"In spite of all its horror, we must regard the sinking of the Lusitania as an event most important and favourable to the Allies. The poor babies who perished in the ocean attack struck a blow at German power more deadly than could have been achieved by the sacrifice of 100,000 men."
-- Winston Churchill, commenting on the “unprovoked” attack on the luxury liner RMS Lusitania, torpedoed by German U-boat U-20 on May 7, 1915. 1,200 people died in the icy waters off the coast of Ireland. The attack caused international outcry and was one of the factors that led to US involvement in WWI and was used to stoke anti-German sentiment in the United Kingdom.
It was later revealed Lusitania regularly engaged in the transport of thousands of tons munitions and war materiel using civilian passenger service as camouflage, a fact that had been deliberately kept from the British public and Lusitania’s passengers.
Trump on Twitter quoting US Secretary of State Pompeo, “It is the assessment of the U.S. government that Iran is responsible for today's attacks in the Gulf of Oman...."
It is the assessment of the US government.
Not the US intelligence community, the US government.
You want to pay attention to the weasel words.
[Edit: Moments ago, Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks, “citing evidence from US intelligence” instead of just saying “US government. He did not, however, present any of this alleged evidence.]
Two tankers were attacked this morning in the Gulf of Oman near the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz.
Japan's Trade Ministry said the two vessels were carrying "Japan-related” cargo.
Four tankers were attacked last month in the same region.
Two more today and it’s starting to look like a trend.
Naturally prices surged on international markets as investors panicked at this sudden threat to the oil supply.
US officials are – predictably – blaming Iran for the attacks.
The general consensus in the press and world opinion is that Iran must be behind these attacks.
There’s no evidence yet, at least none that any nation is willing to make public. No one actually witnessed Iran carrying out these attacks. It’s the assessment of our government, but not of the professionals – at least, not yet.
Still, perhaps conveniently, there really isn’t another obvious candidate.
But, as a retired US Navy Intelligence officer who spent significant time in that part of the world, I've got to say this assumption doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense. Not to me anyway.
Right now, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in Tehran.
Japan’s leader is meeting with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in an attempt to rekindle nuclear disarmament talks – something the Trump administration is adamantly opposed to. And Trump himself said so on Twitter again this morning.
And suddenly there are these attacks on tankers ...
...carrying Japanese cargo?
That's damned coincidental, if it is indeed a coincidence.
But if it's Iran, as our leaders say it must be, and it's not a coincidence, then what's the message?
Japan isn't threatened by Iran.
Iran isn’t threatened by Japan.
Japan is currently in Iran attempting to negotiate a future equitable to Iran and Iran blows up cargo destined for Japan?
I repeat, what's the message here? Don’t try to negotiate with Iran? Is that the message? Because that message seems like it would be a lot more likely to come from somebody other than Iran.
Somebody who doesn’t want Japan and Iran talking.
Somebody who doesn’t want Iran talking to anybody.
Unless, you know, it is just a damned odd coincidence.
And maybe it is. How do you know?
How do you know?
Perhaps start with your intelligence assets, the professionals who spend their entire lives looking at this problem, instead of some political hack running the State Department who tells you only what you want to hear.
And the first thing you have to ask as an intelligence analysts is: Who benefits from these attacks?
Start there. Don’t start with the assumption Iran is behind the attacks and then reverse engineer the data and the politics to make it so. That’s how we ended up invading Iraq for 9-11. I know, because I was there.
Who benefits from these attacks?
And that's the question you don't see asked.
You see a lot of blame tossed around this morning. A lot of speculation. But the press doesn’t ask "who benefits?"
This morning, as we edge closer and closer to war, President Trump is furiously tweeting about impeachment and how somebody spied on his campaign and how he’s under no obligation to report when foreign intelligence agents hand him dirt on his opponents and something about the “Prince of Whales,” but you don’t see him asking: “who benefits?”
And you’re not seeing it from any of our other so-called leaders either.
We all just assume Iran benefits. But do they? And can you prove it?
Who benefits from attacking oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman?
Start here: The attackers didn't get the cargo.
And that’s significant.
In fact, at this point, we're not even sure how the ships were attacked. Mine? Missile? Torpedo? Nobody knows, again at least not that they’re saying. But whoever it was and however they did it, they weren’t interested in the cargo. I have some very direct experience in this area, in this gulf, on ships like this, with piracy and oil and you don’t blow holes in a tanker or light it on fire if you’re after the oil.
The attackers didn't get the cargo and made no attempt to do so.
So piracy isn't the motivation.
Or is it?
See, there's more than one form of piracy and this is where I remind you of that surge in oil prices this morning.
What am I saying? Wall Street is behind the attacks? Exxon stock holders? Investors? OPEC? Some sort of James Bondesque plot from the Pierce Brosnan era?
Well … you know, stranger things have happened. Wars have been started for profit more often than we’d like to admit. It is a hell of a lot of money. One hell of a lot of power.
To hell with Spain! Remember the Maine!
-- Rallying cry of Americans who wanted war with Spain following that nation’s attack on USS Maine in Havana harbor, February 15, 1898.
Many years later, following the Spanish American War, it was revealed USS Maine had been destroyed by a coal bunker explosion. An accident.
But I'd rate the probability of that scenario as, well, probably unlikely – but not entirely impossible.
It would be easier to raise oil prices via a variety of safer means, depending on your definition of "safe." Particularly when these attacks are likely to spark a military response.
Very likely, a military response from the US -- despite the fact that these are not our ships, nor our cargo, nor our people, nor our sovereign territory.
And that’s the thing, right there. Isn’t it?
Who wants war between the US and Iran?
Besides us, I mean?
Who wants that war? Who benefits from war between the US and Iran?
Well, a lot of people actually. A lot of nations. A lot of entrenched political and monied power structures.
Now, we're certainly veering dangerously towards conspiracy theory territory here, but the thing is that whoever is behind this, well, they must want war.
Whoever is behind these attacks, be it a nation or some other agency, they must want war.
Or they are the single most naïve terrorists ever born.
Because war is what you're going to get when you threaten the oil supply.
And the United States is going to be leading the charge. That’s a given, for many reasons beyond just oil.
So, if it is Iran, is that what they’re trying to provoke? War. With America?
Does Iran really want war with the US?
Of course, the kneejerk jingoistic American answer is: YES!
But, do they? Really?
How does Iran benefit from that war?
The odds are that the US will win – depending on how you define the terms. Maybe not quickly, maybe not easily, maybe at great cost – perhaps even fatal cost -- but eventually the US along with the rest of the world will destroy Iran if pushed into war, because the world can’t afford to have the Straits of Hormuz closed for very long. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, the UAE, those nations cannot allow Iran to close the Straits for long. The nations who depend on the oil which flows via tanker through those straits, they can’t allow those straits to be closed at all.
And that’s what will happen when the US goes to war with Iran.
I’ve been there. I’ve been on the bridge of US cruisers, the point ship of a fleet transiting that narrow strait. I’ve looked at the war plans, hell, I helped write them. It doesn’t have to be complete. It doesn’t have to be total. Such a blockade might not keep warships from fighting their way through – unless somebody gets lucky and sinks an American nuclear aircraft carrier in the channel. But you can’t sail oil tankers through a war zone. Not through that channel under fire.
It doesn’t matter if anybody else can get through, if you can’t sail tankers through the Straits of Hormuz, then you’re screwed.
And there isn’t much anybody could do to stop that once war is joined, short of utter destruction of Iran – perhaps even nuclear destruction.
Iran knows this.
Their leaders are religious fanatics, but they are not stupid. And they understand war and power just fine. So why would they provoke the US into attacking?
What do they stand to gain?
Now, of course, this is where things get difficult, because we are talking about religious fanatics. Maybe they do want the US to attack. Maybe they think their God will give them victory. Or maybe they’re gambling that the attack will be limited. Maybe they think they they can parley such a strike into sympathy, drive a wedge between the US and its allies, especially if they can play up America’s penchant for unprovoked war ala Iraq.
That would be a hell of a risky plan.
Then again, stranger, riskier, and far more ridiculous plans by fanatics have pushed nations into war.
But you have to ask yourself, why then attack tankers? Why attack these tankers? Why not attack warships? If war is what you want. Iran attacking these tankers just doesn’t make much sense even if they did want war. And the truth of the matter is that no matter who “wins,” war with the US will be very, very bad for Iran. And it’s damned unlikely they would risk any such open conflict, especially since these very same Iranian leaders have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to sit down at a negotiating table and talk, even sign agreements with the United States and her allies.
Agreements the US walked out on, not Iran.
Of all the nations that might want war between the US and Iran, Iran is the least likely candidate.
And so, we come back ‘round to it.
Back around to the questions we should be asking.
To the questions that the press should be asking.
To the questions our our leaders should be loudly asking right now.
To the questions our intelligence community should be working to answer in detail.
Who benefits from attacks on these particular targets?
Who has the capability to carry out these attacks. Who has the ability to carry out an attack on oil tankers, underway at sea, in one of the most heavily trafficked sea lanes and thus one of the most heavily surveilled areas in the world, on ships that are specifically on the lookout for such an attack.
Who can carry out that attack and do so in such a manner that the methodology and origin are not immediately apparent?
Who has that capability?
Not only has that capability, but also believes they will directly benefit from a war between Iran and the rest of the world.
Has the capability, is willing to use it, wants a war, and will benefit from the results even if later reveled -- starting with a massive increase in the price of oil.
Now, you tell me: who is that?
My fellow Americans, as President and Commander in Chief, it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply…
-- President Lyndon Johnson, August 4, 1964, addressing the nation following two attacks by North Vietnamese gunboats on the American warship USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Whereas these attackers are part of a deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom…
-- Tonkin Gulf Resolution, August 7, 1964, the US resolution which, as a result of the North Vietnamese attacks on USS Maddox, led directly to the Vietnam War.
In 2005, records from the Maddox Incident were declassified, revealing that in the first “attack” on USS Maddox, the US warship was in fact the aggressor and fired on North Vietnamese vessels first.
The second “attack” never actually happened at all.