Like most of my fellow taxpayers, I spent most of the day Wednesday examining a Pentagon video of the Iranian flotilla in the Strait of Hormuz. There were five of these small boats in all. They reminded me of the rowboats in which I sometimes float downstream, trolling for catfish in the polluted rivers of the Middle West.
But the small Iranian boats that threatened the U.S. Fifth Fleet on Sunday appeared to have either inboard or outboard motors, which gave them an advantage I never have while trolling. And according to the New York Times, the Pentagon is already burned up about all these damn boats in the Persian Gulf. It had to play some expensive war games to figure out what to do about them if they all decided to start “swarming.”
I looked at the Pentagon video for any weapons onboard the small boats, but they moved too fast and the Iranian sailors wouldn’t hold up the weapons where I could see them. I also looked for the boxes the sailors dropped into the water, but I couldn’t see them either. For all I know, they were full of weapons of mass destruction, enriched uranium, and Chinese noodles.
U.S. Vice Admiral Kevin J. Cosgriff told the Asia Times Online that the Iranian boats carried “neither anti-ship missiles nor torpedoes,” but that all five “maneuvered aggressively.” Aggressive maneuvering is nothing to ignore if you want to keep your navy competitive. Consider, for example, how the English small boats defeated the Spanish big boats at the Battle of the Spanish Armada.
President Bush probably studied the Battle of the Spanish Armada as he whiled away the odd hour at his National Guard airbase in Texas during the Vietnam War. The man is clearly worried about Iranian small boats. He said that “there will be serious consequences if they attack our ships, pure and simple.”
That’s what I like about Bush. He’s usually pure and always simple.
The ever-vigilant Condi Rice piped up and said the boats were “provocative and dangerous.” I wanted to ask her if they were dangerous enough to lob missiles into downtown Baghdad the way U.S. boats did, but she didn’t have time to take my question.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman had worried himself sick about how the small boats moved at “distances and speeds that showed reckless, dangerous, and potentially hostile intent.” The poor guy was shocked and awed.
The New York Times reported that one of its many anonymous sources at the Pentagon had said, “We were perilously close to an incident where we would have taken out at least one of the Iranian small boats.”
Perilous things like that happen all the time at the Pentagon. On July 3, 1988, Iran Air Flight 655, with 290 passengers and crew, was following its normal flight path from Bandar Abbas in Iran, over the Strait of Hormuz, and on to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Twelve thousand feet below, the captain and crew of the Vincennes, a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser, mistook the large passenger plane for a small Iranian F-14 fighter jet and thought it was coming perilously close. While the airliner stayed on course, the Vincennes fired two surface-to-air missiles, and Flight 655 exploded in the sky.
The U.S. Navy had stationed the Vincennes in the Persian Gulf to protect oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq War. During that long and expensive bloodbath, U.S. munitions companies recorded brisk sales to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein but not to Iran, not, that is, until Ronald Reagan awoke long enough one day to approve the arms-for-hostages double feature.
When the missiles start to explode in Tehran, don’t ask me to buy War Bonds.
PATRICK IRELAN is a retired high-school teacher. He is the author of A Firefly in the Night (Ice Cube Press) and Central Standard: A Time, a Place, a Family (University of Iowa Press). You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.