JAMES CALABRESI ’20
On Sunday Jan. 29, 2017, an Iranian ballistic missile was launched over 600 miles from a test site near Semnan. U.S. officials confirmed on Wednesday that Iran had in fact fired mid-range ballistic missiles, a move seen as a violation of former President Obama’s Nuclear deal that requires Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan released a statement clarifying the missile launch stating, “Our missile tests do not conflict with BARJAM [Persian acronym for the nuclear deal] or [UNSC] Resolution 2231.” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also put out a statement claiming that the missiles used in the test are conventional and not capable of carrying warheads. In the year leading up to the launch, Minister Zarif stated that if Iran had missiles during Saddam Hussein’s invasion they could have deterred attacks on their country, suggesting that an able non-nuclear missile defense system is warranted for Iran.
The newly instated president and his staff met with this news in strong fashion with Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee stating that he, fellow senators, and the Trump administration would no longer give a “pass” on Iran’s missile launches and human rights violations. The U.S. ambassador put a request in to the UN Security Council, which met on Jan. 31 to discuss the missile launch, but concluded that the issue ought to be discussed at committee level with no strong UN actions to be taken thus far.
Then, a few days later, a Houthi rebel group fired on a Syrian naval vessel, resulting in U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn statement that Iran is “on notice.” Sean Spicer, Press Secretary to the President, spoke to the press during a briefing about the attack in order to elucidate Flynn’s statement. According to an article by The Intercept, Spicer said, “I think General Flynn was really clear yesterday that Iran has violated the Joint Resolution, Iran’s additional hostile actions that it took against our Navy vessel are ones that we are very clear are not going to sit by and take.”
First off, Spicer’s point is factually incorrect because Iran did not fire upon “our” ship, rather Houthi militants fired on a vessel from Saudi Arabia, to which we are allied. As Spicer finished his comment, Major Garret of PBS corrected him, and Spicer quietly acknowledged him. Now taken holistically, the Saudis as U.S. allies deserve military aid in certain situations yet, when the Press Secretary makes such a mistake and barely corrects it even at the prompting of the media, this misinformation can have incendiary consequences. This is especially important because were the Iranians to have actually fired upon a U.S. ship, it would, by definition, be an act of war.
As with all misleading information, Spicer’s comments led to yet more uncertainty with Fox News, in the aftermath of Spicer’s mistake, posting an article with the headline, “Pentagon believes attack on Saudi frigate meant for U.S. warship.” The article goes on to say the attack was Iranian-backed, making the conflict seem directly between Iran and a U.S. ally. The interview featured with the article has journalist Jennifer Griffin providing information from two U.S. Pentagon Officials who make the claim that appears in the title of aforesaid article. Without quotes and under anonymity, it is reasonable to be skeptical of such rumors, especially when suspicion creates a false sense of alarm.
This blurring of the lines of war is extremely dangerous and eerily reminiscent to the inception of other wars from history where the US has responded to attacks in “self-defense.” In the Gulf of Tonkin incident, President Lyndon Johnson used an attack on navy forces by the North Vietnamese to justify the invasion of Vietnam. In order to spark outrage, an August edition of the Staten Island Advance even headlined the racially charged claim, “Reds Shoot Down 2 U.S. Planes.” The attack was later debunked as a blatant lie, with no attack having occurred.
Even earlier, when U.S.-Spanish relations were at a fever in 1898, a U.S. warship blew up and, with public and political hatred in the air, the blame was cast on the Spanish, ultimately leading to the Spanish-American war. The end goal for this conflict was reached the peace treaty included the U.S. buying the Philippines from the Spanish for $20 million. The explosion of the warship was later concluded to be an internal “coal bunker fire.” With the manipulation of fear and facts that has already run rampant in the current administration, we would do well to question every move Trump makes, keeping an eye out for some sort of end-goal.
A piece of news that has seemingly gone unnoticed in the flurry of statements and displays of force is the fact that Iran announced on Jan. 28 in a report by the Financial Times that they would be dropping the dollar in its official statements in response to Trump’s Muslim controversial ban. This action echoes the dropping of U.S. currency by Saddam in 2003 and by Gaddafi in 2011, right before Iraq and Libya were each attacked by the U.S. military under a variety of pretenses in both cases. Whether the U.S. or Iran is at fault in this case, one can only hope that the world will work to move away from our worst nature to resolve dispute in international court. As the last surviving World War I veteran Harry Patch, so profoundly stated, “War is organized murder, and nothing else.”