Pletka’s Bogus ‘Axis of Evil 2’ Conspiracy Theory

If someone is the Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at a prominent Washington think-tank, it’s fair to expect a certain level of scholarship. After all, these institutions are supposed to be in influencing policy. In the case of the American Enterprise Institute, they just about ran foreign policy during George W. Bush’s first term.

Yet AEI’s Danielle Pletka, that very same think-tank vice president, continues to confound expectations. In her latest post on AEI’s Enterprise Blog, she offers conspiracy theories that obliquely revive former AEI fellow David Frum‘s “Axis of Evil” phrasing, and backing them up with… not much. She ends with kicker designed to elicit fear, and links to an article that contradicts her whole point.

Pletka’s piece warns about the threat of a coalition between Russia, Iran and Venezuela. her headline quips: “Connect the Dots — But Don’t Call It an Axis of…”  She’s perhaps acknowledging that Iraq’s membership in the first “Axis of Evil,” and the subsequent disastrous war, makes the term politically ill-advised.

It’s a short post — just eight sentences — and her point is that Russia is going to help Venezuela open a nuclear power plant and possibly sell Hugo Chavez the S-300 air defense missiles that Iran was due to purchase (but didn’t when Russia, under U.S. pressure, backed out of the reportedly $800 million deal).

In light of Venezuela’s ties to Iran, Pletka is worried all this is very suspect, and Venezuela might ship the air defense missiles to Iran. “One might reasonably suspect that any weaponry headed for Caracas could easily find its way to Tehran,” is her endnote.

But then she links to a September 14th Fox News story about how a weekly Caracas-Damascus-Tehran flight has actually been cancelled. The article, which cites an Iranian right-wing pseudonymous former CIA spy as a source, calls the flight path a “terror flight.”

It’s no wonder that one of Pletka’s former AEI researchers added his perspective on her scholarship to Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic blog last year. The researcher’s job was “to provide specific evidence to support ready made assertions,” and describes Pletka’s work as the “academic equivalent of mad libs.” “The form is set by the neoconservative agenda, and she mobilizes a narrative that fills in the blanks to serve that agenda.”

Perhaps in her kicker, Pletka meant to demonstrate that such equipment has been “easily” transported before, at some previous time. Therefore, it can happen again. But that’s not what the link she supplied said: It said that there was a potential channel for equipment to move between Venezuela and Iran, but it’s been shut down.

It’s just like saying neoconservatives have before, at some previous time, led the country into a Middle East war with fuzzy facts and bellicose rhetoric. Unlike the “terror flight,” though, neocons are still at it.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.