The accusations levied by the United States against Iran are reminiscent of the USS Maine and the Gulf of Tonkin.
As of late, tensions between the United States and Iran have been high. The Trump administration pulled out of a six-country nuclear deal that was signed in 2015, citing it as being one-sided and not tough enough on Iran. While the United States continued to tighten sanctions against Iran, the sanctioned country continued to comply with restrictions on uranium enrichment. However, last week Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that the country was going to partially withdraw from the restrictions implemented by the deal. This move was not well received by President Trump and his administration, who are now wary that Iran will be able to more quickly develop nuclear weapons technology. This is a threat that the president has already threatened to respond to with military action. By the rhetoric being pushed out by the administration, war in Iran seems to be the direction in which we are headed.
This rhetoric has recently been present in accusations levied against Iran. On June 13th, two foreign oil tankers were damaged in the Gulf of Oman. Not too long after, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was announcing that American intelligence agencies had determined that Iran was behind the attacks on these tankers. The administration pointed to the weapons and techniques used were similar to previous alleged Iranian attacks and even released video footage that purportedly showed the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Corps carrying out the attack.
This was not the first time that the United States had pointed a finger at Iran for tanker attacks, as just last month the country was blamed for carrying out similar attacks against four tankers also in the Gulf of Oman. Iranian officials had denied involvement then, and they did the same in this instance, accusing the Trump administration of warmongering.
So why would the United States government want to start a war with Iran? For one, the Persian Gulf is a very important passageway in the global petroleum trade, found between Iran on one side and U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates on the other. These countries have a contentious relationship that involves the control of the valuable shipping lanes, one that has been battled out in proxy wars in nearby countries such as Bahrain, Iraq, and Yemen. Secondly, for years American allies such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel have been urging the U.S. to take a more hands-on approach when dealing with Iran. For these reasons, declaring war on Iran is of interest to the government and the accusations being levied against Iran are potentially the justification for doing so.
As a matter of fact, the reason why these accusations of Iranian hostility may come across as a mere fabricated excuse for military action is that the United States has done the very same two times before. These two examples are the bombing of the USS Maine and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which both led to the United States becoming embroiled in war.
The story of the USS Maine goes all the way back to the late 19th century, when tensions were high between the United States and Spain, especially in regards to the then-ongoing Cuban War of Independence. The U.S. did not yet back the Cuban revolutionaries but opposed Spanish influence in the region in line with the Monroe Doctrine-based views that linger to this day. Stories of brutal atrocities being carried out against the Cuban people had captured the imagination of the American people, and President William McKinley faced enormous pressure from the Democratic Party to intervene in the matter. However, McKinley would not budge. The USS Maine had been sent down to Havana, but only to lay wait in the harbor to protect U.S. assets in Cuba. However, on February 15th, 1898, an explosion aboard the Maine sank the ship and killed 260 Americans.
The explosion was attributed to an accident involving coal aboard the ship, but a conspiracy began to spread that a Spanish mine was responsible for the tragedy. Papers such as the New York Journal began to dedicated expansive coverage to the tragedy and the conspiracy, even fabricating reports when there weren't any new stories on the subject to fill pages with. This further agitated anti-Spanish sentiment in the United States, giving those in the government that had been pushing for war with Spain such as then-Naval Secretary Theodore Roosevelt all the justification they needed. On April 21st, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain, marking the end of Spanish influence in the Western Hemisphere and the beginning of a period of American expansionism.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident has a similar story. In the 1950s, the French were fighting off the communist Viet Minh in the First Indochina War with help and funding from the United States. In 1954, the French ditched their efforts in the region, leaving the U.S. to assume responsibility for the South Vietnamese state. At the end of the decade, S. Vietnam and the United States not only found themselves facing the North Vietnamese state but also their allied insurgents in the south known as the Viet Cong. This caused the United States to increase military presence in the region to 23,000 troops by 1964, but that was not enough to satisfy the anti-Communist fervor boiling in the United States at the time. President Lyndon B. Johnson needed an excuse to bring in more troops, and that is exactly what he got.
On August 2nd, 1964, the American destroyer USS Maddox was reportedly chased down by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats and was fired upon by said boats. Two days later on August 4th, another sea battle in the Gulf of Tonkin purportedly occurred. This led to Congress passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed President Johnson to provide military assistance to Southeast Asian countries facing "communist aggression" without needing a declaration of war. With this new golden ticket, President Johnson deployed ground troops on Vietnamese soil for the first time and raised the number of troops in the region to a whopping 184,000. This seems like a justifiable response to the two attacks, except the second attack never happened. There was never any concrete proof that North Vietnamese ships attacked U.S. warships on August 4th, and the eagerness to be able to have the military support that the administration wanted prevented oversight that could have been useful in avoiding the tragedies of the Vietnam War.
These two examples of historical precedent just highlight the danger of the current rhetoric surrounding the tanker attacks. It is a sign of the direction in which this is headed, an engineered effort towards war that the American people do not want nor need. How long do we have to be stuck in the Middle East fighting wars that do not end? How many more Americans have to die in pointless wars? The United States has been at war my entire life, and we can not allow for this to go on. History will always replicate itself, and if we do not learn from our mistakes, we are only doomed to repeat them.