Monday, January 07, 2008

Gulf of Tonkin, Anyone?

Various news agencies this morning have reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards naval forces apparently tried to provoke a trio of US Navy warships in the Straits of Hormuz. We'll cite the BBC's report (the italicized bits are my emphasis):

Iran boats 'threatened US ships'

Five Iranian speedboats harassed three US navy ships at the weekend, approaching them and radioing a threat to blow them up, US officials say.
The incident happened as the US vessels passed through the Strait of Hormuz, which separates the Arabian peninsula and Iran, Pentagon officials said.
US sailors came close to opening fire, unnamed officials told CNN.
The White House on Monday warned Iran against "provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident".
The speedboats came within about 200m of the US vessels, a Pentagon official told the French news agency AFP.
"I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes," the Iranians said in a radio transmission, according to the officials.
The Iranian craft turned away "literally at the very moment that US forces were preparing to open fire", the Associated Press reported, also citing an unnamed Pentagon official.
He said that it was "the most serious provocation of this sort" that had occurred to date.
The incident took place between Saturday evening and Sunday morning, reports said, although it was not clear exactly when.
Some officials identified the Iranian boats as belonging to Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
It comes amid high US-Iranian tensions over Iran's nuclear programme and as US President George Bush is due to begin a tour of the Middle East on Wednesday.


Okay. Let us assume that this is true on its face (which, coming as it does from the Bush Pentagon, and "unnamed officials," requires a greater leap of faith than Intelligent Design). It is inconceivable to me that the Iranians would be so stupid as to actually radio a threat to the ships if they're actually going to attack.

Threats are ludicrous; if you're going to do something, do it - don't say you'll do it and then don't. Not making good on a promise of imminent action (which is what a threat is) diminishes each threat afterward.

People will remonstrate, saying, "But that's the point of terrorism, isn't it? To instill fear. You said it yourself." Quite so, but closing to only 200 meters before trying to instill fear is a bit ridiculous too. At 200 meters (about 610 feet), those small boats would be toast. A better course of action would be to get within spitting distance, then yell "Boo!" Or, touch the hull of the US ship and radio "Tag! You're it!"

Now, let us assume that this whole magilla is a fabrication (something I would not put past the Bush Administration, particulary the Office of the Vice President). Cheney was a draft-age lad at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which went a little something like this:

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident is a pair of supposed attacks allegedly carried out by naval forces of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (commonly referred to as North Vietnam) against two American destroyers, the USS Maddox and the USS Turner Joy. The incident occurred on August 2 and 4, 1964 in the Gulf of Tonkin.[1]
Although it is possible that the first attack, on the destroyer Maddox, was in fact carried out after the Maddox fired first, some altercation did occur. The second supposed attack almost certainly did not occur.
Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects and overeager sonarman may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox.
—Captain John Herrick, TIME Magazine 1968
Indeed the Pentagon had criticized that this sonarman who reported 22 torpedoes may have confused them with the sound of the engine of his own vessel.[2]
In a tape recording that surfaced in 2001, President Lyndon B. Johnson admits that the Gulf of Tonkin second "attack," which he used to obtain approval for the Vietnam War from Congress, never occurred.[3]
In 1995 the retired General Vo Nguyen Giap confirmed nothing ever happened on August 4 -- although he admitted that the August 2 attack was real. He believed U.S. ships were trying to provoke an attack so President Johnson would have a pretext for greater U.S. involvement.[4]
Later research, including a report released in 2005 by the National Security Agency, also indicated that the second attack most likely did not occur, but also attempted to dispel the long-standing assumption that members of the administration of President Johnson had knowingly lied about the nature of the incident.[5][6]
The outcome of the incident was the passage by Congress of the Southeast Asia Resolution (better known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution), which granted Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by "communist aggression". The resolution served as Johnson's legal justification for escalating American involvement in the Vietnam Conflict.


Last year, the Senate of the United States passed the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, which expressed the "sense of the Senate" that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be considered a terrorist organization and pledged the United States to contain Iran's influence through its proxies in Iraq and Lebanon.

So, what do we have here? A triphammer amendment, coupled with a purported naval "incident."

I wonder if any of the US Navy ships was named the USS Turner Joy or the USS Maddox? No, no, that'd be too cute.

But what we may have here is the first attempt to present the American people with a fait accompli to justify an attack on Iran.


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