On Feb. 2, Press Secretary Sean Spicer made the blunder of falsely accusing Iran of attacking a U.S. naval vessel, following a statement by former national security advisor Michael Flynn that Iran was officially being put “on notice.”
Spicer’s statement came from the White House following Iran’s missile test and an attack by Yemeni Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, on a Saudi naval vessel. Several media sources were quick to pick up the story – including Fox News, which initially misreported that the Pentagon believed a U.S. ship to be the real target of the attack on the Saudi vessel. One can only speculate if the mishap was simply an innocent mistake, or if it was one intended to drum up such a response to sway public opinion in favor of anti-Iranian policy.
It would be irresponsible and naïve, perhaps, to take this incident in isolation; the dissemination of blatantly false information is and always has been how American wars begin. President Lyndon B. Johnson used false accusations of North Vietnamese attacks in the Gulf of Tonkin to urge congressional approval of U.S. military action in the state, and the invasion of Iraq sanctioned by President George W. Bush was allotted by the false claim that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq within months of 9/11.
Since the press briefing, both the United States and Iran have begun to engage in a so-called “war of words,” encouraging both patriotism and terror, and warning of “dark days to come” should there be any show of military force, according to an influential advisor to the supreme leader of Iran.
Despite Iran’s claims that the medium-range ballistic missile test did not violate UN resolutions nor the 2015 nuclear deal, Trump has stated that “nothing,” including military action, “is off the table.” The United States quickly followed the comments with sanctions on 13 Iranians and 12 companies.
Perhaps more concerning is the fact that among those responsible for tempering President Trump’s irrationality and negligence are Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, chief strategist Stephen Bannon and CIA chief Mike Pompeo — a who’s who in Washington for anti-Iran hardliners. Many now fear that the executive branch’s greatest weakness in dealing with Iran is its apparent readiness to dial up conflict without possessing the levelheadedness to ease tensions.
With the president’s alienating executive orders and rhetoric against Iranians, along with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s promise that America will regret military intervention, it is critical that U.S. citizens remain vigilant and be wary of fact versus fabrication.
Elizabeth Strack is a junior majoring in political science and English literature.
Featured image courtesy Flickr user Fibonacci Blue