Pssst.... people can BS in private too

Here's a fun little exercise.  Let's say that the vice-president of a political consulting firm went on MSNBC or Fox News with the argument that no matter what the U.S. government said, Osama bin Laden wasn't actually buried at sea.  No, this wouldn't be a claim that Osama had returned as a zombie.  The VP would simply argue that based on past standard operating procedures and the desire of some agencies in the USG to gather forensic evidence, it would seem likely that they would want the body.  In all likelihood the cable anchor would then ask if there was any direct evidence to back up this assertion.  The VP would either say no, dodge the question, or imply some third-hand knowledge, and that would be that. 

Here's my question:  would this cable news hit generate anything in the way of news headlines? 

I ask this because the Drudge Report has headlined:  "WIKILEAKED: BIN LADEN BODY NOT BURIED AT SEA"  This sounds pretty definitive.  But if you look at the actual Stratfor emails that Wikileaks provides on the matter, you get little but speculations and assertions from Stratfor CEO George Friedman and VP Fred Burton.  From Friedman:

Eichmann was seen alive for many months on trial before being sentenced to death and executed. No one wanted a monument to him so they cremated him. But i dont know anyone who claimed he wasnt eicjhman (sic). No comparison with suddenly burying him at sea without any chance to view him which i doubt happened.

And from Burton:

We would want to photograph, DNA, fingerprint, etc.

His body is a crime scene and I don't see the FBI nor DOJ letting that happen....

Body is Dover bound, should be here by now.

That's it.  No sourcing, nothing else.  Friedman is speculating, while Burton makes a somewhat stronger assertion without much empirical foundation.   The only reason this is on the front page of Drudge -- and the only reason reporters are running with it -- is that the Stratfor e-mails were private and not intended for public consumption.  And if it's private, then it must be pretty good!

Or not.  Look, reporters and analysts should pore over these email contents and see if there is anything of value.  But they also need to follow up with outside experts in their reporting to distinguish between what's said in the emails and what's actually true.  Because, to repeat a point I made a few years ago:  "just because someone says something in a Wikileaks memo doesn't make it so."  Indeed, it is precisely this sort of BS pseudo-analysis that makes me distrust the quality of Stratfor's analysis in the first place

Daniel W. Drezner

Going the full Cantor

Barack Obama addressed AIPAC yesterday in anticipation of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington, which has led to some interesting responses.  There's something in Carol Lee and Jay Solomon's Wall Street Journal write-up that is worth considering in more detail, however: 

Mr. Obama's efforts to recalibrate the administration's position—cooling talk of war while nodding to the concerns of hawks such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—won some applause, including from the Israeli leader. Some of Israel's strongest backers on Capitol Hill weren't appeased, however.

"I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say," Mr. Obama said Sunday at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Washington's most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group....

By clarifying the administration's willingness to use force, the White House also hopes to lessen the chance Mr. Netanyahu will order a unilateral strike.

Mr. Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Sunday, praised Mr. Obama's speech and said it was an important step in unifying the U.S. and Israeli positions on Iran. "I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat," he said in a written statement.

Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, said the speech was "a step in the right direction," but that "we need to make sure that this president is also going to stand by Israel and not allow his administration to somehow speak contrary to what our ally thinks is in its best interest." (emphasis added)

Now, this bolded part of the quote is quite extraordinary, if you think about it.  Apparently, Cantor's standard with respect to American policy towards Israel is that the U.S. government cannot and should not contradict anything that Israel's government says.  What's good for Israel's national interests -- as defined solely by Israel -- serves American interests as well. 

Step back for a second and ask yourself if this is true of any other U.S. ally.  A NATO member?  Nah, we disagree with them all the time.  Japan?  Nope, there was a pretty bruising fight with that country's government on Okinawa bases just a few years ago.  Canada?  Hell, Mitt Romney pretty much made it clear that the U.S. is gonna get Canada's oil and I heard nary a peep of criticism from the GOP foreign policy establishment.  I can't think of a Latin American, Pacific Rim or Central Asian ally that meets this criteria. 

A few months ago, I asked whether, in the eyes of some, Israel was now the most super-special ally we have.  I think statements like Cantor's are an excellent signal that the answer appears to be yes.  So I hereby propose the following definition:  if a prominent U.S. official or foreign policy commentator proposes a standard for U.S. policy towards Israel that would never be used for any other U.S. ally or treaty partner, then they have gone the full Cantor

With the AIPAC conference going on this week, I hereby summon my readers to alert me to any further statements or criticisms that suggest the U.S. alliance with Israel is in a super-special, unique category that No Other Allies can join.