In a closed-door briefing Tuesday on alleged new military threats from Iran, acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn’t persuade House Democrats that Tehran has done anything to warrant the war talk being spouted by Donald Trump and certain members of the Senate, such as Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, who last week said a war with Iran would be ended with just two U.S. strikes. Lawmakers emerged from the hearing expressing opinions that fell along party lines:
Representative Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and a Marine Corps veteran who fought in Iraq, said he was alarmed that White House officials including National Security Advisor John Bolton appear to be pushing for military action in Iran, even if President Donald Trump would prefer to keep his campaign pledge to avoid costly foreign conflicts. Gallego compared current tensions to the run-up to U.S. military action in Iraq in 2003.
“I truly believe that the intel is being misinterpreted and misrepresented by Secretary Pompeo, by Bolton and other people that do want us to go to war in Iran as a repeat to Iraq,” Gallego said as he left the briefing.
Trump’s recent threats to unleash Armageddon have—thankfully, so far—been shown to be nothing more than bluffs from another of those masculinity-challenged fellows who think talking tough makes them tough. Nonetheless, when he’s imitating Clint Eastwood movie dialogue with tweets about bringing on the “official end of Iran,” it’s hard to know for certain whether the man who can launch the most sophisticated nuclear arsenal on the planet is serious or just being his usual blustery self.
After stoking worries at home and abroad, among allies and foes alike, that war with Iran might be imminent, Trump has backed off a bit in the past few days, allowing noninterventionists who follow such matters most closely to stop holding their breath. On Sunday, Trump said he doesn’t want to go to war with Iran, just as has been the case with Iran’s leaders, including the head of the nation’s militant Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Washington recently labeled a foreign terrorist organization. “I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News, adding, “I don’t want to fight … but you do have situations like Iran, you can’t let them have nuclear weapons—you just can’t let that happen.”
If this weren’t so serious, that assertion would be hilarious.
Twenty months of negotiations with Iran by the United States, the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Germany led to the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran. Under that agreement, Tehran agreed to curtail its nuclear development program for at least a decade in exchange for the suspension of economic sanctions imposed to get Iranian leaders to the negotiating table.
Even some prominent Democrats who support the agreement believe it is flawed and needs altering. But that’s a far cry from Trump’s stance. From the moment he began his election campaign, he was intent on trashing that deal—at least in part because it was brought about by President Barack Obama’s efforts. Trump stomped it last May, immediately reimposing some old sanctions and gradually imposing new ones, thus launching an economic war that is taking a huge toll on Iran’s economy. The potential for hyperinflation is looming, and exports of oil have fallen from last year’s 2.7 million barrels a day to fewer than a million barrels a day now, with prospects they will fall to 300,000 or so by the end of 2019. The Iranian economy is screaming.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel told reporters that Tuesday’s intelligence briefing contained nothing new and did little to quell Democrats’ view that the Trump regime is rushing toward war with Iran. Any military action against Iran, he and other Democrats say, requires congressional approval.
Democrats also noted that the renewed sanctions—imposed despite the fact that Iran had complied with every provision of the nuclear pact, according to international inspectors—have not succeeded in forcing Tehran to renegotiate. On the contrary, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said absolutely not as far as new negotiations are concerned. “Today’s situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only,” he said Monday.
That same day, Iran announced that it is quadrupling its capacity to produce enriched uranium, a fuel for both nuclear power plants and, if enriched at high enough levels, nuclear weapons. This violates the accord, just as Trump’s reimposition of sanctions does. The increased enrichment will soon push Iran over the stockpile limits provided for in the nuclear accord, but Iran made clear that it only plans to enrich uranium to the 3.67% limit, the level needs for a power plant but not nearly enough to build a nuclear bomb.
A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released Tuesday showed that 53% of Americans say Iran is a “serious” or “imminent” threat, but 60% say they oppose a preemptive attack on the Iranian military, and 61% still support the nuclear accord. Of those polled, 12% advocated a first strike, but 79% said that the U.S. military should retaliate if Iran were to attack the United States first, with 40% backing only airstrikes and 39% favoring a full invasion that would include ground troops.