Debunking Pompeo’s Lie About Iran and al-Qaeda

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Timecalls attention to one of Mike Pompeo’s many lies:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim that Iran and Al Qaeda are collaborating is at best an exaggeration that is not supported by any available information, U.S. intelligence officers and officials with the State and Defense Department tell TIME.

It is important to emphasize here that Pompeo is not simply “exaggerating” things when he claims that Iran and al-Qaeda work together. He is grossly distorting it into the opposite of what the evidence shows. He is lying. Iran hawks have desperately sought to invent ties between Iran and al-Qaeda to further their aggressive policies against Iran, but it isn’t true and no one is falling for their deception this time. Pushing a fraudulent story about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda before the 2003 invasion was an important part of the Bush administration’s propaganda effort to sell the war to the public. The main reason why someone would choose to repeat a lie about Iran and al-Qaeda is to provide an excuse for attacking Iran and then claim that the attack was authorized by the 2001 AUMF. It is part of top Trump administration officials’ concerted campaign to lay the groundwork for an unjustified attack by falsely claiming a working relationship between the two that does not exist.

The few al-Qaeda members that have been in Iran are essentially prisoners of the Iranian government that are held there to deter attacks on Iran:

The small number of senior members of bin Laden’s now scattered group who remain in Iran are there with the government’s permission, although some of them have been under virtual house arrest, says one of the officials.

The arrangement, say two of the officials, is a pragmatic one: It prevents al Qaeda or any group under its wing from attacking Iran and it provides Tehran some potential leverage in any new negotiations with the US, although Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this week said he’s not ready to talk.

“I can envision a moment when, as part of some negotiation, Iran might offer to hand over the al Qaeda types it’s been harboring in exchange for some concession on sanctions,” one US diplomat tells TIME. “If you think about it, that’s kind of the opposite of what the Secretary has said.”

Yes, the reality is “kind of the opposite” of what Pompeo said because Pompeo was lying about the nature of the relationship. He wants Congress and the public to think that Iran is in cahoots with al-Qaeda when their government is actually holding the latter’s members as hostages to guard against being targeted. As usual, an administration official seeks to cast defensive Iranian behavior as nefarious and aggressive, and he doesn’t care what the evidence shows.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.