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Watch Dan Senor Pretend He Has Any Idea What’s Going On With Dennis Ross

Ben Smith at Politico has a good piece attempting to shed light on one of the most opaque aspects of Obama administration Kremlinology: what in the world the appointment of Dennis Ross as a National Security Council senior director heralds for Obama’s Mideast policy. As a reporter, it’s been frustrating how few people, inside and outside the administration, either know or understand the move, or how those who presumably know aren’t talking. But as it turns out, Ben found the one person who absolutely positively has the inside scoop: Dan Senor, the mouthpiece for the old Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Who better than a GOP apparatchik to understand the inner workings of the Obama White House?

“Dennis is much more of the view that you cannot solve major problems in the region without dealing with Iran. It’s Iran first, it’s not the Palestinians first,” said Dan Senor, a former chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, who also suggested that Ross would quickly trump other Obama advisors.

“He’s going to become the de facto National Security Advisor because of the portfolio he has, because of the experience he has, and because of the relationships he’s accumulated abroad,” he said. “[George] Mitchell is marginalized because Dennis has Mitchell’s portfolio – only he’s closer to the center of decision making.”

I’m still laughing at the bald-faced assertions that Senor made here. He clearly has no respect for Ben — who treats the quote with appropriate and subtle skepticism — if he thought Ben would publish that at face value. Instead, Ben quotes an unnamed administration source, who says about the administration’s less-hawkish special envoy for the Mideast peace process, George Mitchell, “Mitchell’s much closer to the president on the subject matter than Dennis is.”

But it’s the meta-point that gets me laughing. It’s amazing how Dan Senor would presume to have any idea at all how the Obama White House’s national security apparatus actually works. But so much of what it means to be a Washington player is the assertion of casual knowledge and authority, even when it flies in the face of common sense. As a key figure in the latest neoconservative reputation-rehabilitation vehicle, Senor is executing a slight of hand here, conflating what he’d like to be true with what he thinks is true, as a method of advancing his preferred outcome by a bit of positive thinking in public. Harry Frankfurt wrote a good book about this.

Now, Senor’s approach may not have worked too well in Iraq, but there are some structural journalistic factors at play here that he’s evidently gaming out. Editors need reporters to write pieces explaining events. For a piece like this, we seek outside-the-administration sources to contextualize developments, and sometimes, those sources will attempt to inflate their reputations by throwing in some statements intimating that they have inside knowledge that they’re not actually in a position to possess. Good reporters, like Ben, brush them aside. But they make such bald-faced assertions because they figure they can get away with them, and then more reporters will call them to quote them as a font of insider wisdom and the whole thing snowballs until they’re perceived as the sages they perceive themselves to be. The appropriate response to this game is ridicule. Especially when it’s played by someone who was the spokesman for one of the greatest unforced errors in the history of American foreign policy.

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