Scott noted this morning that the New York Times has responded to our inquiries by correcting the egregious error that I pointed out here. The paper’s correction withdraws the false claim that John McCain made the “embarrassing mistake” of saying that Iran was training al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq. Instead, the Times now says that McCain “briefly referred to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as a Shiite group, rather than a Sunni group.”
The Times’s new claim would make sense if McCain had said “al Qaeda is a Shiite group,” but in fact, he said the opposite: “[al Qaeda is] [c]ertainly not an obscure sect of the Shiites overall…or Sunnis or anybody else.” It’s odd for a newspaper to accuse a politician of making an “error” when what he said was indisputably correct. You can watch the video clip here. There is no stumble by McCain. What you don’t see in the clip is what came before the question about al Qaeda. McCain had just asked General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker a series of five questions about the Sadrists in Basra who had just been attacked by Iraqi troops. The exchange above is a transition into a series of questions about al Qaeda, and McCain notes that al Qaeda is not an “obscure sect of the Shiites,” i.e., like the Sadrists, or, for that matter, an obscure sect of Sunnis, either. So I don’t think there was any kind of “error” on McCain’s part.
On the other hand, a McCain campaign spokesman said that the Senator “stumbled on his words.” I think that’s clearly wrong, watching the clip, but even if it’s true, for the Times to make an issue out of it was a cheap shot at best.
I’ve had an email exchange with someone at the Times who shed interesting light on the story. It turns out that the reporters who wrote the original story didn’t fabricate the claim that McCain said Iran was training al Qaeda in Iraq; that was interpolated by an editor who “changed the copy!” The paper’s spokesman declined my request that he identify the editor who juiced up the story to put McCain in a bad light.
That’s revealing, I think, but there is a much more important point lurking here. Why is it that the Democrats and the New York Times (pardon the redundancy) make such a big deal out of any suggestion that Iran could possibly have any connection with al Qaeda? The reason is that they have a dogmatic conviction that Shia and Sunni groups can never cooperate. This is an article of faith on the Left, which is deployed for a number of purposes. The original Times story explained that this was the purported significance of McCain’s “mistake:”
The United States believes that Iran, a Shiite country, has been training Shiite extremists in Iraq, but not Al Qaeda, a Sunni insurgent group.
In fact, Iran has a long history of aiding not just Shia terrorist groups like the Sadrists, but also Sunni terrorist groups. The September 11 Commission’s report says that Iran helped several of the al Qaeda (Sunni) terrorists who carried out the attacks. But there is an even more obvious example: Hamas is a Sunni organization, and Iran doesn’t just aid Hamas, it controls it.
John McCain is not confused about relations between Sunni and Shia terrorists and their ability to cooperate; it is the New York Times and the Democratic Party who are ill-informed.
ONE MORE THING: In the same Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, General Petraeus testified that Iranian weapons have been found in the possession of al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists. Still unknown is whether Iran supplied al Qaeda in Iraq directly, or whether al Qaeda acquired the weapons indirectly.