The Not-So-Innocent Abroad

by dday

With the "Filipino Monkey" story starting to hit the major press, the Administration's credibility on this Straits of Hormuz incident is lessening even further. It's very clear that the audio threats, which set this apart from more routine incidents in the Straits, bore little relation to the incident itself and was likely to be essentially a crank call. And Cernig notes that the other threatening aspect of the early reports, those mysterious white boxes that the Iranians tossed in the water, were pretty much... white boxes.

The small, boxlike objects dropped in the water by Iranian boats as they approached U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf on Sunday posed no threat to the American vessels, U.S. officials said yesterday, even as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff charged that the incident reflects Iran's new tactics of asymmetric warfare.

After passing the white objects, commanders on the USS Port Royal and its accompanying destroyer and frigate decided there was so little danger from the objects that they did not bother to radio other ships to warn them, the officials said.

"The concern was that there was a boat in front of them putting these objects in the path of our ships. When they passed, the ships saw that they were floating and light, that they were not heavy or something that would have caused damage," such as a mine, said Cmdr. Lydia Robertson, a spokeswoman for the Navy's Fifth Fleet in the Gulf.

The Navy ships in the water appeared to take this incident in stride. Somebody in the upper echelons saw an opening and leaked this to the press, and blew it up out of proportion. When you have people like the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen saying he's never seen such a provocative incident but then admitting he never saw the video, the suspicions grow. And the fact that it occurred at precisely the time when Bush was headed to the region with the intent of threatening Iran is no accident. If the dynamic between the US and Iraq was changed by the release of last year's NIE, Bush hasn't gotten the memo.

President Bush on Sunday called Iran "the world's leading state sponsor of terror" and sought to shore up opposition to the government in Tehran throughout the Middle East.

But even as he criticized Iranian leaders, saying they were seeking to repress their citizens and cow neighboring countries, Bush appealed to U.S. allies in the region to open up their own political and economic systems to greater democracy.

Spotlighting a swath of the globe where U.S. diplomacy is built around seeking help for the administration's anti-terrorism effort, the president criticized only Iran by name. He avoided mentioning Egypt, his final stop on a six-nation Middle East trip, despite its long record of human rights abuses, limited political rights and economic disparity. Nor did he cite other nations across the region with similarly troubled histories.

Kind of a delicate subject in the Middle East, and the emirs didn't take kindly to it.

Even political analysts here who share Bush's democratic vision said that his speech painted over the daily reality for most inhabitants of the Middle East, an oil-rich region where power is largely inherited and human rights violations abound.

Whether chastising Iran or praising Palestinian elections, analysts said, Bush left out key facts that would have offered a messier — and more true-to-life — portrait of the modern Middle East.

"Iran is a neighbor, we have to deal with that," said Ambassador Ibrahim Mohieldin, director of the Arab League's Americas department. "The U.S. is thousands of miles away from Iran - it's OUR national security that will be affected" if leaders agree to keep Tehran isolated at Washington's request.

This is the result of an incurious man who is given a script without checking the facts. Bush can talk about democracy promotion, but when it comes down to it a substantial portion of US aid goes to undemocratic regimes, and little goes to actually strengthening the building blocks of democracy. Bush can praise the United Arab Emirates (!) as a model society because to him, it is; an obscenely wealthy oligarchy that practically enslaves immigrant labor to construct their opulent palaces. Bush can caution for stability in the region while selling $20 billion in arms to the Saudis, clearly as a counter-balance to Iran, which may increase tensions rather than diffuse them (Congress, by the way, has the ability to, and should, outright reject these sales). Bush can call for an end to the occupation of Palestine while failing to understand or even engage with the dynamics of the debate, seven years after ignoring the peace process and making the problem significantly more protracted. This is the "Innocent Abroad," only he's not so innocent.

In private meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week, Newsweek reports that President Bush disowned the U.S. intelligence community’s judgments:

"But in private conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week, the president all but disowned the document, said a senior administration official who accompanied Bush on his six-nation trip to the Mideast. “He told the Israelis that he can’t control what the intelligence community says, but that [the NIE’s] conclusions don’t reflect his own views” about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, said the official, who would discuss intelligence matters only on the condition of anonymity."

This incident in the Straits was very orchestrated and very timed. Career staffers in the intelligence apparatus won the first round in the effort to halt a march to war with Iran, but that was only a round (that WSJ piece is really interesting, by the way, have a read). We have a President that is visiting the Middle East, while at the same time he is ignoring their wishes and making their region significantly less livable through saber-rattling and falsification.