Making the Rounds with Seymour Hersh

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Consider his sources… cited in the current New Yorker piece on the “The Redirection” of Bush administration policy in the Middle East:

There’s Prince Bandar, for 20-plus years the Saudi Ambassador to Washington and Bush family intimate who heard the war decision on Iraq before Colin Powell did. There’s Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chieftain Hersh interviewed in Beirut. Also: Walid Jumblatt, the anti-Nasrallah, anti-Syrian chief of the Druze minority in Lebanon. Also in Lebanon, Alistair Crooke (if that’s his real name), 30 years with British intelligence in MI6. And then the Americans: Richard Armitage, Colin Powell’s right hand at the State Department. Robert Baer, the CIA adventurer who wrote “See No Evil” and lived the life of George Clooney’s character in the movie “Syriana.” Martin Indyk, Bill Clinton’s Ambassador to Israel. And Les Gelb, Hersh’s (and my) onetime colleague at the New York Times who became president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Not to mention the several sources Hersh doesn’t cite by name: the “US government consultant with close ties to Israel,” the “former senior US intelligence official,” the “Pentagon consultant.”

photo of Sy Hersh

Seymour Hersh [Photo: Courtesy of The New Yorker]

Reading Sy Hersh always feels like making the rounds of the A-list of deep-throated and richly pollinated gossips, with the quickest of the giant hummingbirds in journalism. We are engaging him for an hour tonight on his latest in a long series of New Yorker reports anticipating a Bush attack on Iran.

The “redirection” he outlines in the current piece sounds actually like a massive correction, and a return to familiar old grooves of alignment after the misbegotten Iraq war which empowered all those Shia Moslems and scared our old Sunni pals, especially in Saudi Arabia. A new set of games and war-games is underway. It must be Prince Bandar whom Hersh is quoting here: “We have two nightmares: For Iran to acquire the bomb, and for the United States to attack Iran. I’d rather the Israeli’s bomb the Iranians, so we can blame them. If America does it, we will be blamed.”

This morning’s news puts a fresh and contradictory top on Hersh’s latest. The New York Times says that Bush diplomats will sit down after all with both Iran and Syria, to talk at least about Iraq. Is this the new game, or more of the old gamesmanship? Sy Hersh will know, and he might just tell us how he knows.

Extra Credit Reading

Seymour M. Hersh, The Redirection, The New Yorker, February 25, 2007: “Nasr compared the current situation to the period in which Al Qaeda first emerged… This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that ‘they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists.'”

Richard A. Oppel Jr., Iran to Take Part in Iraq Security Conference, The New York Times, February 28, 2007: “The willingness of American officials to attend the March 10 security conference along with Syrian and Iranian officials has been widely seen as reflecting a decision by the Bush administration to yield to critics who have argued that it should no longer avoid high-level contacts with Tehran. But Bush officials insist that their policy has not changed.”

George Lakoff, The Words None Dare Say: Nuclear War, The Huffington Post, February 27, 2007: “We do not believe that most Americans want to start a nuclear war or to impose nation destruction on the people of Iran. They might, though, be willing to support a tit-for-tat “surgical” “attack” on Natanz in retaliation for small canister bombs and to end Iran’s early nuclear capacity.”

Lebanon PM Denies Any Involvement in U.S. Covert Operations, Ya Libnan, February 26, 2007: “The New Yorker report “is baseless … It fully contradicts with the policy and practices of the Lebanese government,” a short statement said.”

Brian Murphy, Curfew Imposed in Beirut After Clashes, Associated Press, January 5, 2007: “If sectarian divisions explode in Lebanon, it would likely further fuel Sunni-Shiite tensions around the Arab world, already heightened by Iraq’s turmoil. Mainly Sunni Arab nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia have shown alarm at Hezbollah’s increasing strength in Lebanon and have backed Siniora.”

Joe Gandelman, Is U.S. Involvement In Iraq Talks With Iran A Significant Policy Shift?, The Moderate Voice, February 8, 2007: “There are several ways of looking at this. One way, is that it’s a policy shift cocooned in the face-saving device of not quite being an about-face: the U.S. will be there, but didn’t call the conference.”


My instinct is that this president has no interest in serious negotiations with either Iran, Syria, or any of the other people he should be talking to, in particular Hezbollah, and he’s not going to do it.

Seymour Hersh


Certainly in Iraq, although there were always tensions between Sunni and Shia, the notion that you had this kind of sectarian warfare, that you could ever get into this kind of bloodletting between the two groups — they intermarried; it’s a tribal society basically; many of the tribes had fifty-fifty Sunni and Shia — there was never an issue like it is now. And of course now it’s a struggle to the death.

Seymour Hersh


What happened is, because of Saudi pressure, we agreed that we would have to do something about Palestine. There would have to be some pressure to resolve that crisis. That was a big demand of the Saudis as part of the deal. And as you know, a few weeks ago, they did consummate an agreement, a tenuous agreement, between Hamas and Fatah in Mecca.

Seymour Hersh


As you know, since the end of the war, Nasrallah, there have been opinion polls showing that not only in the Shiite world, but also in the Sunni world, in the Sunni street, he is the most popular figure in the Middle East, and probably the most influential. And so, the idea that fellow Arabs would be going against him was fascinating.

Seymour Hersh


In Pashtun society, when we first started the war in Afghanistan, I went to some people who really knew the Taliban well… and I asked, what do I need to know, and they said: the one thing you need to know about the Taliban is revenge can come in two or three generations. You guys have no idea what you’ve kicked over. You can get the son of the son, and perfectly be justified twenty years later. We’re dealing with cultures and societies we don’t know.

Seymour Hersh


When Bush starts talking about Iran being responsible for the deaths of Americans inside Iraq, that’s interesting language to me and a lot of my friends, because that suggests that we can invoke Article 51 of the [United Nations Charter] in self defense. That suggests that if Americans are getting killed, we can respond.

Seymour Hersh


Maliki’s game seems to be just keep on stomping on the Sunnis… they love for us to go after the Sunnis because we’re doing their job for them. It’s complete utter madness.

Seymour Hersh

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  • Bobo

    I’m currently in the middle of Robert Fisk’s massive tome “Pity the Nation: the abduction of Lebanon.” I would really like to know what (if any) Hersh’s views are on Fisk’s interpretation. Hersh’s articles have an amazing depth of historical wisdom, but which history? Or more aptly, whose history? If the American public thinks it’s hard to keep track of all the players in Iraq, wait till we start getting bogged down with Iran or Hezbollah.

    So many of Hersh’s ‘A-list’ sources could have been sources for the same articles 20 or 30 years ago. How have their positions changed over the decades? What ideological shifts and schisms have happened in the global politics of the middle east? How does Hersh view his sources? Has he seen a noticeable shift in their perspectives? How has American involvement over the past 30 years forced some of these major players to find ‘strange bedfellows?’

    I would love for you to tap into Hersh’s breadth of historical perspective. He seems to be one of the few journalists who still even has a historical perspective.

  • Potter

    I’d like to recommend this revealing article on Lebanon from last week’s The Nation Sect Symbols by Annia Ciezaldo.

    I heard Mr. Hersh the other day and I was riveted at what he had to say and particularly interested in the contradictions in our government policy. We are helping both Sunni (Al Qaeda) in Lebanon for Signiora against Hezbollah and at the same time helping Shia in Iraq against the Sunni (Al Qaeda). If so that’s as though this is two completely separate worlds and never the twain shall meet. ls this burning the candle at both ends? A “mad-dog” approach? A very risky game of chicken to gain some bargaining chips? Get your enemy completely off balance unable to predict what you might do? This only works with an imperial President and with a Congress that is still unable to pass a law rescinding the last law ( 2002) that apparently enables Bush to decide on what’s next (what threatens our security, what threatens our troops as they defend our security).

  • Bobo

    What about this whole Sunni/Shia thing? Is it just a fabrication of ours? Are we oversimplifying for our own benefit? In the UN Millennium Project’s Cairo Slum Case Study, the lines appear incredibly blurred. Egypt is supposedly Sunni, yet one slum-dweller (a moderate ‘Sunni’ Muslim), was quoted as saying that ‘Sunni’ was a local slang term for the fundamentalists in the neighborhood. How then do Sunnis and Shias see themselves?

  • jazzman

    As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a long time New Yorker subscriber and have long appreciated the writing and wisdom of Seymour Hersh. He is the canary in our metaphorical coalmine and the heir to, if not the model for the Woodward’s and Bernstein’s of the ever shrinking watchdog media. The current media is craven in general when it comes to this administration and has been since 9/11.

    Thanks to ROS for this excellent guest and thanks to Seymour for his courage. I’m leaving work early to listen to the show, a rare occurrence for me.


  • Nick

    Bobo, I’m far from being an expert, but I’ve done just enough reading to offer a non-definitive answer to your:

    “How then do Sunnis and Shias see themselves?”

    As the background sentences in you post imply: it’s varied. Just as many if not most Christians consider other sects to be different from theirs but not all that different, many, if perhaps not most, Muslims view their faith’s sectarian divide to be roughly equivalent to the Catholic/Protestant split.

    But not all Muslims, and herein lies the problem.

    Irshad Manji (Sunni, Canadian), in her The Trouble With Islam Today details that extremists in Islam are just as hateful as the many American Protestants of a century ago who deemed the Pope an earthly tool of Satan. For example, she reveals that common Wahabbist (Saudi) propaganda names Shi’ism as “a Jewish plot”. (I can’t find the page number right this second but will gladly do so should anyone ask for it, for verification purposes.) This sort of vilifying isn’t much different in character I suppose than the worst of the American fundamentalists, who demonize feminism and “The Homosexual Agenda” (which is what, exactly: to daily avoid incurring bodily injury from frothing homophobes???) – except that the Wahabbism is the state sect of Saudi Arabia. Wahabbist clerics are bought off by the royal family. Bought off by American petrodollars, no less.

    So add this to the equation we will learn about tonight on ROS: the US is pretty darn tight with the Saudis, whose religious extremists are effectively “mainstream”. These folks detest the Shias as ‘tools of the Jews’. (Never mind the absurdity of the accusation – when were religious beliefs ever rational or evidence-based?) And now we’re threatening the Saudis’ “arch (sectarian) enemies” with a military strike that will, at the very least, harm the potential power of Shia Iran.

    Interesting, hmmm?

    Anyway, many folks classed as Muslims are more or less as secular as many folks classed as Christians. Many practicing Muslims don’t hate the “other” sect.

    Extremism, as ever, is the problem. Extremism grabs attention. Attention grabs both adherents and money. And so it escalates.

    Here’s my question: is the US then abetting the extremism our government claims to be combating?

    (The answer, I suppose, is self-evident.)

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Great to hear Mr. Hersch today! Wonderful reporter at a excellent magazine. As to the do-over policy naming exercise, The Redirection, I offer the following Simpson’s banter:

    Lisa: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    Bart: Not if you called ’em stenchblossoms.

    Homer: Or crapweeds.

    Marge: I’d sure hate to get a dozen crapweeds for Valentine’s Day. I’d rather have candy.

    Homer: Not if they were called scumdrops.

  • katemcshane

    Thank you SO much for having Seymour Hersh on the show. This will be the second interview I’ve heard today with him. I need this. The mindf*cks of this administration and the media really mess with my sanity, and Seymour Hersh’s honesty and intelligence help to reaffirm that I have a soul, and I am not alone.

  • Lumière

    …need to demilitarize

  • “cy”

    Seymour Hersh is real good at “where is the beef?”, what I have been wondering lately is where is the vision? Is there a grand vision in the middle east somewhere, all I can see is just more of the same action/reaction…

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Lessons from Iran Contra from my side of the desk: Politicians (across the spectrum) are untrustworthy; they continue to speak lies, untruths, or hide behind plausible deniability in 99.9999% of all verbal and non-verbal communications due to the means justifies the ends paradigm. Means justifying ends thinking must hope for blind aleatory fortunes, a totally disinterested electorate, a completely feckless checks-and-balance correction process. Hubris stubs toe on the veracity boulder, yet stumbles along unfazed.

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    or, ends justifying means…works either way in my world view :^)

  • Bobo

    OliverCranglesParrot — “Means justifying ends thinking must hope for blind aleatory fortunes, a totally disinterested electorate, a completely feckless checks-and-balance correction process.”

    Unfortunately for all of us, these hopes have been fulfilled. I still remember the public outcry against Hersh last summer. Now he seems like a prophet. No, not a prophet, just a man who thinks, and who sees hubris for what it is. There are a very few left on the public stage.

  • GodzillaVsBambi

    Seymour Hersh doesn’t say anything the Bush administration doesn’t want him to say. He is a plant. A Mossad/CIA press liaison. His function is to leak information to the enemy in a timely fashion to the press like John Loftus and John Batchelor. There is a whole history to this, and most governments assign someone for this very purpose. I live in NY. And believe me when I tell you not to believe most of what you hear when it comes to the Middle East, and especially where Israel concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I am pro Israel. Just don’t believe what hear, that’s all. Hersh just said “Cheney believes Iran is going to get a bomb soon”. Need I say more?


    Jazzman … I’m gonna follow up on your post in Iran: Another War Dance over the weekend. I’m very busy right now.

  • Lumière

    We give them money

    But are they grateful?

    No they’re spiteful

    And they’re hateful.

    They don’t respect us so let’s surprise them;

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Obviously, my mind jamming facilities are in disrepair regarding GodzillaVersusBambi @ 8:49pm. I’ve been using Mr. Hersh to call in coordinates. I’ll have to put Oliver on it. Everyone knows Mr. Hersh is really the Count of Saint Germain

  • If I could sit down and talk to Mr. Hersh I’d ask

    “Some of your sources are unique. The Mayor if Dinky Town tells fibs to you: you can find out from other sources. Prince Z of Thereariba fibs …. there aren’t going to be many other sources to back him up.

    How do you verify some of the stuff you’ve been told?”

    This might betray a dangerous level of naiveness on my part of course.

  • jseeley

    Excuse me, but aren’t we forgetting the Neocons are only interested in extending the reach of their empire, and that bomb or no Iranian bomb, all Cheney and his friends want is the most money for the oil beneath their soil? That’s why the Saudis are Bush’s buddies, it’s all about the money, all about the oil. I agree that they just don’t know what a can of worms they are opening up with all this meddling and “black ops” and “nucular” threats. Or perhaps they do know, and that’s why they are after all the money: to build themselves the best fallout shelters money can buy.

  • Potter

    How about picking “Presidential Power” out of “The Graveyard”?

    Susan Sontag was perhaps right even though I felt her timing was off. May she rest in peace. In response to 9/11 attack she wrote soon after in the New Yorker this for which she was criticized as unpatriotic :

    “Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world,’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?”

    The whole quote here (and jazz for your edification):

    Thank you for Seymour Hersh!

  • Nathaniel Landry

    To me–and this is a pithy point–it is unconscionable that Sy Hersh pronounces ‘Iraq’ and ‘Iran’ identically to George W. Bush (i.e., the “Americanized”, or wrong, way: “EYE-RACK”, “EYE-RAN”).

  • Nathaniel Landry

    Still, great interview. Interesting to think of Hersh as someone who will (frustratingly) go just so far. Is he a whistle-blower or an extremely able and intelligent provocateur?

  • katemcshane

    So — Was he right about the meeting with Iran? Tony Snow confirmed that the United States won’t meet with Iran until they meet previous conditions. I don’t like to vent rage and hatred, so I’m going to stop now.

  • Potter

    Nathaniel Landry- Check re: Eye-rack… but Hersh has some redeeming social value…….and influence. It’s amazing the waves that he makes. I’d like to have a coin for how many times he is mentioned in the various media for this article. Much of what he has to tell is already out there too but he is putting a lot together, verying his sources, not afraid to draw conclusions. What is so (unfortunately) extraordinary about Hersh is that he practices good journalism. As well, if it is so as Gozilla says that “Seymour Hersh doesn’t say anything the Bush administration doesn’t want him to say,” that is mitigated by his framing. I think he is allowinf for that. Hersh drops the info in a well written article- tells you his sources are varied and trusted and you can decide.

    Prep for war is prep for war-either the conditions are such that a small incident can set a fire or not, regardless of intentions. This is a high stakes game of upping the ante and to work, it has to be believable… both sides.

  • Potter

    oops- I should have said “verifying his sources” though “varying” might also work.

  • 1st/14th

    How does Hersh verify his sources? Clearly he doesn’t, otherwise he wouldn’t cringe in shame when reminded of people like Lawrence Cusack , Joesph Flynn and Ari Ben Menashe. And then there was his bang up, top notch, first rate work on the downing of KAL-007.

    After all, why verify your sources, or even name then when they tell you EXACTLY what you want to hear (seriously, does anyone beleive that a member of SFOD-D would give this man the time of day)?

  • rhydren

    If I could have 3 ipod wishes…

    1. I could select one of 3 levels of radom shuffles, each having properties I defined on my computer.

    2. The ipod would know if was shuffling songs vs. classical music. (Can’t stand the way it breaks up movements like they were songs.)

    3. And lastly, wouldn’t it be nice if the wheel worked in both directions? Have you ever worked that wheel round and round to get to Yo-Yo Ma at the bottom? Don’t you wish you could spin the thing in the other direction and it would run from Z to A?

  • Potter

    Hello 1st/14th- What I meant was The New Yorker fact checks- and they have a reputation to uphold ( as does Sy Hersh) . As well, varying or using multiple sources to form a story over a longer period of time is infinitely better than using one or two. But perhaps it’s the message you don’t like, not the messenger?

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  • I loved this show. And Mr. Hersh’s piece. Nonetheless, I have to be honest–the “redirection” reminds me of Foucault’s Pendulum (Umberto Eco’s other novel). Which is not to say that our paranoia is underserved–I’m just confused, that’s all. Reeling in the dark, not sure who (or what) to believe. But I swear, I’m going to get to the bottom of Bindar, Cheney, Nasrallah, Assad, Abrams, al-Sadr, Siniora, and everybody else.

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  • Did finally listen.

    1. The availability of a podcast makes it handy to listen. It also removes some of the immediacy of the conversation we have here. Sure I can listen days or weeks later – but the web conversation can have drifted away by that time.

    2. Mr. Hersh comes across as very partisan, which is not what one expects of a journalist. Nothing wrong with it but … if he were ideologically polar opposite he’d be branded a Right Wing shill.

  • Potter

    Good article from the New York Times last week reprinted here:

    Abbas Milani

  • Potter
  • Nathaniel Landry

    Michael Young being extremely critical of Hersh and his method

    (my posting this, to be clear, is a 100% devil’s-advocate move, meant to extend the discussion; I’m still not sure where I come down on Young’s piece):

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  • John Reynolds

    How can I make contact with Christopher Leyden?

    Please advise.


    • paul_mccarthy

      See the “About Us” link in the upper right hand corner of our site.