Democratic Leaks Aim to Scuttle New Iran Sanctions

Error-ridden article about bill causes embarrassment

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani / AP
December 19, 2013

The Obama administration and its allies attempted to scuttle a new Iran sanctions measure late Wednesday night with a coordinated mix of leaks and statements just hours before the bill was to be filed by a bipartisan team of senators.

Democratic sources opposed to the new sanctions measure leaked the text of the resolution to a controversial freelance writer and former Center for American Progress (CAP) blogger who is known for his sympathetic views on Iran and hostility to pro-Israel organizations.

The leak coincided with an anti-sanctions op-ed in Politico penned by top Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.).

Congressional insiders say that the targeted leak to a partisan writer was a clear attempt to scare centrist Democrats and undermine support for the bill.

"This was obviously a desperate last-ditch attempt by a small group of left-wing nut-jobs to try to undermine Democratic support for a bipartisan Iran bill," said one senior Senate aide familiar with the legislation.

The campaign stumbled when the article about the leaked bill was lampooned for numerous errors and Pravda-like tone.

"Exclusive: Top Senate Democrats Break with White House and Circulate New Iran Sanctions Bill," read the headline of an article posted Wednesday evening on Foreign Policy magazine’s the Cable blog.

The piece was penned by freelance writer Ali Gharib, a former blogger for the CAP Action Fund’s ThinkProgress blog. Gharib was forced to leave the organization in 2011 after being implicated with other writers in a series of posts that were deemed by many to be borderline anti-Semitic.

Gharib’s Foreign Policy piece purported to provide inside details on the new sanctions bill, which was being circulated on Capitol Hill just days after Democrats in Congress killed a similar measure aimed at ratcheting up the economic pressure on Tehran.

The multiple factual inaccuracies in Gharib’s article forced Foreign Policy to issue a substantial correction just minutes after the piece was published.

In addition to misstating the official name of a modified Iran sanctions bill set to be introduced by a bipartisan group of senators on Thursday, Gharib overstated the bill’s impact on multiple fronts.

"Correction: An earlier version of this story contained several factual errors," read a statement appended to the bottom of the piece less than two-hours after it ran.

"It misstated the name of legislation that could introduce additional sanctions against Iran," the correction reads.

"Additionally, the bill does not authorize military force against Iran and mirrors non-binding legislation approved by the Senate earlier this year," the correction continues. "The bill would not attach any amendments to a pending Pentagon budget bill.

"Finally, [former Obama administration official] Colin Kahl left the Pentagon in December of 2011, not last year," the correction states.

The latest sanctions measure is set to be introduced today and would impose new sanctions on Tehran if the theocracy fails to halt its contested nuclear enrichment program after a six-month period of negotiations with the West.

The bill is being backed by Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.).

It follows a successful effort by the White House this month to kill a similar Iran sanctions bill in the Senate.

Gharib had implied that the new legislation would authorize a military strike against Iran even though it does not.

"The most eye-opening part of the bill is a non-binding provision that states that if Israel takes ‘military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapons program,’ Congress should move to "authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel,’" the original article stated.

"That language, calling for a congressional authorization of American military force, is even stronger than that introduced in February by another Iran hawk, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.)," Gharib wrote. "With the support of AIPAC, the Graham resolution, a non-binding bill, was subsequently softened and passed by the Senate in April."

However, the language of the new Iran sanctions measure is similar to the Graham measure.

"If the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapons program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence," the Graham resolution states.

Gharib has taken aim at Kirk and other lawmakers in the past, claiming that they are more beholden to pro-Israel groups than to the interests of America.

He was last employed at the Daily Beast, where he wrote for the now defunct anti-Zionist blog founded by Peter Beinart.