EDITORIAL: It’s not the end of times – just the end of Bush

It’s too late, baby

Yesterday, in an address to government and business leaders in Abu Dhabi, President Bush said, “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. So the United States is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf — and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late.”

Bush may take comfort in the knowledge that, according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev and as the Jerusalem Post reports, “Israel and the US are ‘on the same page‘ regarding the gravity of the Iranian nuclear threat and their commitment to thwart it.” Even so, when Bush says “before its too late” to his Arab friends, most of them are probably taking comfort in completing that line with, “before its too late… for Bush to do anything about it.” He frets about only twelve months left on the clock — the rest of the world can’t wait for his term to end.

Witness the spectacle of an international “incident” that after a few days has devolved into a debate about a Filipino Monkey. The only comfort the White House can take from this drama is that the press never even noticed when the stage upon which it was set, came into question.

Iranian speedboats threatened US warships in international waters in the Straits of Hormuz. So far only one analyst — Kaveh L Afrasiabi, writing in Asia Times — has pointed out the most basic factual error in this account: there are no international waters in the Straits of Hormuz.

Let’s repeat that: there are no international waters in the Straits of Hormuz. The U.S. ships were in Iranian territorial waters exercising the “right of transit passage” afforded to them in international law by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which the United States has signed but which Congress has yet to ratify. This is why in the video of the incident, a U.S. naval officer can be heard saying, “I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law.”

However provocatively the Iranian speedboats might have been behaving, if from the outset, this incident had been reported as occurring inside Iranian territorial waters, the Pentagon’s first task would have been to educate the press and the public about some of the technicalities of international law as it applies to the Straits of Hormuz. That lesson would have sucked the air out of the story and Bush would have landed in Tel Aviv deprived of what he was clearly eager to employ in his latest round of fear-mongering rhetoric. Absent this rallying cry, there might have been a tiny possibility that he pay a bit of attention to the real concerns that resonate across the region.

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Comments

  1. Agreed, there are no international waters in the Straits, but the wikipedia maps show the designated shipping lanes as being in Omani, not Iranian waters. Has either side released coordinates for the encounter?

  2. As David points out, the shipping lanes — as marked on this map — stay inside Omani waters on the turn of the Hormuz Straits. However, the inbound lane, soon after the turn, enters Iranian waters, and the fact that a US shipman, addressing an Iranian made reference to “transit passage” seems to strongly infer that the US ships were at that point (as they must frequently be) moving along the inbound shipping lane inside Iranian territorial waters. Coordinates from the beginning to the end of the encounter could of course provide some clarity here. That said, the Pentagon has already undermined its credibility as it has repeatedly revised its account of what happened.

  3. I was amused by the Asia Times article talking about legal actions against the U.S. for abusing the right of transit passage. The U.S. recognizes international law only when the U.S. feels like it. Any judgement in an international court of law would be unenforcible short of enforcing it via missiles and guns, which at this point in time would be disaster for any power trying it. Iran’s leaders may talk a tough talk for domestic consumption, but they’re not nuts, and aren’t going to fire the first shot regardless of what an international court tells them their rights are…

  4. There are no international waters in the Strait, but there are at the end of the strait. The incident with the Iranian patrol boats occurred after transit when the ships were about 15 miles from shore.

    According to an Iranian press conference on the 13th, the actual transit was lawful and normal. An Iranian shore station queried the ships for identification, position and course and the ships replied (this is when one of the ships said it was exercising the right of straits transit).

    According to the Iranians that later queried the ships after the had moved to the Gulf. The spoke with another ship that at that time said they were in international waters. After that, the Iranian patrol boats, which had been dispatched earlier, caught up with the navy ships, queried them for information and did their various maneuvers.

    There is a world of difference between the events reported by the people in the region (both US and Iranian) and the portrayal made by the President. I don’t believe that means that the people on the scene lied about their position or the events that took place.

  5. Andrew John says

    The straits of Hormuz at its narrowest is 32 miles, most is more than 50 miles. So at its narrowest there is 8 miles of international water. Considering naval war ships can travel over 30 miles on hour, this would mean they are in this narrow part for a little more than a minute. The persian gulf is not an iranian lake.

  6. What if Iran had invaded Mexico under false pretences (those nasty Mexican weapons of mass destruction) and had it’s ships operating just a few miles off the gulf coast of Texas and had called America an ‘Axis of evil’ country? Let’s keep it in context.

  7. To John Andrew—What if the Chineses navy just happen to sail down the St Lawerence River 30 mph.Reason–protecting their interests– I hope USA has a bad taste of a depression for years to come Johnie Boy–good Fixer!

  8. Washington makes the rules and others had better follow them or else!! that is the reality of how this planet is now run by those who control our national government. Soon after he started his midadventure in Iraq in 1990 the elder Bush succinctly told the world, “What WE say goes!!” He did not need to describe who “WE” was as most of the world knew it was not the average grunts fighting wars that his elite friends make sure others do the fighting to achieve U.S. global domination. The waters surrounding Iran are not different than the Gulf of Sidra where our navy routinely flaunted its power against Libya going to far that our “Top Guns” shot down two Libyan planes on sight without a war being declared to justify such aggression. This nonsense will end because history has shown us empires are unsustainable and eventually end up in the dumpster. Steve, US Navy, World War 2.

  9. Hello Andrew John,
    If the straits of Hormuz have 8 miles of international water at their narrowest and a U.S. Navy warship can travel about 30 mph (I know they use nautical miles but I’m too lazy) then it would take 16 minutes for a U.S. Navy warship to travel 8 miles.
    Best,
    Bob Consoli