Sometimes a suicide bombing is a bad thing—see, for instance, the apparent suicide attack in Bulgaria that killed Israeli tourists—and sometimes it’s a good thing, or at least not so bad, according to the State Department, when it comes to an Al Qaeda–style attack against leaders of the Syrian government.
And sometimes bombmakers who construct “Iranian style” IEDs called “explosively formed penetrators” are bad guys, says the New York Times, and sometimes they’re, well, heroic and have nothing at all to do with Iran.
Let’s look first at the State Department’s press briefing yesterday, where Patrick Ventrell, the spokesman, almost endorsed the terrorist attack that killed Syria’s defense minister and other senior officials. In persistent questioning, reporters couldn’t get Ventrell to say whether the bombing was a “good thing” or a “bad thing.” From the transcript:
MR. VENTRELL: [W]e note reports that the Syrian defense minister and other regime officials were killed in an attack today in Damascus. The United States does not welcome further bloodshed in Syria. We note, however, that these men were key architects of the Assad regime’s assault on the Syrian people.
We also recognize that, even as the media is focused on the deaths of these senior officials, dozens more civilians were killed today throughout Syria. As we’ve been predicting for some time, the Assad regime’s desperate attempts to cling to power will only lead to further chaos and suffering, underscoring the urgency of a political transition. It is past time for the UN Security Council to stand up and put the full weight of its support behind the Annan plan to facilitate that transition and an immediate end to violence.
And with that, I will turn it over to you for questions.
QUESTION: Well, this wasn’t a good thing? Is that what you’re saying?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Matt, we’ve been clear throughout that what we’re focused on is a political transition. We don’t want further bloodshed.
QUESTION: So this is a bad thing?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, having said that, these are individuals who had perpetrated and were key architects of the extreme violence against the Syrian people.
QUESTION: So it’s a good thing?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re still getting more information about what happened. This happened just today. We’ve seen some of the initial reports. We’re getting reports from some of our contacts and others on the ground, but at this point—we’re still looking for information at this point.
QUESTION: Well, yeah. But I want to know whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing.
MR. VENTRELL: The United States does not want to see further violence in Syria. What we want to see is a transition.
QUESTION: So that would suggest that it’s a bad thing, but then you say—come back and say that these people are responsible for the deaths of lots of innocent civilians, so that would suggest that you think it’s a good thing.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m—you’re trying to put words in my mouth. I’ve characterized it—
QUESTION: No. I’m just trying figure out what the Administration thinks that the death of people—or the killings of people in positions like this is a good thing or a bad thing for Syria.
MR. VENTRELL: We want a peaceful solution, Matt. We’re focused on ending the bloodshed. It is the Assad regime, however, that, in slaughtering its own people, has created these chaotic conditions. They are losing control of Syria. It’s clear that the situation is spiraling out of control. And what we’ve been trying to avoid all along is further chaos that spills over the borders that makes the situation worse.
So we’ve been pretty clear that we want a peaceful, orderly transition. And that’s why the diplomacy up in New York today is so important, because we want to see the Security Council not only take the Joint Special Envoy’s plan, but also give it the kind of consequences for noncompliance that he’s been asking for. So we’re focused on the diplomacy up in New York.
QUESTION: I’ll drop it after this. You just give me a yes or no answer. So you’re telling me is that the United States—the Administration is not prepared to say that this is either a good thing or a bad thing. Is that correct, yes or no?
MR. VENTRELL: We’re still looking.
Meanwhile, the New York Times, in a report today, covers anti-Assad bombmakers. In the past, every time one of those so-called “explosively formed penetrators” exploded anywhere—in Iraq, in Afghanistan, anyplace—the media and the administration was quick to say that the device ahd Iranian origins or seemed like something that Iran might have assembled, and therefore concluded virtually that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei planted the damn thing himself. Not this time. Says the Times:
The [US] official also said the United States government strongly suspected the use of explosively formed penetrators, or E.F.P.’s, bombs with a shaped charge that can penetrate tank armor and that have often been associated with Iran. The official said that the number of these bombs in use was very small, and that the technology for making them was widespread enough that their presence did not indicate Iranian support for the rebels, who are seeking the ouster of an Iranian ally.
Now, maybe that’s true. It’s not likely that Iran is building bombs to topple an ally. But note that the Times simply assumes this, whereas in the past—with no evidence at all—is has consistently suggested that, of course, Iran did it.
[UPDATE: The State Department feels that my truncation of the above exchange was unfair. So, for the record, here is State's comment:
"Your story ... cuts short a quote by Patrick Ventrell (see highlighted). The result is an incomplete – and therefore inaccurate and misleading – representation of his point.
"Please correct this by immediately updating your story to accurately reflect the dialogue, and let me know when you have done this.
"The full quote is:
"'MR. VENTRELL: We’re still looking – Matt, we’re still looking and seeking further information about exactly what happened. We’ve seen the initial reports. It just happened a few hours ago. We don’t want to see further bloodshed. We want to see a peaceful solution. And we’re working with our partners up in New York on the diplomatic angle of this today.'
"Laura M. Seal • Press Officer • Bureau of Public Affairs • Office of Press Relations • U.S. Department of State"
End of UPDATE]