Persian Gulf Update: Warships, Warships Everywhere


Richard Moore

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. / Commentary / tomdispatch
Where is the USS Nimitz?

In the latest flurry of media coverage on U.S.-Iranian standoff, the mainstream 
media has neglected to mention that the United States is massing warships in the
Persian Gulf. Why?

Michael T. Clare and Renato Redentor Constantino
May 03 , 2007
These articles originally appeared on
Warships, Warships Everywhere, and Many a Bomb to Drop
Persian Gulf Update
By Michael T. Klare

Looking down from the captain's deck some six stories high, the flight deck of 
the USS Nimitz is an impressive sight indeed: 80 sleek warplanes armed with 
bombs and missiles are poised for takeoff at any minute, day or night. The sight
of these planes coming and going from that 1,100-foot-long flight deck is almost
beyond description. I can attest to this, having sailed on the Nimitz 25 years 
ago as a reporter for Mother Jones magazine.

Today, the Nimitz is rapidly approaching the Persian Gulf, where it will join 
two other U.S. aircraft carriers and the French carrier Charles De Gaulle in the
largest concentration of naval firepower in the region since the launching of 
the U.S. invasion of Iraq four years ago.

Why this concentration now? Officially, the Nimitz is on its way to the Gulf to 
replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is due to return to the United 
States for crew leave and ship maintenance after months on station. But the U.S.
Central Command (Centcom), which exercises command authority over all U.S. 
forces in the Persian Gulf area, refuses to say when the Eisenhower will 
actually depart -- or even when the Nimitz will arrive.

For a time, at least, the United States will have three carrier battle groups in
the region. The USS John C. Stennis is the third. Each carrier is accompanied by
a small flotilla of cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and support vessels, many 
equipped with Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles (TLAMs). Minimally, this 
gives modern meaning to the classic imperial term "gunboat diplomacy," which 
makes it all the stranger that the deployment of the Nimitz is covered in our 
media, if at all, as the most minor of news stories. And when the Nimitz sailed 
off into the Pacific last month on its way to the Gulf, it simply disappeared 
off media radar screens like some classic "lost patrol."

Rest assured, unlike us, the Iranians have noticed. After all, with the arrival 
of the Nimitz battle group, the Bush administration will be -- for an unknown 
period of time -- in an optimal position to strike Iran with a punishing array 
of bombs and missiles should the President decide to carry out his oft-repeated 
threat to eliminate Iran's nuclear program through military action. "All 
options," as the administration loves to say, remain ominously "on the table."

Meanwhile, negotiations to resolve the impasse with Iran over its pursuit of 
uranium-enrichment technology -- a possible first step to the manufacture of 
nuclear weapons -- continue at the United Nations in New York and in various 
European capitals. So far, the Iranians have refused to give any ground, 
claiming that their activities are intended for peaceful uses only and so are 
permitted under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which it is a 
signatory. The United States has made vague promises of improved relations if 
and when Iran terminates its nuclear program, but the full burden of making 
initial concessions falls on Tehran.

Just this weekend, a conference in Egypt, called by Iraqi officials to explore 
regional approaches to stability in the region (with Iranian officials expected 
to be in attendance), was being viewed in Washington as yet another opportunity 
to pressure Tehran to be more submissive to the West's demands on a wide range 
of issues, including Iranian support for Shiite militias in Iraq.

President Bush keeps insisting that he would like to see these "diplomatic" 
endeavors -- as he describes them -- succeed, but he has yet to bring up a 
single proposal or incentive that might offer any realistic prospect of 
eliciting a positive Iranian response.

And so, knowing that his "diplomatic" efforts are almost certain to fail, Bush 
may simply be waiting for the day when he can announce to the American people 
that he has "tried everything"; that "his patience has run out"; and that he can
"no longer risk the security of the American people" by "indulging in further 
fruitless negotiations," thereby allowing the Iranians "to proceed farther down 
the path of nuclear bomb-making," and so has taken the perilous but necessary 
step of ordering American forces to conduct air and missile strikes on Iranian 
nuclear facilities. At that point, the 80 planes aboard the Nimitz -- and those 
on the Eisenhower and the Stennis as well -- will be on their way to targets in 
Iran, along with hundreds of TLAMs and a host of other weapons now being 
assembled in the Gulf.

Forever Iran
On the Fortuitous Poverty of Memory
By Renato Redentor Constantino
An opening benediction:


Hallowed Homeland, great Fatherland,
Bless the star-spangled armada massing today in the Persian Gulf.
Bless the gallant, nuclear-powered cavalry.

They have come once more near the place of the malefactors called Iranians to 
punish purveyors of fell deeds.

Glorious, indispensable nation,
Bless your cruisers, destroyers, and submarines.

Part the sea for the steel raiment of the USS Nimitz, the USS Dwight D. 
Eisenhower, and the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier battle groups.

Purify your soldiers so they may do the bidding of the red, white and Bush.

Bring them to temptation but lead them away from the epiphany of remembrance.

The men do not care to remember,
And the women would rather forget,
And the innocent bombs, they know not what they do.

Twenty stark years ago, on May 17, 1987, a double act of Exocet missiles skimmed
through the air and slammed into the American Perry-class frigate the USS Stark.

The first Exocet antiship missile punched into the warship "at 600 miles per 
hour and exploded in the forward crew's quarters." The warhead failed to 
detonate but managed to smash through seven bulkheads and spit 120 pounds of 
blazing rocket fuel into the ship's bunks.

Half a minute later, the second missile exploded, creating a 3,500-degree 
fireball that turned most of the 37 American victims of the attack into ash. The
ship burned for two days, according to the celebrated British war reporter 
Robert Fisk, who replowed the soil of the incident in his fine memoir, The Great
War for Civilization. "Even after she was taken in tow," wrote Fisk, "the fires 
kept reigniting."

"Memory is a complicated thing," says Barbara Kingsolver in her novel Animal 
Dreams. "It's a relative of truth but not its twin."

The deadly missile attack on the USS Stark was unleashed by a Mirage F-1 jet -- 
flown by an Iraqi pilot who mistook the U.S. warship for an Iranian vessel. At 
that moment, Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran were in the 
seventh year of a war that had begun in 1980 with a surprise Iraqi invasion.

The act of aggression that claimed the lives of the Stark's precious men and 
women in uniform elicited a fierce barrage of angry denunciation from the United
States. The assault was despicable, villainous, and depraved. These were the 
words of a bellicose U.S. establishment and they were aimed -- at Iran.

Glory to the gospel of perpetual dividends. This was the 1980s, after all; a 
time when the Reagan administration was still busy fondling Saddam Hussein.

There would be no counter-strike at Iraq, of course. Not then. And the angriest 
criticism would come from Secretary of State Caspar Weinberger, who described 
the attack as "indiscriminate." "Apparently," said Weinberger, the Iraqi pilot 
"didn't care enough to find out what ship he was shooting at."

"We've never considered them hostile at all," was the way President Ronald 
Reagan described Saddam's military. "They've never been in any way hostile... 
And the villain in the piece is Iran."

The Iraqi attack on the USS Stark and the loss of American lives proved an 
opportunity, which America's high and mighty, Democrats as well as Republicans, 
immediately seized upon. Responding to the great loss of lives "in a spasm of 
rage at the one country that had nothing to do with the American deaths," 
Republican Senator and ex-Secretary of the Navy John Warner denounced Iran as "a
belligerent that knows no rules, no morals." In language that hinted of military
action, Democratic Senator John Glenn slammed Iran as "the sponsor of terrorism 
and the hijacker of airliners."

It was the first and only successful cruise missile attack on a U.S. Navy 
warship. Iraqi officials determined that the American frigate was inside their 
"forbidden zone" and never produced the plane's pilot. The captain of the USS 
Stark was relieved of his command and his executive officer was disciplined for 
"dereliction of duty."

A little over a year after the attack, on July 3, 1988, two surface-to-air 
missiles are fired by the USS Vincennes, an Aegis-class cruiser, reportedly 
inside Iranian territorial waters at the time, at Iran Air flight 655. The first
missile cut the civilian airliner in half. All 290 passengers and crew aboard 
the Iranian airbus were killed.

In her coffin, reported Fisk, who, at the time, was in the Iranian port city of 
Bandar Abbas where the human remains of flight 655 were collected, Leila 
Behbahani was still in the same garments and bracelets that she had worn when 
she was fished out of the water minutes after the Vincennes brought down the 
passenger plane -- a green dress and white pinafore, two bright gold bangles on 
each wrist, white socks, and tiny black shoes. Leila was three-years old. There 
were 66 children on board the aircraft.

The Pentagon claimed that the Vincennes shot down the Iranian plane because it 
appeared the pilot was attempting to fly it into the warship -- even though the 
USS Sides, a frigate in the area, recorded the airliner climbing, not diving.

Glory to the Homeland.

When the Vincennes returned to San Diego, its homeport, the ship was given a 
hero's welcome, while the members of the crew were "all awarded combat action 
ribbons." The air warfare coordinator of the ship won the Navy's Commendation 
Medal "for heroic achievement" for the "ability to maintain his poise and 
confidence under fire." Citizens in Vincennes, Indiana, raised money to build a 
monument -- not to the dead Iranians but to the ship that shot them down.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire
College and author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's 
Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum.

Renato Redentor Constantino is a writer and painter based in Quezon City in the 
Philippines. He is the author of The Poverty of Memory: Essays on History and 

[Note: All the accounts of the missile attack on the USS Stark and the downing 
of Iranian flight 655 are from Robert Fisk's harrowing book The Great War for 
Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East.]

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This article has been made possible by the Foundation for National Progress, the
Investigative Fund of Mother Jones, and gifts from generous readers like you.

© 2007 The Foundation for National Progress

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