In August 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing President Lyndon Johnson to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” by the North Vietnamese.
The resolution, passed at Johnson’s insistence, was inspired by two alleged attacks on American destroyers by North Vietnamese patrol boats, turned out to be only partly true.
Navy Cmdr. James Stockdale, who was flying recognizance over the Gulf at the time, doubted whether the second attack ever happened: “Our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets. … There were no (North Vietnamese) boats there … nothing there but black water and American firepower.”
History proved Stockdale correct: The resolution was a deadly fraud perpetrated by Johnson; by 1975, at war’s end, 58,318 American troops, 250,000 South Vietnamese troops, over 1 million Viet Cong and North Vietnamese fighters, and more than 2 million Vietnamese civilians had died.
In October 2002, Congress, fueled by false claims that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, authorizing President George W. Bush the use of American force against Iraq.
It, too, was based on manipulated and flawed intelligence assessments.
Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, and Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu were two of the leading cheerleaders for that war – a war that broke the Middle East for generations, awarded Iran hegemony over the Persian Gulf, and precipitated the rise of al-Qaida in Iraq and ISIS.
That war killed almost 4,500 and wounded 32,000 American troops, It killed 100,000 Iraqis and displaced millions. It added $3 trillion to America’s national debt.
Today, I fear that yet another American president will again manipulate circumstances and the media into believing that an attack is both necessary and imminent, this time on Iran.
Once known as Persia, Iran’s a proud nation with a history that spans over two millennia. Any attack on its sovereignty and 81 million people will galvanize most Iranians – regardless of how they might feel about its government – in solidarity and further destabilize the entire region.
In solidarity, Iranians remember well a 1953 challenge to its sovereignty when America, serving colonial interests, overthrew its democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, and installed the shah.
Iran controls access to the Straits of Hormuz, a narrow passageway into the Persian Gulf and any disruption there could cause global economic upheaval and a strategic challenge for thousands of American military personnel deployed in the Gulf.
Trump – fueled by his personal animus of President Barack Obama and opposed to anything Obama accomplished – by choosing to unilaterally violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) not only undid one of the most significant arms control agreements of our time but chose to align himself against Iran, in possible military conflict, with the current leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Emirates.
With allies like those, who needs enemies?
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in support of that agenda, is today trying to convince the world that a strategic alliance exists between Sunni al-Qaida (which took credit for a 2017 attack on Iran’s parliament building and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s tomb) and Shia Iran – a laughable intellectual exercise and contradicted by numerous intelligence agencies.
For over a decade Bolton has been a well-paid supporter of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MeK), a cultish Iranian terrorist organization that had first opposed the shah. MeK is responsible for the killing of six Americans in Iran, and it enthusiastically supported the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran before changing alliances and opposing the ayatollahs.
Consistent with MeK policy, John Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2018 that American policy should be regime change and “ending Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution before its 40th anniversary.”
“Recognizing a new Iranian regime in 2019,” he wrote, “would reverse the shame of once seeing our diplomats held hostage for 444 days.”
Shame is to dishonor diplomats. Shame is to put more American troops in harm’s way under false circumstances.
Shame is to deploy Americans to settle personal grievances.
There is much in Iran’s behavior – particularly its support of Hamas and Hezbollah – that needs to be confronted and moderated; moderated by negotiation in conjunction with our allies. JCPOA was designed to limit Iran’s nuclear program – and it worked.
Whatever “malign” behavior Iran engages in – whatever suppression of dissent, women’s rights, minorities, artists and homosexuals it engages in – should certainly be confronted, but not by recklessly placing Americans in harm’s way.
Trump’s confrontation with Iran evokes memories of President George W. Bush’s false assertions that al-Qaida had links to Iraq, suggesting even that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein might have cooperated in planning 9/11.
Bush’s illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq – a war of choice I vociferously feared and opposed – predictably fractured the Middle East, exacerbated sectarian tensions and provoked a rise in chaos, violence and terror that continues to this day.
America is still deeply embedded in Afghanistan and Iraq, still supporting Saudi Arabia’s genocide against Yemen, still failing to hold Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman accountable for the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump’s America is increasingly distant from its professed values. Today we face, as Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, recently said “a crisis that has entirely been manufactured by the Trump administration.”
This Memorial Day, as America remembers and honors those who have died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, let us pray and resolve to impress upon our leaders that no life should be sacrificed in vain, no life lost because of the false vanities of leaders, tyrants and autocrats, no crisis created that jeopardizes justice and peace.
(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)