“The focus for myself and Ambassador Bolton and Secretary Pompeo is to build international consensus to this international problem,” acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters outside the Pentagon on Friday.
Shanahan went on to say that the Pentagon would contribute to this effort by sharing intelligence with allies, as it did Friday when it released a video it claims shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) removing an undetonated mine from the hull of one of two tankers attacked that morning.
For National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, consensus-building will likely take a different shape. Pompeo has already blamed Iran for the attack, citing non-specific “intelligence” and Tehran’s alleged history of “unprovoked attacks” in the region. The State Secretary has jetted off in search of consensus before; taking a tour of the Middle East at the beginning of the year to unite the US’ Arab allies against Iran.
Bolton has been clamoring for war with Iran for over a decade, advocating pre-emptive strikes on the Islamic Republic since 2008. Shaping consensus for him will likely entail more beating of the war drums on the international stage.
Why build consensus at all? There are two reasons: moral and material.
The US paints itself not as the “world police” but as a moral beacon, an exemplar for “democracies” to aspire to and follow, so the more allies sign on to its cause the more legitimate it looks.
On a more practical level, going against Tehran is not an endeavor the US can do alone. Iran has a population of nearly 90 million people, the world’s 14th-most powerful military, a navy and array of land-to-sea missiles capable of inflicting devastating losses on American ships in the Persian Gulf, and the ability to close off the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s oil transits.
Put simply, the US needs allies on its side, believing its story and fighting its fight, either diplomatically or militarily.
When Washington-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself President of Venezuela in January, the US was waiting in the wings to recognize him, having strangled the country with economic sanctions for years in preparation for just this moment, allowing it to declare President Nicolas Maduro had run the country into the ground with his evil corrupt socialist dictatorship, Venezuelans were eating their dogs and zoo animals, and the time had come to recognize this fresh young face whom only a fifth of the country had ever heard of.