There is an adage that we all have likely heard in our lives. It goes something like, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, it never quite says who is to blame the 20th time around. Iran today is no different.
Incidents that spark wars are nothing new. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of recent history knows how World War One began, with an anarchist assassinating an archduke in Sarajevo, starting a domino effect of alliances kicking into place and ending in one of the greatest unnecessary tragedies of the 20th century.
Those with perhaps a slightly more in-depth knowledge of history will know of the Reichstag fire in 1933, which was used as a pretext to give Hitler absolute powers as chancellor in Germany or the Gleiwitz incident which was used to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany and justify the invasion of Poland.
Just under twenty years after the end of that second great war, in 1964, an “incident” in the Gulf of Tonkin set the stage for the next generation’s war – this time in Vietnam. What makes this occasion so curious is that, while decried for decades as a conspiracy theory, it is now widely known that the incident was embellished to involve the US in the Vietnam War.
Since then, it seems the pace has picked up regarding the timing of these incidents.
In Lebanon from 1979 to 1983, Israeli secret services carried out a campaign of car bombings that killed hundreds, which columnist Ronen Bergman points out was used to “push the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to use terrorism to provide Israel with the justification for an invasion of Lebanon.”
Only a few years later, in 1990, the Nayirah testimony (of Iraqi soldiers ripping infants from their incubators and leaving them to die on the floor) outraged the American public enough to drive support for a coalition to side with Kuwait in the war rather than the former American ally, Iraq. Of course, the people later found out that “Nayirah” was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States and that the entire stunt was set up by a PR firm for the exact purpose in which it was so effective – the babies and incubators turned out to be nothing more than a convenient lie, leading the United States and coalition forces to war.
This method of gaining public support for war is so effective that it’s still used today, as recently as the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (on the basis of supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction, which were never found) or attempts to intervene in Syria between 2012 and 2019 (on the basis of alleged chemical attacks before any evidence of such was found).
Now we have John Bolton, The acting national security advisor to President Trump, telling us that Iran is responsible for the attacks on several oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, and that there is once again justification for us to go to war. Bolton was instrumental in bringing about the invasion of Iraq, calling for war as long ago as 1998, as a signatory on a letter to then-President Bill Clinton, urging the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. He is described as a war-hawk, with explicitly stated designs for regime change in Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, Yemen, and North Korea.
Considering those facts, should we believe him once again?
I’m not saying Iran didn’t do this, I have no evidence to support such a claim (though how convenient is it they hand us this justification just as we are pushing for war with them). But after the revelation of Operation Northwoods, the Gulf of Tonkin, the 1979-83 attacks in Lebanon, the Nayirah testimony, the WMD’s in Iraq story, and the false accusations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government as a pretext to war, how exactly are we supposed to trust that this information is accurate? Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, however, shame on me!
I wrote previously on the issue of growing mistrust in our institutions. I believe that is just as accurate now as it was then. Until that trust is rebuilt, The United States will lack the ability to fully support its leaders in war. This is a dangerous position to hold in a world with serious and growing challenges to the relative peace and interconnectedness that American hegemony secured over the last half-century.
As China’s geopolitical influence and military capabilities increase, America needs the support of its people and internal unity, it needs a trust that will only come from transparency and putting the nation’s wishes first, not another seemingly pointless war.