Bolton’s War Drums and the Credulous Media

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

The Wall Street Journal reports some unsubstantiated speculation coming from a single anonymous administration official about alleged sabotage of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf:

An initial U.S. assessment indicated Iran likely was behind the attack on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers and two other vessels damaged over the weekend near the Strait of Hormuz, a US official said, a finding that, if confirmed, would further inflame military tensions in the Persian Gulf.

The assessment, while not conclusive, was the first suggestion by any nation that Iran was responsible for the attack and comes after a series of US warnings against aggression by Iran or its allies and proxies against military or commercial vessels in the region.

The US official, who declined to be identified, didn’t offer details about what led to the assessment or its implications for a possible US response.

We should be extremely skeptical of anything coming from administration officials about supposed foreign threats, especially when it concerns Iran. The president and top officials have lied so often about Iran in the last two years that nothing they say about this can be trusted. An anonymous official unwilling to offer any details about murky events is just about as unreliable a source as one could have. It is an open secret that National Security Advisor John Bolton is gunning for confrontation between the US and Iran, and he has been exaggerating and distorting intelligence to do it. For all we know, this lone official telling this story is a Bolton ally trying to ratchet up tensions. The American public has been burned often enough with dishonest claims and shoddy justifications for war over the last twenty years, and this feels like another phony pretext for a conflict that many in our government have been trying to start for a long time.

Attacking civilian tankers would be extremely foolish, and Iran has good reason not to fall into the trap that Bolton is trying to set. The WSJ article goes on to acknowledge that no other government has endorsed this finding, and other officials doubt that Iran would have been involved:

Earlier, an American official and a senior Saudi official said Washington and its allies don’t know who was behind the attacks and doubted Iran’s involvement because of the risk of escalation with the US [bold mine-DL] At the U.A.E.’s request, the US military sent a team on Monday to inspect the ships to determine who was behind the sabotage, an American defense official said. Some Iranian officials have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to the sanctions, but there has been no follow-through.

“It would be very clumsy from the Iranians,” the US official said.

Exactly what happened to the tankers was difficult to ascertain, as Saudi and U.A.E. officials released few details. Mr. Falih said the attacks caused no oil spills.

At the moment, we know very little about what happened with these tankers, but we do know that the administration and its hawkish allies have been trying to create a crisis with Iran for at least the last year. They are determined to twist every event and the smallest pieces of evidence to make war more likely, and they are wasting no time in preparing for that war.

The New York Times reports on new planning for the contingency of deploying a large number of American troops to be to the region:

At a meeting of President Trump’s top national security aides last Thursday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.

The revisions were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser.

The Times article’s reference to supposed “work on nuclear weapons” is dangerously misleading, since it wrongly suggests that Iran is engaged in such work and is in a position to “accelerate” it. There is no evidence of that, and all of the evidence points in the opposite direction that Iran cannot possibly be involved in any work on nuclear weapons. The phrasing in the article is at best sloppy writing, and at worst it reflects repeating the administration’s own propaganda. What needs to be emphasized here is that the administration is already planning to escalate any clash with Iran into a major war, and they have been working overtime for the last year to make such a clash more likely. This news warrants hearings before the relevant House and Senate committees on foreign affairs and the armed forces, and it gives Congress another reason to take up and pass Sen. Udall’s bill forbidding military action against Iran without Congressional authorization. The Trump administration has created this crisis with their destructive and bankrupt Iran policy, and they must not be allowed to escalate it any further.

News coverage of alleged threats from Iran over the last week has been far too willing to take the administration’s claims at face value. Mainstream media credulity of official allegations is a recurring problem, but it is unusually perilous when these allegations can be used to provide a pretext for war. Iran hawks will want to use any incident as an excuse for escalation, and it is imperative that Congress and the media not permit Trump and his advisers to turn the Strait of Hormuz into the next Gulf of Tonkin.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

3 thoughts on “Bolton’s War Drums and the Credulous Media”

  1. Credulous media? I do not think there is such a Thing. Media is a corporate business. Corporate conglomerates own media as a part of their corporate narrative, by which they shape policies and the politics of the country in their interest. Political parties are CORPORATIONS. Private corporations, no matter how are they called for tax purposes and other laws that may get in the way of their business. Political parties are corporations in the business of influence selling, providing access to corporate technocrats that actually write legislation proposals. Horse trading among corporate interests then begins, and the bidding for money, influence and power that goes with it. Politicians earn their fees, as does the corporation they work for, the Republican or Democratic party.
    All politicians are their employees, and the primary contests are the auditions, that land clever candidates the support of a party. The skill candidate has to possess is convincing voters that their corporation will make their lives better.

    Let us just watch media. One would think that the channel supporting Trump in the circus called Mueller investigation, would consistently support his many times stated goals. But no. From day one, Fox was determined to control Trump’s foreign policy. From day one, they were against Russia, against troop withdrawal, and never saw the war they did not like. Here and there, they have a personality that tantalizingly hints at the voter disgust at the foreign policy of endless wars, but that is it. It is only a teaser, to keep us watching their narrative, and over time, accept — as their is no alternative — the necessity of forever wars. Look at how eagerly have all the channels jumped into Venezuela narrative. 100% made up stories of hardships and depravity of the regime, and the goodness of the self-proclaimed president leading a dwindling number of supporter and very slim street rallies — not daring to get out of the part of Caracas where his voting base lives.

    Basically, all media has ONE PIE TO PROTECT, and this is the fat pie of security state, with its contracts, supply chains of around the globe basis and military assets.

    Thus, all media has a VOW OF SILENCE on topics that are not to be touched, while they have an agreed upon political angle, a TV version of click bait. There is no way president can affect the foreign policy, if the pie is in any way endangered. His job is to extend the pie, not shrink it.

    It is now more important then ever to follow news sources outside the MSM, and outside any one country. More and more, even very important information never finds its way to any corporate media. It just does not exist.
    Look at the sudden about face with communing with Russia. It was amazing watching the press conference with Pompeo and Lavrov. A contrast could not be sharper — the difference between the self confident bragger and pontificator, and a mature, rational and well informed Lavrov.

    What is bringing this all about? Fiasco in Venezuela? Where Pompeo without a trace of intelligence claims to be supporting Venezuelan people, while supporting only the supporters of Guaido, while the supporters of Maduro do interest him. As opposed to Russia that would like to see both parties get together and resolve political differences. It was painful to listen to Pompeo on Iran, and the invented tale of terrorism, that the whole world knows is exclusively Sunni sectarian based. And not once, just once, did Pompeo ever mention nuclear program or nuclear threat from Iran. I thought that was the point. Not any more. Yet, the narrative goes on.

    Well, what brings him to Russia? It is not to get them to change their position on any of those topics. Well, the things are not going too well with China, Philippines, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq. And in India, looks like Modi will be reelected, and return sanctions to US are done deal.
    Then, is he coming to coopt Russia to be a “balance” against China? This ship sailed long, long time ago. After all the insults and lies, Russia is likely to keep on protecting its back against the European and US attempts to break its economy. No, that is not it.

    He is coming because of the arms and space race, and US is behind. So, after having a year to asses the status of Russian new generation weaponry, it is time to try some arms control negotiations. That was top of his agenda. The rest, noise.

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