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Provoking World War III with Iran and a U.S. History of Provocation

Provoking World War III with Iran and a U.S. History of Provocation

In the history of the United States and its history of interventionism, the recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman seem to be foreboding and ominous signs of what may come—an inevitable war with the Islamic Republic of Iran? To many who are watching the region closely, it is still unclear if Iran is behind such attacks. Moreover, and, thankfully, President Donald J. Trump backed away from bombing Iran after the Iranians allegedly and recently shot down a U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz.

Even so, the bellicose rhetoric between President Trump (threatening Iran’s “obliteration”) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (calling Trump “mentally retarded”) have continued. Watching from the sidelines, everyone hopes diplomacy will prevail.

Let us examine U.S. interventionism past more closely. I know of four clear international instances where the United States intervened under dubious circumstances, initiating war.

The first happened just before the beginning of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). President James K. Polk sent American troops to the Rio Grande River under the command of Zachary Taylor. The Mexicans had believed that the border had been at the Nueces River, not the Rio Grande, the Nueces being significantly north of the Rio Grande. This move was provocative and incited Mexican forces to attack the U.S. Army at its fortifications on the Rio Grande in 1846. As the attacks on U.S. soldiers were reported by Taylor to Polk, the U.S. Congress promptly declared war on Mexico.

Yet, in understanding these incidents, we have to likewise understand the motivations of the historical actors. Polk strongly believed in the Manifest Destiny of the United States to conquer the territories west of the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.

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