MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- In early January, this oceanfront resort community is usually a pretty quiet place. This year, however, nothing is usual. This week, hotel rooms are packed, and the lobbies are crowded with presidential candidates, their campaign aides, political activists and more than 700 members of the international press corps. They are all here to participate in a series of debates and the upcoming first-in-the-South primary election. I also have discovered that among the media are a number of aliens from a parallel universe where nothing seems as it is.
This morning, as I stepped off the elevator, I was ambushed by several of my Fourth Estate colleagues. They wanted my opinion -- not about the presidential campaigns, not about the surprise planned deployment of 3,000 more U.S. Marines to Afghanistan but about last week's incident in the Strait of Hormuz.
Referring to the Jan. 6 episode in which five Iranian patrol boats made high-speed runs toward and around three U.S. warships transiting the vital, 21-mile-wide waterway, one of the reporters asked, "Doesn't this seem suspiciously like the Tonkin Gulf Incident in 1965?"
Taken aback, I responded, "Not from what I have seen on the U.S. Navy videotape shot from the bridge of the destroyer USS Hopper. It clearly shows high-speed vessels racing around the cruiser USS Port Royal and the frigate USS Ingraham. The accompanying soundtrack confirms what President Bush said -- that this was a provocative act and that the Iranians were threatening our warships in international waters."
My answer was clearly insufficient for my inquisitor. "Well, what about the Iranian navy videotape that shows nothing even remotely threatening?" one asked.
In an effort to end the "interview," I answered, "Those who believe the Iranian version of any incident are people who hate America or those who believe that every event is part of some grand conspiracy theory. Which one are you?"
Hoping that my response was offensive enough to end the line of questioning, I headed out the door. But before I could make my escape, one of the other correspondents caught up with me. To my surprise, he posed a legitimate query: "Why would the Iranians confront three U.S. warships?"
"I don't know," I replied, "but I'll call some friends, and if I learn anything I can write or talk about, I'll put it in my column this week."
Here's a recap of some of what I learned from current and former military and intelligence officers this week:
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.