Credit: The White House/Flickr

Peter Beinart likens the current effort to start a war with Iran to previous American provocations like the Gulf of Tonkin and Remember the Maine incidents that were used as pretexts to start, respectively, the Vietnam and the Spanish-American wars. He may be on to something.

The conventions of mainstream journalism make it difficult to challenge America’s self-conception as a peace-loving nation. But the unlovely truth is this: Throughout its history, America has attacked countries that did not threaten it. To carry out such wars, American leaders have contrived pretexts to justify American aggression.

In the case of Spanish-American War, the precipitating cause was an explosion on an American military ship in Havana’s harbor. No one ever proved sabotage, but that didn’t keep Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst from declaring otherwise in their competing newspapers.

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Likewise, we don’t really know who is responsible for merchant ships in the Gulf of Oman, but there sure seem to be a lot of publications willing to take the government’s word that it was Iran’s doing.

As Beinart details (joined separately by Max Fisher in the New York Times), conflict with Iran has been relentlessly pursued by National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They have clearly been goading Iran into making some kind of aggressive response, and perhaps they have succeeded. Today brings news that Iran shot down an American drone.

They want some kind of casus belli, and they’ll keep pushing and pushing until they get one.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of other people in this country who want to change the regime in Iran by force, and they understand the same thing that Pulitzer and Hearst understood. Americans are basically uninterested in being a colonial power but they’ll defend themselves with fury when attacked.

To rally support for colonial adventures, we either need to provoke an attack or, failing that, make up an attack that did not actually occur.

Obviously, it’s preferable if there is least a scintilla of truth involved, but this hasn’t historically proved to be a necessary ingredient.

At this point, the warmongers have the key positions in the administration and the yellow journalists are all lined up, so all that is left is convincing the president. I don’t think Trump is eager to start a war with Iran, but he’s also the last person on earth I want to depend on to be sane and rational.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at