In the early 2000s, the Bush administration used the mainstream media apparatus to garner support in favor of starting a war based on false intelligence. The subsequent war in Iraq went on to last over a decade and destabilize the entire region. The New York Times was instrumental in peddling the lies from the administration that Iraq was building and had weapons of mass destruction. While other newspapers and media outlets were also culpable, the Times was the largest culprit. In the fifteen years since the start of the Iraq War, you would think mainstream media outlets would have done some self-reflection to make sure that this never happened again. The much needed self-reflection obviously did not occur because just this week Bret Stephens, a New York Times op-ed writer, just published a column article titled “The Pirates of Tehran.” This indicative of a larger problem in the media landscape, not just The New York Times, in which the commentators that supported the Bush administrations Iraq War are still given a platform to discuss foreign policy without having to do any major soul searching.
Stephens argues that the United States should go to war with Iran because of an attack on a Japanese-owned oil tanker supposedly by the Iranians. To prove that the Iranians were the perpetrators, the United States military released a video of IRGC boats removing what seemed to be an unexploded magnetic limpet mine on the starboard side of the hull of one of the ships. Not only was no American hurt in the attack, but the Financial Times reports that the Japanese shipping company said that “the explosions were on the port side of the Kokuka Courageous” and that “the crew saw something fly towards their ship.” A limpet mine attached to the hull of a ship would not be able to be seen flying towards the ship, therefore the reports from the shipping company do not support the US government’s telling of what happened. It seems like the US military is manipulating information in order to start a war again. Stephens does say that the Trump administration has credibility problems but that “the U.S. military isn’t [a liar].” That argument is not only not based on any facts but it is also extremely dangerous. Even Congress has not been given any proof that Iran was behind this attack, let alone any of the other attacks that the Trump administration is trying to use to justify starting a war with Iran. This is eerily reminiscent of the days and months before the Iraq War when Congress was only given manipulated intelligence. The United States military is still in a country in which we invaded because of lies from the military and the executive office.
To say that the United States military would absolutely tell the general populace the truth is inherently ignorant, especially considering that the last time there was a press briefing held at the Pentagon it was over a year ago. Over the last two-and-a-half years the Trump Administration has done everything in its power to provoke Iran into attacking us in order to start a war. It exited the Iran Nuclear Agreement, even though the Iranians had followed the terms of the agreement to the letter. It reimposed Obama-era sanctions in addition to new ones that effectively placed a stranglehold on the Iranian economy. Over the last two months, the lack of a Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense notwithstanding, the war machine in Washington has been gearing up for conflict. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been out in Congress and on the morning shows to argue that the 2001 Authorized Use of Military Force (which Congress passed to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001, and any "associated forces”) gives the United States permission to invade Iran.
Not only is the AUMF nearly two decades old, there are no instances of Iran aiding al-Qaeda or being at all associated with the 9/11 attacks. But that is exactly what the Trump administration is attempting to peddle to Congress. A Pentagon spokeswoman defending the administration's suggestion simply described “the historical ties between Iran and the Taliban,” but gave no concrete nor specific details as to Iran and its supposed cooperation with al-Qaeda. Furthermore, Iran is a Sunni majority nation, while al-Qaeda is a hard line Shia militia group, which puts the two at odds with one another given the context of many regional conflicts, most significantly the Syrian civil war. It is highly unlikely there is any relationship between Tehran and al-Qaeda besides a bad one, and there is no public evidence that Tehran has offered safe haven for al-Qaeda fighters nor is there evidence it has allowed al-Qaeda operatives to plot attacks on the United States from Iran. The 2001 AUMF is very vaguely worded and has been used to put U.S. troops in countries that had nothing to do with 9/11 (i.e. Iraq). It is incredibly important to make sure the Trump administration does not attack Iran using the same avenue.
The most recent contender for the Secretary of Defense spot in the Trump administration, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, has just dropped out following allegations of a family history of domestic violence. Over two thousand American troops are headed to the Middle East without stable leadership in the Pentagon. Not only that, President Trump has reportedly been serving as the ‘moderating influence’ about Iran within his administration and has been pushing back on John Bolton. The person who has been the moderating influence with Iran tweeted that “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” on May 19. Between the warmongering of the administration and their lies, war with Iran seems imminent and Iran is a much more powerful enemy than Iraq ever was.
On Thursday, June 20, Iranian forces downed a U.S. Navy drone the IRGC claimed was flying in Iranian airspace. The U.S. claimed that the RQ-4 Global Hawk maritime surveillance craft, which is as big as a 737, was actually flying over international waters. Iran called the flying over Iranian airspace a “provocative act by the United States against Iran's territorial integrity.” President Trump first responded on Twitter, tweeting, “Iran just made a very big mistake” before he downplayed the attack by saying, “I think probably Iran made a mistake - I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down.” While it seemed like tensions might have been ratcheting down, the U.S. FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) issued an emergency order which prohibits U.S. operators from flying over some Iran-controlled airspace over concern about escalating tensions Thursday night. Then, not even an hour later The New York Times reported that “President Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for downing an American surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching them on Thursday night after a day of escalating tensions.” He called off the launch while planes were in the air and ships were in positions but shortly before any missiles were actually launched. What happens next time, when is take the President longer to change his mind and we have already shot missiles at Iran. This habit of the administration changing its mind at a rapid pace is putting American interests at risk. There is no one in Trump’s administration who seems to understand the gravity of the situation—which might just be the scariest part.
Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons