In an almost nostalgic display of Michael Gordon/Judith Miller-style stenography we have been subjected to a feast of news stories, overwhelmingly based on anonymous official sources, describing a "provocative" incident involving Iranian speedboats confronting the United States Navy in the Persian Gulf. The anonymous Pentagon and White House officials claim that the U.S.S. Hopper was on "routine patrol" in "international waters" off the Strait of Hormuz when it fell victim to an "unprovoked" swarm of five boats tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. So serious was this confrontation on the high seas that it nearly led to a shoot out and prompted President George W. Bush to regale us with his inspirational Churchillian oratory: "We have made it clear publicly, and they know our position. There will be serious consequences if they attack our ships, pure and simple. And my advice to them is, Don't do it." The President also reminded Iran that "all options are on the table," and he told the world once again that Iran is "a threat to world peace."
I wonder when members of the Washington press corps are finally going to figure out that they cannot trust "anonymous officials" for the unvarnished truth on any issue relating to war and peace. With the leaking of the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nonexistent nuclear weapons program we learned that the saber rattling and threats coming from President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush Administration mouthpieces contradicted the United States' own intelligence services. The same "anonymous officials" who brought us the Iraq WMD claims and Saddam's ties to Al Qaeda, now tell us there was a serious provocation in the Persian Gulf that illustrates Iranian aggression, which could require a "retaliatory" set of U.S. air strikes.
The Hopper is a state-of-the-art U.S. Naval vessel that could have turned all five of the Iranian speedboats into Swiss cheese in a matter of seconds. It could have easily opened up its M240 machine guns capable of firing 10 armor-piercing rounds per second, but thankfully its professional, well-trained crew showed restraint.
We're supposed to believe that the Iranians decided to attack the most powerful navy in the world to provoke a superpower that has been searching for a viable pretext to attack Iran for years?
The Iranians claim the whole episode was a fabrication designed to amp up the tension between the United States and Iran while President Bush visits the Middle East. Putting aside the technical problems with the video and audio evidence of this new "Persian Gulf Incident," the whole thing has the eerie feeling of history repeating itself as farce.
In August 1964, the Central Intelligence Agency had been for many months conducting coastal raids on the Democratic Republic of Vietnam ("North Vietnam") using CIA-trained Vietnamese commandos. The objective of these amphibious coastal attacks was to destroy DRV radar installations and air defenses and to probe and gauge Hanoi's ability to respond militarily. These clandestine raids were exposed years later and were part of an operation called OPLAN-34A working along with the "Desoto missions." These CIA operations at the time were completely unknown to the American public. (It wasn't until Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 when these operations were exposed.)
On August 2, 1964, a few DRV patrol boats, in pursuit of the CIA provocateurs, came very close to the U.S.S. Maddox, which blew two of them away. Two days later, on August 4, there was another "incident" that was later confirmed never to have happened involving more "aggressive" DRV boats and the U.S.S. C. Turner Joy. The Pentagon claimed that both the Maddox and the C. Turner Joy were on "routine patrol" in "international waters" when they suffered an "unprovoked" attack. In truth, the U.S. navy was providing electronic communications and logistical support for the secret CIA commandos that were hitting North Vietnam's coastline.
Earlier that year, in February, the Johnson Administration had drawn up a list of 66 targets it wanted to bomb in North Vietnam. Using the "Gulf of Tonkin Incident" as a viable pretext, President Lyndon Johnson ordered air strikes on the DRV. For the first time the United States bombed North Vietnam thereby internationalizing the conflict. Worse still, Johnson in short order pushed through both houses of Congress the "Gulf of Tonkin Resolution," which gave the president the power to use all of the military force he deemed necessary to deter this North Vietnamese "aggression." That resolution was the basis for the entire Vietnam War.
Fast-forward 44 years and we see almost the same scenario play out in the Persian Gulf. The press clearly has learned nothing from the last 7 years or from our nation's recent history regarding the origins of the Vietnam War. After all of the saber rattling and threats thrown Iran's way, the NIE contradicting the Administration's grandiose claims of an Iranian nuclear program, coming after the debunking of the accusations about Saddam's WMDs and his ties to Al Qaeda, the mainstream press is still willing and eager to serve as stenographers for a narrative of the "Persian Gulf Incident" that the Bush Administration wanted. It's like Groundhog Day. We wake up each morning to a dreary repetition of the same old mendacity.
We know the only outcome of Bush's constant threats aimed at Iran is to strengthen the hardliners there. The Iranian government is able to rally the population against the external threat of the "Great Satan" and shunt aside the very real domestic problems and internal political divisions that exist. The NIE squashed the pretext to hit Iran with air strikes based on its alleged nuclear weapons program, so now we sea Iranian "aggression" manifest itself in the form of fiberglass speedboats threatening an "unprovoked" attack of an innocent U.S. Naval vessel on "routine patrol" in "international waters."