Wag The Dog: miscalculation and manipulation towards war with Iran

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The Washington Post has an editorial today about Deepfake videos are dangerous — and they target a huge weakness.

The Post is talking about political attack ads, but the same could be said of heavily edited military videos that purport to show evidence of a hostile state actor attacking U.S. interests in support of going to war.

Vdeo is the modern-day version of the “yellow journalism” of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, and the propaganda that led to “Remember the Maine!” and the Spanish American War (1898). The sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor was blamed on an external explosion from a Spanish mine. It was the pretext for war. However, some U.S. Navy officers disagreed with the inquiry board, suggesting that the ship’s magazines had been ignited by a spontaneous fire in a coal bunker. (An investigation by Admiral Hyman Rickover in 1974 agreed with the coal fire hypothesis. The cause of the sinking remains a subject of debate.)

Last Thursday, two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the Front Altair, a Norwegian flag vessel, and the Kokuka Courageous, a Japanese flag vessel, were damaged by explosives.

Centcom immediately asserted that Iran was responsible for the attack on the two oil tankers in international waters after releasing video footage it says shows an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded mine from the hull of the Kokuka Courageous.

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Just to be clear, I am not asserting that this video is a “deep fake.” The grainy black and white video is heavily edited, and the time, place, date, circumstances of the filming and the full unedited video have not been viewed or independently verified by the news media. I have not found any interviews of the crew members of the ships who were eye witnesses to the attacks.

After Colin Powell stood up in front of the world and falsely claimed that “Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons,” as a pretext for the Iraq War, I am simply urging you to be skeptical and to exercise caution. Mobile weapons labs? They didn’t tell the truth about those, either. This was not the first time that the American people have been lied to in order to take us to war, i.e., the Gulf of Tonkin incident that the Pentagon Papers proved to be a material misrepresentation by the U.S. government to justify a war against Vietnam (the second Gulf of Tonkin Incident never happened). We’ve seen this movie before. We don’t get fooled agin.

Yutaka Katada, the owner of the Kokuka Courageous, the Japanese flag vessel crippled in an explosion in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, says the U.S. is wrong about the way the attack was carried out. The Daily Beast reports, Japanese Tanker Owner Says U.S. Is Wrong About Gulf Attack:

Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday,Yutaka Katada contradicted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. Navy, which released a video that purports to show an Iranian patrol boat removing a limpet mine from the port side of the Kokuka Courageous. Katada said his ship was attacked on the starboard side by a flying object, not by a mine. “It seems that something flew towards them. That created the hole, is the report I’ve received,” Katada said, according to the Financial Times. “It seems there was a high chance they were attacked by a flying object. The impact was well above the water. I don’t think it was a torpedo.”

BSM Ship Management, the technical managers of the Kokuka Courageous tanker have confirmed that the ship, which appears in a video posted last week by the US military is indeed theirs. BSM confirms US military video features the Kokuka Courageous:

“BSM Ship Management can confirm that from the evidence available from the video which has been widely circulated, the vessel is our managed ship Kokuka Courageous. As we are still assessing the vessel we are unable to give a precise description of the damage the ship has suffered. She is currently at a safe anchorage off Fujairah and is likely to be located there for some time,” a spokesperson for the company told Splash today.

While confirming the ship in the footage is indeed the Kokuka Courageous, this does not necessarily mean that the people in the boat alongside it are from the Iranian military.

CNN reports that Centcom later asserted that Iranians fired missile at US drone prior to tanker attack:

In the hours before the attack on the two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, the Iranians spotted a US drone flying overhead and launched a surface-to-air missile at the unmanned aircraft, a US official told CNN.

The missile missed the drone and fell into the water, the official said.

Prior to taking fire, the American MQ-9 Reaper drone observed Iranian vessels closing in on the tankers, the official added, though the source did not say whether the unmanned aircraft saw the boats conducting an actual attack.

Still, it is the first claim that the US has information of Iranian movements prior to the attack.

CNN has not seen any imagery from the US drones.

The same official also said in the days prior to the attack, a US Reaper drone was shot down in the Red Sea by what is believed to be an Iranian missile fired by Houthi rebels.

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[T]the owner of the Front Altair tanker, the Norwegian flag vessel, has said they have “no information” and “no details” about any type of obstruction around its vessel since the time of the attack, Frontline spokesperson Pat Adamson told CNN Saturday.

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The United Kingdom released a statement Friday saying it is “almost certain” that a branch of the Iranian military — the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — attacked two tankers.

The IRGC is an elite wing of the Iranian military that was established in the aftermath of the country’s revolution in 1979. In April 2019, the US officially designated it as a foreign terrorist organization, a move which was rejected by authorities in Tehran.

No other state or non-state actor “could plausibly have been responsible,” the statement added.

I would hasten to add that the United Kingdom also supported the false intelligence asserted by the George W. Bush administration as pretext for the Iraq War, so there’s that to consider. And Trump’s manipulators are also blaming Iran to get the U.S. to do their bidding. The Washington Post reports:

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman called on the international community to take a “decisive stance” against what he called Iranian expansionism.

In a story published Sunday by the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, the crown prince did not offer new evidence of Iran’s culpability in the tanker attacks, according to a transcript of his interview. Saudi Arabia views Iran as its principal adversary in the Middle East, and the Saudis, along with the United Arab Emirates and Israel, have been key supporters of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy against the Iranian government.

Israeli officials claimed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is responsible for the attack against the two oil tankers in the Gulf earlier this week, using naval mines and a torpedo to attack the tankers (this is disputed by the owner of the Japanese tanker). Israel blames Iran’s Revolutionary Guards for oil tanker attacks.

Other U.S. allies are understandably more skeptical. Foreign Policy reports, Some U.S. Allies Balk at Blaming Iran for Tanker Attack:

A day after two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, some U.S. allies were reluctant to join the Trump administration in forthrightly blaming Iran for the incident as conflicting accounts emerged, adding an element of uncertainty to the rising tensions between Washington and Tehran.

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The U.S. Defense Department released black-and-white video footage purportedly demonstrating that Iran is behind the attack, but some of the United States’ allies have held back from explicitly blaming Iran so far—including Japan and Norway. For its part, the Iranian government denied the U.S. accusations that it was involved.

U.S. Central Command took the unusual step of releasing footage of the incident, which it says shows Iranian special forces removing an unexploded mine from the side of one of the oil tankers damaged in the incident, a few hours after the attack. The Japanese owner of one of the tankers contradicted the account put forth by the U.S. military, saying the vessel was struck by a flying projectile and not a mine or torpedo, adding further confusion.

After the U.K. government conducted its own assessment, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Friday backed up Centcom’s account, saying in a statement that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was “almost certainly” behind the attacks and calling on Tehran to “cease all forms of destabilizing activity.”

But other U.S. allies, which have parted ways with Washington over its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, haven’t gone as far and appear to be treading carefully around a potentially explosive diplomatic standoff between Washington and Tehran. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the video evidence isn’t sufficient by itself. “The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me,” he told reporters on a visit to Oslo, Norway.

Some U.S. allies may not “want to be seen as bandwagoning with a U.S. administration that may be seen as a loose cannon on this,” said Michael Eisenstadt, an expert on the region at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank. “They’re going to want to wait until their intelligence agencies get from the American intelligence community our assessments and forensics,” he said. “They’ll want to have their own intelligence people look at the ships before they arrive at their own judgment.”

The conflicting reports of the attacks are stirring further unrest in a region already beset by tensions as the Trump administration ratchets up pressure on the Iranian regime through severe sanctions and diplomatic maneuvering. Trump in April designated Iran’s elite branch of its armed forces, the IRGC, as a terrorist organization, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hit back by declaring all U.S. troops in the Middle East terrorists. The latest attacks also come after the White House hit Tehran with additional sanctions as part of a so-called maximum pressure campaign to squeeze the regime and sent a fresh deployment of U.S. forces to the region to deter what the administration called “credible” threats from Iran and its proxies against U.S. troops.

The Trump administration’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran has now backfired with maximum failure. Steve Benen reports, Failure of Trump’s Iran policy comes into sharper focus:

Reading this New York Times report this morning, Iran Threatens to Violate Nuclear Deal’s Limits on Uranium Enrichment, the idea that Trump’s policy toward Iran is some kind of success seems ridiculous.

Iran announced plans on Monday to stop complying with the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States withdrew from last year, leaving the door open to an “unlimited rise” in Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium amid escalating tensions between the two nations.

The announcement by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization was the country’s latest signal that it will abandon the pact unless the other signatories to the deal help Iran circumvent punishing United States economic sanctions imposed by President Trump.

Colin Kahl, an Obama administration veteran, responded this morning, “Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign was supposed to induce Iran to scrap its nuclear program (which was already contained by the 2015 nuclear deal). Instead, Trump’s actions have incentivized Iran to restart it, creating a completely unnecessary crisis.”

It’s difficult to overstate the scope of the White House’s failure. For reasons no one has been able to explain, Trump abandoned the international nuclear agreement with Iran – a policy that the president’s own team said was working.

It was the first in a series of dominoes, the latest of which includes the Trump administration directing highly provocative accusations at Iran with very little evidence, and even less credibility on which to lean. Tehran opened the door to an “unlimited rise” in its enriched uranium stockpile soon after.

Complicating matters, the White House has sent “a dizzying, seemingly conflicting set of messages to Iran in recent weeks,” leaving nearly everyone, including our allies, confused about the exact nature of the U.S. strategy.

For his part, Trump thinks he has proof that his approach is working: he told Fox News on Friday that, unlike during the Obama era, Iranians “haven’t screamed ‘death to America’ lately.”

As the Associated Press reported over the weekend, “The death-to-America chant is heard routinely” in Iran, and it remains a staple in hardline Iranian demonstrations.

The smart move would be a dramatic shift in the White House’s direction. Trump appears too confused to understand what needs to be done.

Instead, Iran war hawks are trying to get their war on with Iran. On Sunday’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. “Tehran Tom” Cotton (R-Arkansas) followed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who forcefully argued that evidence proves Iran was behind Thursday’s attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. James Downie writes, The danger of Tom Cotton:

Senator “Tehran Tom” Cotton’s view:

Iran for 40 years has engaged in this kind of attacks, going back to the 1980s. In fact, Ronald Reagan had to re-flag a lot of vessels going through the Persian Gulf and ultimately take military action against Iran in 1988. These unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike.

Taken aback, host Margaret Brennan asked, “Are you — you’re comparing the tanker war in the ’80s to now, and saying that that’s the kind of military response you want to see?” Cotton affirmed the comparison and his preferred response. He left out that the U.S. action under Reagan came after several years and hundreds of attacks on tankers by both sides of the Iran-Iraq War. The current situation is far calmer, yet Cotton is champing at the bit for another U.S. strike on a Middle Eastern country

… without a declaration of war or even an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) approved by a vote of Congress. “Tehran Tom” Cotton is OK with Donald Trump unilaterally taking us to war with Iran without the consent of Congress, or the American people.

In May, Cotton appeared on PBS’s “Firing Line,” where host Margaret Hoover asked him, “Could we win a war with Iran?” Cotton answered “yes” with a speed that seemed to surprise Hoover: “That didn’t take you a second,” she replied. And it was here that things got alarming: “Two strikes,” said Cotton, “the first strike and the last strike,” would be enough to win.

This is, to put it mildly, delusional. Cotton, who served in Iraq, surely knows that tens of thousands of troops were insufficient to “win” that war. Iran is more than three times larger than and about twice as populous as Iraq. Even the military plans ordered up by hard-liners such as national security adviser John Bolton envision as many as 120,000 troops deployed to the region. Nothing in U.S. history suggests that “two strikes” would be enough or that any military intervention in the region would be anything other than a foolish return to a quagmire. Oddly, even Cotton has admitted several times, including on Sunday, that the most recent major U.S. intervention in Libya was unwise. Then again, he has said the United States should have replaced that intervention with one in Syria — a perfect balance of remaining thoroughly pro-intervention without endorsing a Democrat-initiated policy.

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In a better timeline, younger Republican politicians, having internalized the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention many other U.S. interventions overseas, would be encouraging the president’s caution. Instead, we are stuck with Cotton and other young Republican senators such as Ben Sasse (Neb.) who are all too happy with bellicosity toward Iran. So much for a country learning from its mistakes.

We are stumbling into a war with Iran, led by hawkish fools like Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and “Tehran Tom” Cotton.




2 COMMENTS

  1. Remember when Tom Cotton wrote that (illegal) letter to Tehran telling them to ignore Obama, violating the oath Cotton took to the Constitution and this country, and violating the Logan Act at the same time?

  2. From what I’ve seen, and I hope there is lots more, it is quite possible that the boat that is alleged to have rushed in and removed a Limpet mine was acting to save the ship from further damage. Could they be heroes and not villians?

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