The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

An “act of war”

July 10, 2008

Examine these two policy-related statements and see if you can spot the nuclear illogic in one of these positions.

First, this is Iran’s statement after its missile tests, as reported by The Scotsman:

“The first US shot on Iran would set the United States’ vital interests in the world on fire,” said Ali Shirazi, a mid-ranking cleric who is Khamenei’s representative to the naval forces of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards. “Tel Aviv and the US fleet in the Persian Gulf would be targets that would be set on fire in Iran’s crushing response,” he said.

Next, the US position, according to an AP writer:

In late June, Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, who was then the commander of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, said any attempt by Iran to seal off the Strait of Hormuz would be viewed as an act of war.

Did you spot the problem?

Yes, an Iranian attack on the Strait of Hormuz would be an act of war — but the Iranian position seems to be that war would already have started after a US attack on its nuclear program.

I heard this same sequence on TV this morning, so don’t think I’m just pasting together two different stories.

In this case, I could blame the media for taking a US quote from June and using it out of context this week. However, it appears that Vice Admiral Cosgriff was considering virtually the same scenario when he offered his threat:

An Iranian newspaper reported over the weekend that one of the country’s generals said Iran would take control of the key oil passageway in the Gulf if it were provoked.

Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, commander of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, told journalists in Bahrain on Monday that “any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz is an act of war” and said the U.S. would not allow it.

Surely Cosgriff understands the concept of retaliation, so this rhetoric must be intended to stir political support for American hectoring.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.