On Tuesday, a group of ten American service members on a training mission in the Persian Gulf were detained by Iran. Upon receiving the news, Secretary of State John Kerry called his counterpart in Iran to help secure the Americans’ release. This was all over the news over the past few days here in the US and, in traditional media outlets, it was usually accompanied with a standard denunciation of Iran. In more extreme cases, the event was described as an act of aggression that demanded a response. For instance, Senator John McCain, that perpetual fount of wisdom, described this incident as another example of “Iran’s provocative behavior.”
Unfortunately, what was missing in much of mainstream media coverage of this event was any meaningful consideration of the facts. In reality, the US ships apparently drifted into Iranian waters, and were intercepted by the Iranians as a result. There’s no dictionary in the world that defines that as aggression. If you break into my house, I have a right to defend myself. The same goes for countries. Iran clearly has a right to police its territorial waters, just as the US would have the right to detain an Iranian ship that found its way into San Francisco Bay. If something is self-defense, it can’t also be aggression. The two terms are mutually exclusive.
Frankly, we’re all lucky that cooler heads prevailed in the American and Iranian governments. It would have been all too easy for hardliners in Iran to (accurately) describe this as a breach of their territorial integrity and an act of aggression against them. Similarly, President Obama could have taken a cue from CNN and blamed Iran for the whole affair, omitting any mention of Iranian waters. Fortunately, this did not occur. An incident that could have dramatically raised tensions was basically over before it began. Yesterday morning, the detained Americans were promptly released, unharmed, by Iran, just as was promised.
It’s hard to overstate how excited the US media appeared to be about the prospect of demonizing Iran and moving the ball closer to war. It’s almost as if they were disappointed the soldiers were released because they no longer had a talking point. Fox News, for one, wasn’t willing to let the story die so soon. Instead, they turned their attention to a video that’s been circulating that apparently shows the detained soldiers and features one of them apologizing for ending up in Iranian waters. Assuming the video is authentic, it’s tough to get outraged about this. Apologizing is what you do when you trespass on someone else’s property, right? No, according to Fox News and their source, Rep. Duncan Hunter, this is “going to be misused to diminish American power.” That’s right, because excessive apologizing is the reason US influence is waning. It’s not the bombing or the torture or the spying or the general instability we’ve caused, it’s all those times we apologized for it.*
But of course, this is part and parcel of the Fox News brand. It’s far worse when the more acceptable liberal outlets like CNN and The Daily Beast join in the “hate Iran” chorus, like they did in this case.
And all of that brings us to our recommended article for today. Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept has a great piece that chronicles the irresponsible media frenzy that surrounded this story, particularly at CNN. Here’s the piece: U.S. Media Condemns Iran’s “Aggression” in Intercepting US Ships – in Iranian Waters
Eric Schuler is the author of The Daily Face Palm blog, which focuses mostly on foreign policy and bad economics.