The Trump administration and its domestic political allies are laying the groundwork for a possible confrontation with Iran without the explicit consent of Congress – a public relations campaign that was already under way before top officials accused the Islamic Republic of attacking a pair of oil tankers last week in the Gulf of Oman
Over the past few months, senior Trump aides have made the case in public and private that the administration already has the legal authority to take military action against Iran, citing a law nearly two decades old that w [Continued Below]
In the latest sign of escalating tensions, National Security Adviser John Bolton warned Iran in an interview conducted last week and published Monday, "They would be making a big mistake if they doubted the president's resolve on this. ”Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan announced on Monday evening that the US was deploying and additional 1,000 troops to the region for "defensive purposes." And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo jetted to Tampa, home of Central Command, on Monday evening to huddle with military officials to discuss "regional security concerns and ongoing operations," to a State Department spokeswoman
The developments came as Iran announced it was on course to violate a core element of its nuclear deal with major world powers, exceeding the amount of enriched uranium allowed under the agreement in 10 days unless European nations intervened to blunt the economic pain of American sanctions. And they came as U.S. Officials promoted video footage and showing what they say were Iranian forces planting explosive devices on commercial oil tankers.
Even as the president's hawkish advisers have highlighted Iran's alleged bad behavior, administration officials privately stressed that immediate military action remained highly unlikely in an Iranian attack on an American ship or American citizen. The president, who campaigned against getting the U.S. bogged down in unnecessary foreign wars, is considered the primary internal obstacle to a counterattack, officials said, noting that Trump continues to press for an improved nuclear deal.
Still, to the alarm of Democrats and some Republicans, Pompeo has suggested that If the administration does take military action, it might rely on the 2001 congressional bill that greenlighted America's military response to the 9/11 attacks on Iran. Asked Sunday by CBS host Margaret Brennan whether the administration believed it had the authority to initiate military action, Pompeo would say only, "Every option we look at will be fully lawful."
And Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ally of the administration, urged the president to attack Iran outright – adding that he didn't need permission from Congress. "Uncategorized attacks on commercial shipping warrant," Cotton told Brennan. "The president has the authority to defend American interests," he said.
But in a sign of some unease among other Republicans, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) customs POLITICO that she was discussing the legitimacy of justification – and of military retaliation itself – with her colleagues this week. [Tramphassentconflictingmessagesabouthisownintentions-onedaysignalinghisDesiretonegotiatewiththeclericalregimeinTehranthenextdismissingofIranasunclearforserioustalks”WhileIverymuchappreciatePMAbegoingtoIranwithAyatollahAliKhamenei”TrumptweetedlastThursday“Ipersonallyfeelthatit"Theyarenotreadyandneitherarewe!"
"The regime in Tehran is testing American patience with violence in the Gulf," said Jonah. than Schanzer, senior vice president at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “The administration now has to weigh its options.”
In some of Pompeo's recent pronouncements, many on the left, and a few on the right, see the Trump team paving a path to war.
In April, the State Department named the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, a legal designation that some fear could be used to link the elite paramilitary force with al Qaeda. Later, Pompeo also said Iran had "instigated" on May 31 suicide attack on and U.S. Convoy in Afghanistan, though the Taliban claimed credit for the incident.
Pressed by CBS's Brennan on Sunday, Pompeo reiterated the claim. "[W] e have confidence that Iran instigated this attack," he said. “I can't share any more of the intelligence. But I could not have said that the intelligence community had become convinced that this was the case. ”
The secretary of state's efforts to link Iran and al Qaeda and to terrorism more broadly have become a flashpoint in multiple congressional hearings this spring – and they have taken on renewed significance given the growing possibility of a military confrontation between the two countries.
"It's not surprising that you have a child of revision of the AUMF because here you have what looks like the potential. for a child of real escalation, ”said Dennis Ross, the veteran Middle East negotiator, referring to the 2001 bill that authorized military action against any national or individual involved in the 9/11 attacks.
actually no real relationship to this, ”Ross added. "It probably didn't name Iran and there comes a point where many in Congress want to have oversight about getting into a shooting war with Iran."
As the president's senior national security advisers huddled on Monday to consider how to respond to Iran, it was unclear how close the US was inching to military action. Schanzer, for one, cast skepticism on an unattributed report in the Jerusalem Post on Monday that the U.S. had drawn up plans for a limited bombing campaign against a Iranian nuclear facility.
A senior administration official said Monday that the goal of the administration's maximum pressure policy remains for the regime back to the table to negotiate a new and improved nuclear deal.
Iran has thus been careful to Avoid attacks on American vessels – an internal administration red line that would force a military response, this official said. Administration allies including FDD’s chief executive, Mark Dubowitz, said that while he expects U.S. Sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to increase, it is less clear whether military action will result in an immediate attack on an American ship or American citizen.
The president himself is caught between competing impulses: his disdain for the 2015 deal The Obama administration struck with Iran and his desire to strike a contrast, on the one hand, and his reluctance to get into another war in the Middle East on the other. He has long been more than his hawkish advisers on ratcheting up pensions, but he sent a blunt warning to Iran's leaders last month that "It would be a very bad mistake."
Last week, two lawmakers – Trump ally Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) And Democrat Elissa Slotkin (Mich.) – said that Pompeo had invoked the 2001 AUMF in a closed-by briefing with lawmakers about Iran, suggesting the administration could use it as a legal justification for war
"We were absolutely presented with a full formal presentation on how the 2001 AUMF might authorize war on Iran," Slotkin said. "Secretary Pompeo said with his own words"
Exiting and earlier closed-by briefing on May 21 by acting defense secretary Shanahan, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) Customs reporters, "What I heard in there makes it clear that this administration fails that they do not have to come back and talk to Congress for any action they do in Iran. ”
The Trump administration's case against Iran has rested in part on the argument that it has supported already Qaeda Announcing the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2017, for example, Trump said that the country "supports terrorist proxies and militias," including al Qaeda.
"Iran's connection to al Qaeda is very real," Pompeo customs lawmakers in April. "They have hosted al Qaeda, they already have ala Qaeda to transit their country. There is now a connection between the Islamic Republican of Iran and al Qaeda. Period. Full stop."
When Sen Rand Paul (R-Ky.) Pushed P ompeo at that hearing that the administration would not rely on the 18th year old authorization to attack Iran, the secretary demurred, saying that he would "prefer to leave the lawyers."