Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Update: And I shouldn't neglect to mention the 1988 tragic shootdown of Iranian Airlines Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes on patrol in the Persian Gulf. This is a horrible incident that certainly is an important memory for the Iranians and for the US.
As an interesting insight into the mentality of the Iranian body politic, I had a conversation a few years back with an Iranian graduate student, who was absolutely convinced that the USS Vincennes intentionally shot down that airliner, in order to "send a message" to the mullahs, and, furthermore, that Iranian fear of American intervention had a significant role in ending the Iran-Iraq war.
Mycroft, that is a very widely held view among Iranian elites. Kenneth Pollack, in his book The Persian Puzzle, writes at length about that tragedy. The Iranian government was convinced that the United States had done that intentionally, and concluded that contrary to its original assumptions would be ruthless if Iran did not back off from pressing its advantage against Iraq. Assuming this is true (and Pollack is persuasive on the point), it reveals two things. First, the Iranians have a deeply ingrained suspicion of the United States. Second, that they can be influenced by a demonstration of our will. How these two lessons affect the present crisis is not clear.
First, the Iranians have a deeply ingrained suspicion of the United States. Second, that they can be influenced by a demonstration of our will.
And yet, all I keep hearing from the spokesmen for Iran's ruling elite is how little the US can do to hurt them. (Perhaps they protest too much?)
Another sidelight to the shootdown... I seem to recall that there was a corresponding suspicion that the Iranians had deliberately sent the airliner on a collision course with the Vincennes, to what purpose I don't now recall, but I'd suggest a cynical desire on their part to embarrass us at any cost.
Pure speculation, but given the character of the regime it doesn't seem entirely beyond the realm of possibility.
When I was in the gulf in '96 my ship's Captain had been a department head on the Vincennes at the time of the shootdown. I also served with some enlisted who had been on the Stark when it was attacked. Real interesting people to talk to.
I nay case, I remain convinced that the Vincennes shootdown was a tragic error. I don't reallyt believe the Navy could maintain a coverup of years. Bureaucracies are notoriously leaky that way.
Today (17 May 2006) marks the 19th anniversary of the only successful (if accidental) missile attack on a U.S. warship. Lest we forget: Photos of the damaged USS Stark.
I have written a book about the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf during the years 1987-1988. It includes all the events from Stark through Vincennes, including Operation Praying Mantis which was America's largest sea battle since WW2.