Bernie: No, I don't believe Trump and Pompeo when they say that Iran attacked those oil tankers

Another reminder of how strange it is that an anti-war conspiracy theory is circulating in respectable-ish wings of American politics and not only is Donald Trump not a proponent, he’s the head of the government that’s being targeted by it.

Bernie’s British counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, also questioned Iran’s culpability in the tanker attack recently and got ripped for it by the Tory foreign secretary:

Sanders won’t be so easily shamed. He came to his MSNBC interview today armed with the proverbial receipts for his position, the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the Saddam WMD fiasco, and he enjoys some unlikely support for his skepticism among top U.S. allies. In particular, the Japanese government is reluctant to spoil its friendly relations with Iran by accepting American claims that Iran bombed the tankers without further proof:

But Japanese government officials remain unconvinced, the sources said. “The U.S. explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation,” said one senior government official.

Japan has been seeking more concrete evidence through various channels, including Foreign Minister Taro Kono who is likely to have made the request during a call with his counterpart on Friday, the sources said…

If having expertise sophisticated enough to conduct the attack could be a reason to conclude that the attacker was Iran, “That would apply to the United States and Israel as well,” said a source at the Foreign Ministry.

Iraq is on their minds too:

“We can’t make any statement based on a presumption,” said the senior diplomat, adding that the U.S. government should disclose more information on the Hormuz incident.

Another government source referred to the Iraq war, which the United States initiated after intelligence analyses of Iraq falsely pointed to the country possessing weapons of mass destruction…

A former Cabinet member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party even suggested the possibility of a U.S. conspiracy behind the tanker attacks.

Angela Merkel has been more diplomatic about it, claiming that she takes the United States’s allegations about Iranian culpability “very seriously,” but she’s noncommittal too. Germany’s more worried about what remains of the nuclear deal falling apart if Iran doesn’t get some relief from U.S. sanctions soon. Siding with Trump on the tanker incident might rupture relations between Tehran and Europe, raising tensions in the Gulf further, risking a U.S.-Iran war, and possibly leading Iran to attempt a nuclear “breakout.”

As Ed noted earlier, Trump himself is attempting to find a path between his hawkish advisors on the one hand and his interest in some sort of grand bargain with Iran on the other. He’s siding with U.S. intelligence (this time) in accusing Iran of bombing the tankers — but he’s downplaying the incident, calling it “very minor,” certainly not grounds for war. That’s one thing that makes Bernie’s false-flag insinuations here ring hollow: There’s little evidence that Trump himself wants a military conflict, in which case the alleged “false flag” with the tankers is supposedly a pretext for … what, exactly? Presumably Sanders would say that he’s less concerned about Trump’s appetite for war than about Bolton’s and Pompeo’s, but Trump’s advisors haven’t led him around by the nose on foreign policy. His two summits with Kim Jong Un doubtless made his hawkish deputies’ skin crawl, but they happened anyway. CNN is reporting this afternoon, in fact, that Trump has warned his staff recently that “he isn’t interested in wading into another conflict in the Middle East” and “regime change should not be in the cards.”

To my mind, the best argument for believing that Iran really is behind the tanker attacks is how “very minor” they were. An enemy power looking to frame Iran for the bombing wouldn’t have an incentive to go small; they should have wanted to go big, making the attack as devastating as possible. The more blood and oil spilled in the explosion, the more ruthless and renegade Iran would appear. In reality, the mines that exploded on the tankers’ hulls not only didn’t do much damage, they were placed safely above the water line seemingly to ensure that the ships wouldn’t be flooded. The bombings smacked of a symbolic gesture, something calibrated to send a message without damaging the ships so heavily that a military response would be required. That’s exactly in line with Iran’s goals. They wanted to signal their impatience with U.S. sanctions and to suggest to their European friends that they might close oil commerce in the Gulf if they don’t get economic relief soon, but they didn’t want to risk a conflagration from it. So they took a couple of potshots at the tankers. Point made, no harm done. Who else in the region would have that same incentive?