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Taibbi writes: "When it comes to starting wars, we don't even bother to change the script anymore."

The crude oil tanker Front Altair on fire in the Gulf of Oman, 13 June 2019. (photo: Stringer/Shutterstock)
The crude oil tanker Front Altair on fire in the Gulf of Oman, 13 June 2019. (photo: Stringer/Shutterstock)

Next Contestant, Iran: Meet America's Permanent War Formula

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

21 June 19

When it comes to starting wars, we don’t even bother to change the script anymore

ere we go again. Iran has not only shot down an American spy drone over the Strait of Hormuz, but refuses to feel bad about it.

Iran’s General Hossein Salami — one assumes this is a real person — said of the drone downing, “We are completely ready for the war. Today’s incident is a clear sign of this accurate message.”

We all know what this means. This aggression will not stand, man.

Depending on who’s doing the counting, the United States has attempted to overthrow foreign governments roughly 72 times since World War II. The script is often the same, and the Iran drama is following it. Go back through history and you’ll often see these elements:


In August of 1964, Lyndon Johnson told the American people that North Vietnamese, in an “outrage,” fired at the USS Maddox and two destroyers in “open aggression on the high seas.” Explaining that “our response, for the present, will be limited and fitting,” LBJ assured us that “firmness in the right is indispensable today for peace.”

We now know there was no second torpedo attack by the North Vietnamese. Cables suggested the U.S. was returning fire because an “overeager sonarman… was hearing ship’s own propeller beat.”

A year later, Johnson himself would say, “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”

The Iranian “aggression” case is another murky high-seas drama. It was reported that recent damage to a pair of oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman bore “a striking resemblance” to the signature of “devices in Iran’s arsenal.” The initial New York Times story about the damage to tankers in May suggested a link to photos taken of missiles loaded into small boats by “Iranian paramilitary forces.”

In neither of these news stories was it mentioned that the tankers in question weren’t American (of the four hit so far, one was Norwegian, one Japanese, and two Saudi). Still, the United States released black-and-white images purporting to show Iranian Revolutionary Guards trying to remove an unexploded mine from the hull of the Japanese ship, i.e. to hide the evidence.

Sometimes the “aggression” is more real than in others (Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait is a little different from a “sketchy” late-night firefight in Panama), but the result is usually the same. It somehow never strikes Americans as odd, however, that the “aggression” takes place in or around a faraway country with no ability to attack the territorial United States.

The American military is always portrayed as being in a defensive posture, even when it’s many thousands of miles from home, on or even inside the border of another sovereign state. Would we consider ourselves aggressors if we shot down an Iranian drone in Cape Cod Bay? We’ve become so used to these stories, they no longer strike us as odd.


In early May, anonymous American officials said there were “multiple threat streams” from Iran and U.S. forces might be in danger in Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, and other places. This triggered a decision to deploy a carrier group and other forces to the Middle East.

It goes without saying that we’ve seen this one before, most infamously in the case of the Iraq invasion, a caper Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton had a hand in. In the second Iraq war, there were intelligence leaks of everything from mysterious uranium purchases to meetings between Iraqis and 9/11 bombers.

We also of course saw this in the first Gulf War, when President Bush told us Iraq had massed an “enormous war machine” on the Saudi Arabian border, in preparation for further incursions. Subsequently we found out the “enormous war machine” reports were much exaggerated, and the Saudis were probably never in danger.

There were air strikes in Iraq and Syria in 2014 after the U.S. gathered “information on specific, concrete plotting” by the Khorasan terrorist group, and Reagan in 1983 even went on TV to tell America that the airport in Grenada could be used by Soviet long range bombers, and that Cubans there had enough ammo there to supply “thousands of terrorists.”

Some Democrats in this case are saying people like Bolton (who’s wanted war with Iran since his first mustache) and Mike Pompeo are trying to “twist the intel” to make it seem like Iran is bent for war. Connecticut’s Chris Murphy tweeted, “that’s not what the intel says.” Such complaints from the opposing party are not unusual:


This has been a running theme with both parties since 2001 especially, when the United States passed the Authorization for Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF). When Republicans are in power, Democrats complain they haven’t been consulted about the use of force, as they did following an increased troop deployment to Iraq in 2007 (Joe Biden even said this was an impeachable offense).

Republicans were shocked, shocked that the Obama administration attacked Libya without congressional approval back in 2011, and again when Obama bombed Syria in 2013, and again when Obama bombed Syria in 2016 (Republicans also criticized Obama for asking for congressional permission in a 2014 bombing campaign). The tables turned again in 2017, when people like Nancy Pelosi said Donald Trump’s decision to bomb Syria “needs oversight,” and in 2018, when congressional Democrats criticized Trump again for bombing Syria without their permission.

Now, with Iran, multiple Democrats are doing the same dance, arguing the AUMF couldn’t apply to a conflict with that country. In a lot of these cases, lawmakers in question aren’t actually opposing military action, they’re just saying the president should ask them before they do it. The transparently political nature of these protestations makes it difficult to sort out when members of congress genuinely have reservations about imminent military conflict (as they actually might in the Iran case).


This is often true! Sometimes, however, it isn’t. The pretext for invasion of Iraq was a supposed violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution requiring disarmament. You might remember Colin Powell saying Iraq was in “material breach.”

Iran has just announced that 10 days from now, it will be in breach of international agreements on its permitted levels of enriched uranium. Added to the intelligence about the tanker “attacks” and warnings of “multiple threat streams,” the political justification for invasion will be there. Precedent suggests Trump could just use the AUMF again to attack Iran because, why not? We’ve been doing that all over the Middle East for nearly two decades.

The “violation of international law” argument would probably carry more weight if it weren’t also true that basically every American military action in the last half-century has been considered illegal under international law by someone. This is a conclusion that’s been reached about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the NATO bombing of Kosovo, the entire U.S. drone assassination program, the coalition bombing of Libya, and other campaigns.

Trump’s decision to exit the Obama-era nuclear deal may have led to increased belligerence by the Iranians, or it may not have. Did we send spy drones toward Iran to be shot down because we no longer have the access we might have had under the Obama deal, or because we’ve been spying on Iran with drones anyway, for a while now (Iran even built a “copy” of an RQ-170 Sentinel drone that crashed in Iranian territory in 2011)?

The bizarre consolation in all of this is that Trump himself doesn’t appear thrilled with the idea of going to war with Iran. When Iran shot down the drone, Trump said it was “hard to believe it was intentional” and might have been done by someone who was “loose and stupid,” despite the aforementioned General Salami saying Iran was “ready for war” after it happened. This is an area where we actually want to encourage the all-hat-no-cattle side of our president.

The seeming ambivalence of Trump while the likes of Bolton and Mike Pompeo burn through the same old invasion-pretext script presents a powerful case that this is just how the American state operates, irrespective of who sits in the White House.

What we end up calling “aggression” abroad is often more like resistance to our plans to control a region. Sometimes the “aggressor” is genuinely behaving badly, and sometimes not, but for decades we’ve been lightning-quick to opt for military solutions to almost any crisis, for increasingly obvious reasons.

The politicians running the United States often owe their careers to military contractors. Their children typically don’t fight in wars. The mayhem, death, and environmental catastrophe that result from modern war never occur in their home states. It long ago became too easy to make this decision, and we’re on the brink of making it again. At least with Iraq we pretended to argue.

Iran isn’t Iraq, Serbia, Panama, or an airstrip in Grenada. This country has real military strike-back capabilities that the backwater states we’re used to invading simply do not, meaning war would present a far heightened danger not only to our troops but to civilians in the region. All our recent wars have been stupid, but this one would be really stupid. Just once, could we not do this? Does the script always have to end the same way?

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+32 # mngreer 2019-06-21 13:56
You're correct. Bolton has been wishing for a war with Iran for decades. However, somewhat puzzled about Trump's reaction. I doubt he gives a whiff about collateral damage. I suspect he knows that Russia will get involved if we attack Iran and doesn't want to have to answer to Putin on that matter or simply has been told to stay the hell out of Iran.
+25 # vt143 2019-06-21 14:12
Same story usually involving boats, lies, planes, more lies and then, in case we missed something and begin doubting, more lies
+28 # PABLO DIABLO 2019-06-21 14:34
As Trump is destroying the "American Empire", we have to convince the World that we can still kick ass. PATHETIC.
USA=an Empire in decline.
+5 # elizabethblock 2019-06-21 22:21
Trump treats friends and allies like enemies, and enemies like ... oh, I don't know, women he's courting. Far from making America great, he's making it a global clown.
+19 # AMaxwell 2019-06-21 15:35
global website:
Global Warfare: “We’re Going to Take out 7 Countries in 5 Years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan & Iran..”

Video Interview with General Wesley Clark.

Bolton and Pompeo don’t recognize the International Criminal Court, but they should be before it. And families of the U.S. service personnel about to be sacrificed should have a U.S. class action lawsuit to sue the warmongers who fabricate this war myth.
+3 # janie1893 2019-06-22 01:35
I do believe Trump wants a war with Iran. But the timing is not right just now. He wants a war while his election campaign is at its hottest! The we wont be looking at his idiocy, we will be lauding his courage as he sends thousands of well trained American young folks to their deaths while the economy surges as it always does during a war.

His biggest problem currently is keeping a taut leash on Bolton. He wears that moustache
so we cant see the way he salivates when he thinks about war. He drips and drools for war.
+5 # yolo 2019-06-22 17:32
Something to consider is if Trump starts a war with Iran what happens to oil prices and what it means to the global economy? I think in the grand scheme of things Trump realizes going to war with Iran will hurt more than help his chances for reelection, as oil prices will more than likely go up, and the corresponding effect that it will have on the US and world economy. But than again as tensions rise, events tend to spiral out of the control of the president whether both sides want war or not.
-8 # BKnowswhitt 2019-06-23 03:24
Trump much more canny and skilled than Hillary would have been. Iran deal was bad. They are enriching and building we have the intelligence on it. Bush Doctrine post 9/11 approved by Congress allows President such powers. Iran shooting down US Drone in international waters is a direct threat to USA. Fits Doctrine. Now Trump can do as he pleases via Bush Doctrine. Trump exercised restraint in not hitting Iran. He said he wants talks. No nuclear weapons. Brilliantly done within our laws. Tabbi lumping together wars of past as All the Same inacurate. And like it or not Trump is no neocon .. the N's hate him .. so do the bushies and their likes .. recently he said he disagreed with Vietnam War and i saw out his own mouth on invasion of Iraq .. he did not agree on that one either .. Facts Facts Facts ...
+3 # DongiC 2019-06-23 03:25
Some critical facts. (1) Iran has observer status in the Shanghai Peace Organization which is a military alliance between Russia, China, Pakistan and several of the "Stans" like Kadjikistan, Uzbekistan etc. Turkey has observer status also. The US tried to obtain this status but was rejected. (2) Iran has plus 80 million people the majority of whom are under 25 years old. (3) Iran remembers how the US assisted in a coups against a popularly elected president who wanted Iranian oil to benefit Iranian people and not the oil companies of Great Britain. We supported the Shah of Iran who was a cruel dictator with a terrifying police force (the Savak) who kept him in power for over 29 years. (4) Iran contends that it has the right to develop nuclear weapons like several nations have including, of course, the US. ( France, Russia, N, Korea, Pakistan, India, Israel, Great Britain also have the damn things.)

Despite all the war talk on the mass media, remember that Putin owns Sir Donald and Putin, apparently doesn't desire war. Hence, no conflict.
But, the old bluffer (Trump) waited until the bitter end before changing course. He is playing this hand very carefully. And Trump is Trump so who knows what will happen. I don't think they know even in the White House.
+3 # AldoJay69 2019-06-23 08:47
The same flexing of American muscles in our own hemisphere has given us the refugee swarm at our Southern border.

0 # banichi 2019-07-02 10:18
Excellent article. What no one apparently wants to say in so many words is that the greatest terrorist nation in the world is right here at home - the United States of America. We call it an empire - which it is, an empire controlled by the billionaires and corporations whose CEOs and their children never have to go 'fight terrorism' in other, more defenseless countries around the world.

The elites running this game are not simply American, either, which makes sense since no politician with a stake in staying elected and keeping the money rolling in, will turn down money from foreign sources if they can work out a way to have it be untraceable. Remember Hillary's deals with the Saudis and others for arms with a donation to the Clinton Foundation? Just for example.

I traveled in Europe and the Middle East in the early 1970s, saw Greece under Popadopulos and went through Iran to get to Afghanistan, a frightening experience.

In the Middle East, the U.S. has been responsible for deposing more democratically elected governments and imposed more dictators than any other country. I think that the Ukraine is the latest example. It doesn't matter which party is "in power" because they both are controlled by the money from the corporations. The puppeteers.

The really depressing and amazing thing, to me, is that so many of the American people continue to believe we are the 'Good Guys' in the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

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