"Do you think that Iranian speedboats will threaten US warships in the Persian Gulf again?" asked my friend Jacob. Like most people, he followed the infamous January 6th incident for just a few days before moving on. But he was left with the potent image in his mind that Iran"s aggressive behavior towards American vessels could have ended in bloody confrontation.
This is not precisely what happened on January 6th between the US and Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, but it is exactly what the people who engineered - or fabricated -- the whole story, had in mind. The Bush administration has tried to extensively portray the Iranian government as an aggressor that is in hot pursuit of a nuclear weapons program, actively supports terrorism in the Middle East, and cannot help but meddle in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last January, US officials arrested four Iranian diplomats on charges of being associated with the Qods Army - a special unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard that allegedly operates in Iraq. Since then no evidence has been presented to prove that claim. Later that year, the US officials brought up Iran's widespread support of insurgency in Iraq and accused them of equipping insurgents with deadly IED's. Evidence provided by military officials proved insufficient to attract any attention, but such allegations still garnered coverage by domestic media as a consequence of their addiction to official sources. The aim of the press in this case appears to have been to portray the Iranian government as behind all the misery, suffering, mismanagement, crises and difficulties in the Middle East. It appears as though they want to keep Tehran bound to the "axis of evil."
This intention manifested itself in policies towards Iran's nuclear program. The US's insistence that Iranians are trying to build a nuclear bomb pushed President Bush to talk about a possible World War Three in October. Watching some of the episodes of Glen Beck's conservative TV show illustrates the goal of making Iran into a serious threat by utilizing anonymous officials. (I remember watching a documentary done by The History Channel entitled "Beyond the Top Secrets" which clearly claimed that Iranians are hard at work at a nuclear bomb.)
All in all it seems as though there was no way to deal with Iran other than launching a strike. It would not have been very hard to anticipate the US's next step toward the Persians were it not for the publication of the National Intelligence Estimate [PDF] and its findings that Iran halted its nuclear weapon program back in 2003.
After publishing the NIE there was a perception that the administration would leave its warmongering path and follow a softer policy while joining various European countries in pursuing constructive negotiation. Iran is a country that is thriving to talk to the United States on an equal level. But it seems that the Bush administration and high level officials in the Pentagon are still thinking about confrontation with Iran as a means of pursuing their political agenda. This would surely be disastrous.
On the other hand, it seems that the Iranians have understood the message. After the propaganda effort by the Pentagon - which had blind support from mainstream media outlets - the Iranians released their own version of video showing the conversation between the warships and speedboats. Since they have become aware that the US is looking for an excuse to make a big deal out of it, the Iranians have equipped their cheap, unarmed, simple speedboats with video cameras and audio recording equipment.
In all of these cases the administration's intention has been to keep Iran as a threat in the public eye by manipulation, distortion, and fabrication of stories. I think to an extent they have been successful in portraying Iran as a threat by using the mainstream media which does not appear to have learned the lessons it should have since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. In certain areas, they rarely ask the basic journalistic questions: Why? How? When? Who? Where? And when the truth comes out, they do not honestly present it to the public. For example, take the speedboat case in which it was initially claimed that somebody in the boats said that they are going to explode the US warship in a few minutes. But what was discovered later on was different.
"The threatening radio transmission heard at the end of a video showing harassing maneuvers by Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz may have come from a locally famous heckler known among ship drivers as the "Filipino Monkey'."
Fortunately, there have been lots of outlets criticizing the fake story of speedboats such as independent journalists, bloggers and activists. But mainstream media outlets such as CNN, Fox and CBS did not cover the reality behind the story properly.
This sort of behavior calls into question the reliability of mainstream media. That's one of the reasons that it has become harder and harder to understand what is news and what is propaganda.