Where Are the Skeptics as the Drums Roll for War with Iran?

Story Transcript

MIKE POMPEO: It is the assessment of the United States Government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today. This is only the latest in a series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American and allied interests, and they should be understood in the context of 40 years of unprovoked aggression against freedom-loving nations.

DONALD TRUMP: Iran did do it. And you know they did it because you saw the boat. I guess one of the mines didn’t explode and it’s probably got essentially Iran written all over it.

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s great to have you all with us.

So what is reality here? Did Iran remove those mines? Are we being set up for another war? Did Iran plan this attack in the first place? Why has the media not talked at all about U.S. stopping Iran’s oil exports unilaterally? And after the lies being told the American people that got us to invade Iraq, don’t we have the right to be really skeptical?

Well, we are joined by Vijay Prashad, who is Director of Tricontinental. And Vijay, welcome back. Always good to have you here on The Real News.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Thanks a lot, Marc.

MARC STEINER: So let’s talk about this. And I think I said this a bit before went on the air together, which is those of us in the media–no matter what media you are in this country–and others in this country, don’t we have a right to be skeptical of all this, given what drove us to have a war with Iraq on news that was not real?

VIJAY PRASHAD: It’s not just a question of the right to be skeptical. When the subject is about war or the possibility of war, it’s more than a right to be skeptical. I think there’s a necessity to be skeptical. Nobody wants this war. Iran doesn’t want this war, China doesn’t want this war, Russia doesn’t want this war. In fact, on the day after these accusations were made in Bishkek, the Shanghai Cooperative Organization, which is an organization that includes Iran, India, Pakistan, China, Russia, Central Asian Republics, and so on met. And most of these countries came out quite forcefully, and these are all neighbors of Iran in one way or the other, these Eurasian countries. They came out and said that they don’t want a war. So in this situation, it’s very important to ask why is the United States–without any forensic investigation–why is the United States immediately jumping on these incidents with the Norwegian and Japanese bankers and saying this was done by Iran? Why is the United States trying to find a provocation for war?

I mean, at this point, the media must ask questions. It’s not a question of being skeptical of anything a government says or doesn’t say. Here, when there’s a possibility of a war in a region which is already being torn apart, which will be torn further apart, I think it’s a necessity to ask about the evidence, to ask questions about the nature of the evidence; where did this come from? I mean, Marc, I’m very skeptical, especially given the fact that the CIA in 2017 created a group called the Iran Mission Center, run by Michael D’Andrea, whose purpose is to produce the intelligence for the war. I don’t know where this video came from of a small boat next to an oil tanker, because that oil tanker’s captain said quite decisively that he saw, or his crew saw, flying projectiles come and strike the ship, and not mines. So we have conflicting reports of what has happened. Conflicting reports require an investigation, not a rush to judgment.

MARC STEINER: Let’s watch for a moment what you just said. This is Mr. Katada, who owns the boat that was allegedly attacked. And he has a very different view than does President Trump and the others.

YUTAKA KATADA: The crew is saying that it was hit by a flying object. They’re saying that something came flying. To put a bomb on the side of the boat is something we are not considering.

MARC STEINER: So if you look at the footage–and I think we need to understand what that footage is about. And I am not an expert on small boats, and as you said to me before, neither are you an expert on small boats and large ships and what this really is. This really calls for a different kind of investigation. And so, let me just play this one little clip here I think is really important and then we can talk about what should be the response and how you get that response. This was this morning on National Public Radio on Morning Edition, where they interviewed Admiral Fallon, who used to be a head of Tricom. This is what he had to say, being interviewed on Morning Edition this morning.

WILLIAM FALLON: I believe there’s little doubt that that’s what it is. The U.S. vessel in the vicinity, one of Astorias, saw numerous IRGC boats ram each of the tankers that was attacked. But I think the only question, I’ve seen some speculation that this may be some kind of an independent action. I doubt that sincerely. I think this was something that was premeditated and it’s an escalatory step in a road to I’m not sure where, but certainly not headed anywhere in the right direction.

MARC STEINER: So the admiral says, “I doubt that,” that it was premeditated. But this is an example of, I think, media across the United States at the moment, which is very clearly saying Iran did this, and backing up what the Trump administration has said. So what would be your response to the admiral, what would be your response to Morning Edition playing this piece the way they did?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, first I would ask them where this footage came from. That’s, to me, of interest. I mean, any forensic observer who looks at these things carefully, they’ll ask for the provenance of the footage. I’d like to talk to the captain and crew of the Japanese vessel and ask them what the Iranian port was doing alongside. The Iranians have said that they sent small boats there to rescue people from these vessels. That is, I think, uncontested. The Japanese and Norwegians were brought off these ships by the Iranians, and some say by Americans. So this could very well be a rescue vessel. We need to have more people talking. Right now, Mike Pompeo has come out there with a very large fist that he’s banged on the table, and that very large fist has made a lot of noise and it’s defining the conversation.

I think one needs to talk to the Japanese. We need to hear from the Norwegians. We need to hear from the crew. Many of them are from the Philippines, some of them are from Russia. We need to take the testimony of these people, get a broad understanding of what happened before we rush into the view that this was a premeditated Iranian action. There is no political reason, by the way, for Iran to have done something like this. There’s one side of the issue is to see what happened; the other side is to see, what are the political ramifications? In other words, what’s the motive? Very important question asked by investigators. Iran has no motive right now to attack two tankers which were taking oil to Japan.

And the reason Iran has no motivation for this attack is that while this attack happened–or whatever happened to these ships–Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran. This is the first visit of a Japanese prime minister to Tehran in 41 years. He came there to talk about trying to open the diplomatic page again, which the Trump administration has tried to close. Earlier this year, the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mr. Zarif, went to Tokyo, met Mr. Shinzo Abe in his home, in his private residence. When Shinzo Abe walked out of that meeting, he said that the nuclear deal is a deal of great stability for West Asia. So Iran has no motivation to scuttle the talks with the Japanese, no motivation to basically annoy the Japanese, anger the Japanese. So there’s no motivation. It’s very unclear if there’s any hard evidence that Iran did this.

These are the kinds of questions that should have been asked of Mike Pompeo. But it’s important, Marc, that Mr. Pompeo did his so-called press conference, which was essentially just a statement. And then he walked out. He didn’t take any questions. He didn’t even bother to allow the basic democratic protocols to be met. But the other media should be asking these questions. First, what happened, and secondly, who has a motive to do this? I’m not alleging anything. I’m simply saying that at this time, it is totally illogical for Iran to have conducted any kind of action like this against two oil tankers which were on their way to Japan.

MARC STEINER: Juan Cole this morning was Tweeting and writing in an article that–he even speculated–could it be the Houthis who swept up mines and somehow got them to the other Gulf. So this is full of speculation, we don’t know. The question is, even internally in Iran, there are differences between the Revolutionary Guard, people in the government. There could be something happening inside internally in Iran. It could be something totally separate. Clearly something happened, but I don’t think we have any clear evidence at this point about what exactly happened, and that’s the real issue here, and who did this and why.

VIJAY PRASHAD: This is exactly correct. I’m not willing to speculate and say it may have been x or may have been y, because that’s a fool’s errand. We can say it’s some hardliners in Iran, or it’s the Houthis, or it’s the Americans who are doing it themselves. These are things that are out there. The great value of the Internet is it’s a place of many, many theories. But the issue here is not for that. It’s not for me to say who did it. It’s for me to question a government’s absolute certainty in the absence of providing any evidence. That, for me, is the standard of journalism. I’m not prepared to go out there and speculate about who did it, but I question when a government says that they know precisely what has happened and have not provided evidence.

I’d like to say that at least when Secretary of State Colin Powell went before the United Nations and openly lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he lied and provided evidence based on lies. In other words, the forceful interrogations produced some material which was totally erroneous, but at least they provided false evidence. In this case, they haven’t bothered to provide any evidence at all. There’s a decline in standards, I must say, in the U.S. State Department.

MARC STEINER: Let me play this one clip of Donald Trump talking about the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf, and what he said may be happening here, as we conclude this conversation and pick up on this.

AINSLEY EARHARDT: The Strait of Hormuz is a critical shipping lane. And we’re watching it carefully. If they try to close that, is the United States obligated to try to keep it open?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, they’re not going to be closing it. It’s not going to be–if it closes, it’s not going to be closed for long. And they know it. And they’ve been told in very strong terms. And we want to get them back to the table if they want to go back. I’m ready when they are. But whenever they’re ready, it’s OK. In the meantime, I’m in no rush. I’m in no rush.

MARC STEINER: And he clearly said more than once he’s in no rush to negotiate with Iran. I’d like to comment on that as we conclude. But also, one of the things that’s been missing, it seems to me, from all of the reporting that I’ve been watching and reading, is that nobody has talked about the unilateral decision of the United States to stop Iran from being able to export its oil. That itself some people could see as an act of war, and not going through the Security Council or any other international body. So there’s a complexity between what we just heard Trump say and a political reality on the ground.

VIJAY PRASHAD: One of the great values of President Donald Trump of the United States is that he says all kinds of things. And of course, he’s lying, because it’s his administration, policy defined by his National Security Advisor John Bolton, by his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, it’s his administration that not only unilaterally walked away from the table–that is to say, the five party nuclear agreement, not only did he unilaterally basically rip that up, but he also unilaterally placed sanctions, which you’re quite correct, could be interpreted as an act of war. And then he unilaterally, on May 2, had the waivers given to countries like South Korea, Japan, India, Turkey, and so on. He ripped those up. This was unilateral American decisions. And it’s put the Iranians in such a position, Marc–and this is where it gets very disturbing. The Iranians, in order to basically hold their pride intact, have said that they are unwilling to come back to the table if the Americans are going to drag them over the coals, which means Trump’s position is pushing the Iranians away from the diplomatic option.

And it’s this reason why I feel the intervention of Shinzo Abe of Japan has been so crucial, because Mr. Abe’s visit to Iran was essentially to convince the Iranians not to have a hard position against diplomacy, which they’ve been pushed into the corner into. And also it shows that it’s had an impact. Because at the Shanghai Cooperative Organization meeting in Bishkek, the Iranians, led by Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran, came to this meeting of the FCO and opened a dialogue with the Russians, Chinese, Indians, and others, and said they are very open to continuing dialogue. If Mr. Trump is serious and not lying on Fox and Friends, then he should approach the Iranians again and say, “Look, I’m afraid we do need to come back to the table and I made a mistake months earlier.”

MARC STEINER: Well, we’ve been talking about Vijay Prashad, Director of Tricontinental. And here at The Real News, we’re going to stay on top of this. This is a very critical story for the future of our country, for Iran, for the planet, war and peace, and we will stay on top of this and keep you abreast of all that’s going on with the analysis from Vijay and others. And Vijay Prashad, thank you so much for joining us here on The Real News today. I deeply appreciate your time.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Thanks a lot, Marc.

MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. We’ll stay on top of this. Take care.