While the United States remains mired in the bloody mess it has made of Iraq, President Bush, with the collusion of Tony Blair and Israel, is maneuvering to create a pretext for war with Iran. Iran has been accused of developing military nuclear capability and aiding insurgents in Iraq and now is accused of detaining British sailors. Perhaps this will provide the pretext for war.
From the point of view of the Bush administration, it would be ideal if the Iranians could be somehow provoked into killing a few American soldiers or shooting down a U.S. plane. But the capture of a few British sailors might suffice. Everything depends upon creating the illusion that one's own nation has been the victim of an attack by another.
We could call this the child's cry: "He hit me first!" Even better, of course, if one can call it a vicious surprise attack: "I didn't do anything, he just hit me!" As patriots, we are outraged to learn that one of our own or one of our friends has been unfairly assaulted. And we're off to war. No matter what the cost.
Ever oblivious to history, ever gullible, ever dog-like in their loyalty to their leaders, ever suspicious of people who are different, Americans have time and again fallen for the bait.
In 1847 President Polk lied to Congress, saying Mexico had "invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil." Apparently innocent victims of a foreign attack, most Americans rallied to the war. The U.S. Army was victorious, Mexico was defeated and America took half of Mexico, our entire Southwest.
The same trick was used again in 1898. An explosion onboard the U.S.S. Maine in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, was presumed to have been an attack by the Spanish on a U.S. ship. There had been no attack on the ship, but rather an explosion onboard. Hearst's newspapers raised the cry, "Remember the Maine!" and once again the nation went to war. Dewey destroyed the Spanish fleet in Manila Harbor, and the U.S. came out of the war owning the Philippines and Puerto Rico and dominating Cuba.
Even the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 — the "day of infamy," as President Roosevelt called it — falls into this category. Since the 1920s the world had been discussing the coming war between America and Japan. The United States had been marching across the Pacific: taking Hawaii in the mid-1890s, the Philippines in 1898 and becoming involved in the dismemberment of China in the early 1900s. It was a given that Japan and the United States would fight a war for control of the Pacific and the domination of China.
The United States provoked the war by cutting off oil shipments to Japan — America then provided 60 percent of Japan's oil. In the summer of 1941 the United States created a Far Eastern Command under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, fortified the Philippines and bought planes for the Flying Tigers. Japan, seeing the military threat on its horizon, responded with a "surprise attack."
The United States, ever the innocent, had been attacked again. Off we went to war, and the United States emerged as the world's dominant power.
President Lyndon Johnson pulled the trick in 1964, claiming that a U.S. destroyer had been attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. The story was a lie. But the American people bought it, and Congress voted the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving the president power to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without a declaration of war. The war went on to claim 57,000 American lives and over 2 million Southeast Asian lives.
Iraq, too, had elements of this historic strategy. The Bush administration claimed Iraq had harbored al-Qaeda and shared responsibility for Sept. 11, 2001. Bush said Iraq had WMDs, and Colin Powell told the United Nations that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. All of this, we now know, was a hoax created by the administration to inveigle ever naíve Americans into war.
Iran will be the next test of American gullibility.
The build-up to a confrontation with Iran has been more than 25 years in the making. Ever since the Iranian people rose up and overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979 and humiliated the Americans by taking U.S. hostages, the American political and corporate elite have wanted to punish Iran and re-take control of its oil.
The background here is important. In 1952 Mohammad Mossadegh, a nationalist reformer, was elected prime minister. He believed Iran should control its most important natural resource, so he expropriated and nationalized the foreign-owned oil companies. Eisenhower then sent in the CIA, who in 1953 overthrew Mossadegh and put in power the Shah, a pro-Western modernizer absolutely subservient to the United States.
The Shah became a terrible tyrant whose SAVAK secret police tortured and murdered opponents of the government. Finally in 1979 a loose coalition of secular nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists overthrew the Shah. Then, out of the struggle between those two factions, Ayatollah Khomeini emerged as the ruler of Iran.
Since then, however, Iran has developed into the most democratic Muslim state in the Middle East, even if it is not yet a full-fledged democracy. True, Iran's president says offensive things, but then so does ours. Iran might be developing nuclear weapons, but then so has Israel. The United States has destroyed Iraq, while Iran offers to provide economic development and security — not that Iran should necessarily be trusted.
The Bush administration, needing a victory, would like to push the United States into war with Iran. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats seem prepared to go along. Pelosi removed from the Iraq War spending bill a requirement that the president must seek approval for any war against Iran.
Let's not be fooled again.
Dan La Botz is a writer, teacher and activist. His column appears the fourth issue of each month.