Ron Paul, as usual, was prescient when he warned – in 2007 – of a Gulf of Tonkin type incident in the Persian Gulf that could bring us to the brink of war with Iran. The seizure by the Iranians of a commercial vessel flying under the Marshall Islands flag in the Gulf in order to collect a debt – the result of a legal judgment in a complaint which had wound its way through courts for 14 years – is being blown up out of all proportion by Washington, which has sent warships to the area in order to “guard” shipping and ensure “freedom of the seas.”
Here‘s a Washington Post piece claiming the Iranians violated international law when they seized the vessel, but apparently the same rules don’t apply to the Americans. No one raised much of a fuss, back in 1991, when the US seized a Panamanian-flagged ship accused of defrauding the US military: there was no court case, and yet the US claimed its civil forfeiture rules gave it the right to “arrest” the ship. And then there’s this 1987 case where the US seized a Liberian-flagged ship because the crew hadn’t been paid. This is the typical pattern where Washington is concerned: the rules, such as they are, can be bent according to the US government’s convenience.
The US State Department is claiming that they have a treaty obligation to defend Marshall Islands shipping “under the terms of an amended compact entered into force in 2004,” i.e., because the islands are, in effect, a US protectorate. However, initially, the Pentagon was singing a far different tune, saying no such obligation existed.
In fact, the US only has an obligation to defend its own flagged shipping, and US-flagged vessels can only qualify for that designation if they are US-owned and the crew is 75 percent American. The sudden radical extension of this principle to include parts of the far-flung American Empire, such as the Marshall Islands, and unspecified “other countries’ vessels,” is yet another attempt to provide a “legal” rationale for America’s self-appointed role as the guardian of global shipping.
With the USS Farragut – equipped with guided missiles – and three armed coastal patrol boats tasked with carrying out this completely illegal mission, the prospect of an incident that could lead to a shooting war have shot way up above 50/50.
That this incident occurred in the context of a vigorous dispute within Iran and the US around ongoing negotiations between the former and the West over Tehran’s nuclear program only heightens the danger of war. Both Iranian and American hardliners are using this incident to close off any possibility of an agreement, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out:
“Some U.S. and European officials said they believe hard-line elements in Iran, particularly among the elite Revolutionary Guards, are seeking to undermine Iranian President Hasan Rouhani and the talks by challenging American naval forces. They also cite Iran’s detention of a Washington Post reporter as aimed at sabotaging a possible rapprochement between Washington and Tehran.”
In tandem with the anti-Rouhani faction in Tehran, the anti-Obama fanatics in Washington are on the same warpath, with House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Tom Cotton, and all the other usual suspects howling that the seizure of the Maersk Tigris somehow proves Iran is going to block the Gulf and stop the world’s oil trade in its tracks. Never mind that this means they’d be blockading themselves, and making the sale of their own oil impossible. But logic isn’t a major factor when it comes to war propaganda.
An even bigger obstacle to the peace of the region, in the long run, is the Saudi invasion of Yemen, which has the potential to start a real shooting war between Iran and our allies in Riyadh. This would immediately draw in the Americans, and that would mean the end of negotiations of any sort, no matter how insistent the US State Department is about the alleged separation of regional issues from the negotiating process. In the real world, no such separation is possible, which is why the Saudis – unalterably opposed to the negotiations – started their bombing campaign to begin with.
President Obama is no Gandhi: his foreign policy is a continuation of his predecessor’s campaign of brazen aggression in the Middle East and elsewhere. Yet he isn’t stupid, either: he knows what the costs of a war with Iran would be, and they are prohibitive. That he doesn’t want it to break out under his watch – given the huge economic hit the US economy would take – is a political calculation, not a moral one. Least of all does it represent a sudden reversion to a noninterventionist policy.
However, regardless of his motives, the President’s policy – negotiations, not war – is entirely correct, and one that should be applauded and actively supported. All the worst elements in the world are opposing him: not only our own domestic warmongers, but also the worst of our allies, i.e. the Saudis, the Israelis, and even the faithless French, who have reportedly been among the most hard line of the P5+1 involved in the nuclear negotiations with Iran.
As I’ve repeatedly warned, the road to a peaceful settlement with Iran is teeming with landmines placed there by the War Party, which is determined to blow up the negotiations – and a good part of the world. On the other hand, the American people, in their overwhelming majority, support the negotiations and oppose another war in the Middle East on Israel’s behalf. Our own political class, however, seems bent on war, with prominent members of both parties – including the Republican and Democratic congressional leadership – lined up with the Israel lobby to sink all hopes for peace.
Who will prevail?
The answer to that question depends on the ability of the pro-peace majority to counter and defeat the powerfully-placed pro-war minority. And that’s where Antiwar.com comes in: we are the first line of defense against the disinformation and outright lies being spread by the war propagandists in the “mainstream” media. That’s been our mission since our founding in 1995. Today, our audience and our reach is greatly expanded, but a lot depends on you – the informed reader, as well as antiwar activists on both sides of the political spectrum.
Will another Gulf of Tonkin type incident provide the spark that sets the Middle East ablaze? Can we mobilize enough people in time to stop the march to war?
Let us hope – and pray – that the answer to the first question is no, and the answer to the second is yes. If not, our collective goose is cooked.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.