July 3, 2017

THUS ENDED IRANIAN TERRORISM:

SEA OF LIES (JOHN BARRY AND ROGER CHARLES ON 7/12/92, Newsweek)

The modern navy has many ladders. Its officers can earn their stripes at sea or in the air. They can prosper by navigating the shoals of technocracy. But the one sure path to glory is the same as in Roman times: victory at sea. Sailing in harm's way is a matter of vocation.

Capt. Will Rogers III, USN, spent his career preparing for combat. Winning his commission in December 1965 at the age of 27, Rogers came late to the navy, but he made up for lost time with a gung-ho attitude and-after a spell on the staff of the chief of naval operations --friends in high places. In 1987, Rogers won command of the navy's most prized high-tech hip, an Aegis cruiser. The billion-dollar Vincennes seemed a sure ticket to flag rank. But Rogers, who, like many peacetime naval officers had never been under fire, longed to see action.

On July 3, 1988, Captain Rogers got his wish. He sought out and engaged the enemy in a sea battle in the Persian Gulf. From the captain's chair of a warship's combat information center, he made life-and-death decisions in the heat of conflict. It was the moment he had yearned and trained for, and it should have been the apex of his life in the service.

Only it wasn't much of a battle. Rogers had blundered into a murky, half-secret confrontation between the United States and Iran that the politicians did not want to declare and the top brass was not eager to wage. The enemy was not a disciplined naval force but ragtag irregulars in lightly armed speedboats. Fighting them with an Aegis cruiser was like shooting at rabbits with a radar-guided missile. And when it was over, the only confirmed casualties were innocent civilians: 290 passengers and crew in an Iranian Airbus that Captain Rogers's men mistook for an enemy warplane.

The destruction of Iran Air Flight 655 was an appalling human tragedy. It damaged America's world standing. It almost surely caused Iran to delay the release of the American hostages in Lebanon. It may also have given the mullahs a motive for revenge-and provoked Teheran into playing a role in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103. For the navy, it was a professional disgrace. The navy's most expensive surface warship, designed to track and shoot down as many as 200 incoming missiles at once, had blown apart an innocent civilian airliner in its first time in combat. What's more, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters at the time of the shoot-down--in clear violation of international law. The top Pentagon brass understood from the beginning that if the whole truth about the Vincennes came out, it would mean months of humiliating headlines. So the U.S. Navy did what all navies do after terrible blunders at sea: it told lies and handed out medals.

This is the story of a naval fiasco, of an overeager captain, panicked crewmen, and the cover-up that followed. 

Ironically, while it was accidental, it conformed with the image of the Great Satan that the leaders of the Revolution had come to believe.  So it appeared we were willing to even shoot down passenger jets and that was an asymmetrical war too far for them.

Posted by at July 3, 2017 5:33 AM

  

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