their own tune."
As you can imagine, Hersh excites a good deal of honking and spraying among conservative bloggers; many of them see him as a benighted wacko lefty with an Bush grudge.
Across the Bay: "Hersh's reporting is shrill, hilariously conspiratorial, thin, ideologically skewed, and based on dubious sources."That second quote deserves a couple of readings. Wow. There's some edifying discussion at Newsbusters, too—patriotic riffs on journalism, war, and liberal media bias. Two for your sampling:
From Beirut to the Beltway: "Hersh, who rose to fame with his reporting on Vietnam, is only satisfied if the U.S. army is seen massacring innocent people."
"Well, goll-eeee! If the Bush administration would just listetn to Seymour Hersh, who DOES understand the Middle East, all would be hunky-dorey! Problem is, in his next spiel, he says NOTHING that shows he understands anything at all about the Middle East. He just describes what he sees happening...we're failing forward (according to him), we're outsourcing, Cheney thinks Iran is going to have a bomb....and then proceeds to hold up the head of Hezbollah as a reputable source of information on what's going on. What a joke. And he gets taken seriously."I hope you know, faithful blog reader, that I trust you open and honest. I allow anonymous comments, which opens me to attacks from strangers and my sisters. I'm not running antivirus on my friendship drive—that's the point. We are friends.
"Ya know what I want asked to these dumb monkeys? I want a serious reporter to ask them if they have an anti-virus program installed on thier computers. If they really believe that if we just open are hearts, we wouldn't have any problems. Let's see if they would open up thier hard drives and test their theory right here at home. Go ahead, I dare you lefties to turn off your firewalls and disable your anti-virus software and show how open and honest you trust those people."
(Extra reading: A Salon profile of Seymour Hersh from 2000.)