Has the American media learned anything since George W. Bush drove the country into the Iraq War on false pretenses and warped intelligence? Hopefully it has, but we are be on the verge of a high-stakes test of this hypothesis.
The Trump administration appears to be on the cusp of walking us into a conflict with Iran. And we need to be clear about how this all started: Against the advice of many of his top aides, Trump decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal crafted under President Barack Obama. The deal strictly limited Iran’s ability to create a nuclear weapon, a goal nearly everyone in the U.S. shares, but Republicans decided that anything with Obama’s name on it made them sad, so it had to go. Then, last month, the administration announced it was labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, and unprecedented and aggressive move.
That brings us to this month, when officials have been trying to convince the public that there is intelligence suggesting that the threat from Iran is growing even though U.S. Central Command released a report saying the regime had no interest in going on the offense against the United States unless provoked.
So the administration decided to provoke them. National Security Adviser, and talking mustache, John Bolton announced that he would send aircraft carriers and bombers to the Persian Gulf in response to some new information. But Bolton is the quintessential unreliable narrator. He was, after all, a part of the administration that manipulated the intelligence to make the case for the Iraq War under Bush. Even Bush would later sour on his former ambassador to the United Nations, saying, “I don’t consider Bolton credible.”
The Associated Press credulously reported Monday that a U.S. official said that the military has assessed that Iran is likely responsible for a recent attack on oil tankers near the United Arab Emirates over the weekend. But the story was thinly sourced, relying only on one anonymous official citing a military assessment.
Bolton has never seen a regime that he didn’t want to overthrow and he is clearly gunning for Iran. And given how stupid and easy to manipulate Trump is, Bolton may well lead him into war.
Reporters must be particularly skeptical of what administration sources are saying, whether they’re speaking anonymously or before Congress. Who’s agenda are they serving? How reliable is the information they’re citing? We’ve seen how the government can manipulate the media into banging the war drums for them. And there are signs it is making such a mistake again.
The American role in any rising tensions, beginning with Trump’s tearing up of the nuclear deal, is the important context for understanding any emerging conflict. Reporters need to be particularly skeptical of any claims they’re hearing as the Trump administration, with John Bolton at the helm of national security, coalesces around the idea that Iran poses an imminent threat.