I have to admit: My reactions when I saw the headline-alert Tweet announcing the "Iranian naval showdown" story were not pleasant. My first thought was that our government was hyping whatever happened for political reasons. My second thought was that the News Lords were going to uncritically pound that hype right into the national consciousness.
I don't like either thought, but that's where I find myself today. The federal government says something, and I have to discipline my reaction to make sure that I at least give it the benefit of the doubt. I wasn't this way before 2004, but that where I am now, and it's based on experience, not ideology. The Bush administration certainly didn't invent politicized bullshit (Gulf of Tonkin, anyone?), it's just that ... great Gawd, there's just so much of it, and the skeptical reporting is just so slow to catch up that it's practically irrelevant.
The good news is that the bullshit-exposure cycle appears to be speeding up.
Those radio threats?
Pentagon officials said they could not rule out that the broadcast had come from shore, or from another ship nearby. They said it might have come from one of the five speedboats even though it had none of the expected ambient noise of motor, wind or sea.
But that's the way things happened. "Fog of war," right?
The video released by the US implied that the warning was part of a series of transmissions to the ships from the Iranian craft. It turns out that the warning was added onto the video. It was a radio recording made separately.
But the threat was serious. Right?
The U.S. warships were not concerned about the possibility that the Iranian boats were armed with heavier weapons capable of doing serious damage. Asked by a reporter whether any of the vessels had anti-ship missiles or torpedoes, Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, Commander of the 5th Fleet, answered that none of them had either of those two weapons.
"I didn't get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats," said Cosgriff.
And here's why this bugs me: Because we've apparently over-hyped this incident, it's hurting our credibility at a time when we need to be repairing our credibility. Which means that it's taking the emphasis off the provocative behavior of those Iranian boats, which -- if taken in the proper context -- was a bad thing (just not an end-of-the-world thing).
Did the patrol boats violate our ships security zone? Yep. Did our Navy respond appropriately? Absolutely (absurd comments by my former hero Ralph Peters notwithstanding). Is the diplomatic protest we sent to the Iranians via the Swiss the correct action? Yep.
But the way the Pentagon/White House spun their over-reaction to this
incident looks like deliberate political propaganda, and you get the feeling that these yahoos actually think they're being clever. Their bluster may play to the
"I'm More Macho Than You" crowd at the GOP debates, but it
isn't helping us with our allies. And it isn't helping us with the
people we're trying to turn into partners. It's as if the current crop of White House aides are a bunch of one-trick-ponies, and their one trick is disingenuous partisan gamesmanship. It works to fire up the base and put liberals on the defensive back home, but it's doesn't exactly add up to a brilliant foreign policy.
People seem to have forgotten the Cold War, when "hostile acts" like this were part of a strange little waltz that US forces and Soviet forces danced for five decades. Our planes "paced" their planes. Their ships "shadowed" our ships. Sometimes it was serious and led to shooting; Other times it was playful -- just bored soldiers screwing with each other (like the Czech Pioneer Service border guards who used to "threaten" us when we were walking through puddles, just to get a laugh when we dropped straight down into the mud, exactly as we'd been trained to do). You don't ignore such incidents. You look at them seriously, even when you know there's an element of humor to them. The one thing you don't do is freak out over them.
And a parting shot at the TV News Lords: You are not just the means of delivering this bullshit. You are partners in the creation of this bullshit. The Pentagon gives you the raw material, but you embellish it with dramatic words and dire tones and the narrative of crisis. They provide the tape: You provide the drama.
We're so damned interested in being compelling that we've lost track of a simple truth: Most things are kinda dull.
What I wouldn't give for a restoration of nation's our dull credibility right now.