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The conventions of mainstream journalism make it difficult to challenge America’s self-conception as a peace-loving nation. But the unlovely truth is this: Throughout its history, America has attacked countries that did not threaten it.

To carry out such wars, American leaders have contrived pretexts to justify American aggression. That’s what Donald Trump’s administration—and especially its national security adviser, John Bolton—is doing now with Iran.

The historical examples abound. William McKinley’s administration sought a pretext for war in 1898, when—driven by the desire to evict Spain from its colonies in the Caribbean—it ignored evidence that an internal explosion, not a Spanish attack, had blown up the USS Maine in Havana’s harbor.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson exaggerated a North Vietnamese attack on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin to win congressional approval to escalate the Vietnam War. In 1986, Ronald Reagan’s administration sent warplanes toward Libya’s coast to provoke the missile fire that would justify an American bombing campaign.

In 1997, according to the memoir of General Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a top official in Bill Clinton’s administration suggested that the general lure Saddam Hussein into shooting down a U-2 spy plane over Iraq so the U.S. would have the “precipitous event” it needed “to go in and take out Saddam.” (Shelton refused.)

In their book, Hubris, David Corn and Michael Isikoff recount a 2002 CIA plan to help Iraqi exiles take over an Iraqi air base and thus, in the words of one of the plan’s authors, “create an incident in which Saddam lashes out” so “you’d have a premise for war.”

Bolton is doing something similar today. For more than a decade, he’s consistently promoted war with Iran. All that has changed are the pretexts he’s offering to justify one. Read more

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