This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, June 14, 2019:
Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard, not only thinks he know how wars start, he thinks Trump is well on the way to starting one with Iran. Writing for the establishment Foreign Policy magazine, Walt says that “leaders bent on war must convince the public that … war is necessary and wise. Congress abdicated its constitutional role to declare war a long time ago, which gives presidents a pretty free hand.”
First, says Walt, the president must persuade the public that the danger confronting the republic is both “grave and growing.” Second, that conducting the war will be easy and cheap. Third, the war will solve the problem. Fourth, the enemy is evil, or crazy, or both. Finally, the alternative, peace, is unpatriotic.
When citizens awakened on Thursday morning, they were confronted with headline news that Iran had (again) attacked a couple of oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. They were reminded that the Strait is critical to the flow of energy to the west and that any disruption or interference would have disastrous consequences. News readers noted breathlessly that oil spiked four percent on the news, in anticipation that the attack by Iran would in fact slow if not stop the flow of LNG and crude through the 21-mile-wide channel, the only waterway from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea and then to the Indian Ocean.
Of course it was only speculation that Iran had anything to do with the attack. The Telegraph, reporting on the incident, kept using the word “suspect” or “suspected” attack. Taiwan’s state-owned oil company said that one of the tankers, the Front Altair, was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo.” And Iran denied any involvement.
Initial photographs of the damage suggest that the damage inflicted on both tankers was far from fatal, being above the water line of each ship. Smoke and fire obscured the views, but the owner of the other tanker (the Kokura Courageous), Bernhard Shulte, issued a statement that said that the damage sustained was minor and that all crew members were safe. He said the ship “is not in any danger of sinking [and] the cargo of methanol is intact.”
The views of the damage are not the only things that were obscure. The circumstances surrounding last month’s attacks on four other ships traversing the Strait of Hormuz also “remain murky,” according to the New York Times. But John Bolton, President Trump’s National Security Advisor, was quick to blame Iran, claiming that the rogue country was “almost certainly” responsible for those attacks, asking rhetorically “Who else would you think is doing it?”
The timeline of escalation of rhetoric and action from early May is revealing. On May 5, Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East, in response, he said, to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” but without providing any details.
Three days later, Iran announced its intention to abrogate the nuclear agreement that limits its uranium stockpile to low grade levels. It was a move intended to signal to the European Union that it was being crushed by U.S. sanctions and was seeking relief through “work-arounds” of U.S. sanctions.
On May 9, the European Union urged Iran to respect the nuclear agreement, but agreed to continue trading with Iran despite those U.S. sanctions.
The next day, the U.S. announced it would be moving a Patriot missile battery into the Middle East to “counter threats” from Iran. President Trump added that his sanctions put “other nations on notice that allowing Iranian steel and other metals into your ports will no longer be tolerated” and added that Iran could “expect further actions unless it fundamentally alters its conduct.”
On May 12, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) said that four commercial ships off its eastern coast “were subjected to sabotage operations” just hours after Iranian and Lebanese media outlets aired reports of explosions at a nearby Emirati port. Those reports later proved to be false, but the attacks on the ships were real but minor.
On May 13, President Trump warned Tehran that if Iran does “anything” in the form of an attack “they will suffer greatly.” European foreign ministers urged both Trump and Iran to stand down.
One day later, the New York Times reported that the White House was reviewing plans to send 120,000 U.S. troops into the area if Iran attacks any American interests, or if it steps up work on its nuclear capabilities. President Trump called the Times‘ report “fake news,” but added that he “absolutely” would be willing to send American troops into the Middle East “if necessary.”
On May 15, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad ordered all “nonessential” government workers to leave Iraq immediately.
The next day, Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for a drone attack on one of its pipelines while calling for the U.S. to launch a “surgical” strike on Iran in retaliation. When the president was asked directly if the U.S. was about to go to war with Iran, he responded “I hope not.”
On May 19, a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in Bagdad – harmlessly – but Trump responded “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of them. Never threaten the United States again!”
The next day, Iran announced that it had already quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium.
On May 24, President Trump announced that the U.S. would increase its military presence in the Middle East by 1,500 troops, claiming that they would have a “mostly protective” role.
Over the weekend of May 31 – June 2, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman hosted three high-level summits for heads of various Arab and Muslim countries to present a “unified” front opposing Iran.
All remained relatively quiet until early Thursday morning in the Strait of Hormuz. Coincidentally, U.S. naval forces were close by and assisted in rescuing some of the workers aboard the two tankers.
It appears that Walt’s assessment of Trump’s intentions is accurate. So are those of the republic’s first president, George Washington who said in his farewell address:
The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.
The Wall Street Journal: Tankers Off Iran Hit by Suspected Torpedoes
The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Says Iran Likely Behind Ship Attacks
The Wall Street Journal: Oil Prices Jump After Tanker Attacks in Middle East
The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Tightens Iran Sanctions After Tehran Threatens to Abandon Nuclear Curbs
The New York Times: In Gulf of Oman, Tankers Are Struck Again, Raising Fears of Wider Conflict