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.