Friday, January 11, 2008
They sang protest songs to try to stop the soldiers' guns:
Hormuz, it turns out, is Farsi for "Tonkin." Robin Wright:

The Pentagon said yesterday that the apparent radio threat to bomb U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf last weekend may not have come from the five Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats that approached them -- and may not even have been intended against U.S. targets.

The communication Sunday was made on radio channel 16, a common marine frequency used by ships and others in the region. "It could have been a threat aimed at some other nation or a myriad of other things," said Rear Adm. Frank Thorp IV, a spokesman for the Navy.

The other night at the bar, some friends and I got to talking about the Straits near-conflict. I said I wouldn't be surprised if the Iranian boats really did come after the USS Port Royal, since it's in Ahmedinejad's interest to provoke the U.S. into an attack, thereby rallying Iran around a weakened, demagogic leader. That calculation still seems compelling. But rather like Tonkin, the facts of this or any other particular circumstance should never be taken for granted, particularly when they emanate from an administration that lies about national security as routinely as you and I breathe.

More importantly, with Iran, there's an effort to portray anything the Iranians do as a threat, simply because... Iran is a threat, so QED. So they don't have an active nuclear weapons program? No worries, that just "clarifies the threat," says the president. So they didn't threaten the Port Royal? No worries, says the Pentagon:

"No one in the military has said that the transmission emanated from those boats. But when they hear it simultaneously to the behavior of those boats, it only adds to the tension," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. "If this verbal threat emanated from something or someone unrelated to the five boats, it would not lessen the threat from those boats."

Good on Robin Wright for not letting Morrell get away with that. ("Yet the Pentagon had consistently given the impression that the threat was linked to the Iranian boats.") We'll see what Bush says in the Gulf today.

Update: Paul has more. The radio transmission might have been... a prank. Pwnage!

--Spencer Ackerman