NARDI: Bush, Iran and the Gulf of Tonkin



Tom Nardi

On Aug. 2, 1964, the USS Maddox fired on three North Vietnamese gunboats in the Gulf of Tonkin, off of what was then communist North Vietnam. Two days later, the Maddox and the USS Turner Joy falsely reported themselves as being under attack by the North Vietnamese.

Despite the fact that the North Vietnamese took no belligerent action, President Lyndon Johnson used the ‘incident’ as evidence to escalate the Vietnam War.

Why does this matter today? Because George Bush and his administration are doing their utmost to lie us into war with Iran. And coincidentally, Bush too references a fictitious naval battle.

Last Sunday, three U.S. ships operating near the Strait of Hormuz reported erratic behavior by five Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats. What exactly happened during that incident remains unclear.

The Iranian boats apparently approached the U.S. vessels at high speeds to distances within 200 yards of the boat and then abruptly left, dropping two white boxes in the water as they left. Also, the United States claims that they received a transmission, saying, “I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes.”

The military initially called the confrontation “significant” and a “cause for real concern.” Since then, however, many significant aspects of the account have come into question.

Iran released its own video of the incident in the Strait. The erratic behavior – particularly the close contact – by the Iranian ships cannot be questioned, as that was captured on U.S. video.

What the Iranian video does show is that the Iranians clearly identified themselves to the U.S. ships, and the voice of the man on the Iranian tape is starkly different from the one on the threatening transmission.

In fact, while the United States initially claimed that the broadcast came directly from the Iranian attack boats, senior Navy sources conceded that there was no way to know where the transmission came from. Since it was received on an open signal, it could have come from another boat in the area – or even from on shore.

Further, the Pentagon admits that audio and video were recorded separately and then stitched together, adding one more layer of uncertainty in already-murky proceedings.

Importantly, nobody seems to mention that when the USS Hopper warned the Iranians to back away, they did something incredible. They sped off as requested. And the video does not show the Iranian ships dropping any boxes.

Still, Bush used part of this recent incident to try to rally support against Iran “to confront this danger before it is too late.” Excuse me? Before what, exactly? We as a nation, and our government in particular, need to stop with the apocalyptic rhetoric regarding Iran.

Our best intelligence shows that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003. And reality shows that no one knows exactly what just happened in the Straight of Hormuz, save the Iranians and sailors involved.

Every time that Bush makes a statement regarding Iran, his credibility is undermined. He claimed that “Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon,” the day after the release of the National Intelligence Estimate claiming that Iran is not building a bomb.

He claimed that Iran’s nuclear ambitions could spark World War III well after he was aware of the NIE findings. If that’s not lying, at the least it’s criminal negligence. And the Republican Party offers us no respite from this Iran huffing-and-puffing.

John McCain joked about warfare, singing “bomb Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann.” Mike Huckabee, in regards to the recent naval incident, said that Iranian ships should “be prepared, first, to put your sights on the American vessel.

And then be prepared that the next things you see will be the gates of Hell, because that is exactly what you will see after [an attack].”

Certainly, after the USS Cole attack in 2000, the Navy should be concerned about strange actions by foreign vessels. Certainly the alleged transmission should be viewed as threatening – if it was real. But could we please, as a people, pause, take a breath, and think about things rationally before coming up with knee-jerk responses?

In 1964, then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said that evidence for North Vietnamese aggression in the Gulf of Tonkin was “unimpeachable.” Despite his assertions and regardless of whether he was knowingly lying, he was clearly wrong.

I can’t believe I’m about to say it, but I agree with Ron Paul here, and I’ll conclude with his thoughts on the matter: “I would certainly urge a lot more caution than I’m hearing … This incident should not be thrown out of proportion to the point where we’re getting ready to attack Iran over this.”


Tom Nardi is a senior political science major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].