Senior members of the Trump administration and Republican representatives of Congress are in strong favour of escalating tensions with Iran despite deep scepticism amongst Democrats over the intelligence presented during closed-door briefings yesterday about the threat emanating from the Islamic Republic.
Division over how to best handle the Iran situation intensified following a briefing by top Trump administration officials in two closed-door sessions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – a strong proponent of war against Iran – presented evidence to support the claim that Tehran may be poised to attack US military and diplomatic personnel in the Middle East.
Sceptical members of Congress accused Hawks within the White House of exaggerating intelligence to lay the groundwork for war. Some also warned that the war fever gripping the Republican politicians had echoes of the previous Republican administration’s case for military conflict in the Middle East, by which they meant Iraq 2003, when then-president George W Bush along with his western allies invaded the country using false intelligence to exaggerate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
“I truly believe that the intel has been misinterpreted and misrepresented by Secretary Pompeo, by [national security adviser John] Bolton and other people that do want us to go to war in Iran, as a repeat to Iraq,” Democrat representative Ruben Gallego was reported saying by the Washington Post upon leaving the briefing.
Others expressed similar scepticism. Democrat politician Joaquin Castro said: “This is a case of somebody getting into somebody’s face and hoping that they’ll punch, and waiting to punch back.” His remark suggested that that Trump had escalated tensions with Iran and conveniently omitted important facts which indicated that it was the US that was the aggressor.
The escalation with Iran began last year when Trump unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which every other party – the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – said was being honoured by Tehran.
Trump had been gunning for the deal, which was signed by his predecessor Barack Obama. Republican politicians encouraged his belligerent tone in unprecedented ways. When the deal was being ratified in 2015, Republican Senators (all but seven of those in office at the time) signed an open letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran that was written by one of its members, Tom Cotton, saying that, if a Republican president took over, the deal could be reversed.
An incredulous Obama responded by saying: “I’m embarrassed for them. For them to address a letter to the Ayatollah – the Supreme Leader of Iran, who they claim is our mortal enemy – and their basic argument to them is: don’t deal with our President, ’cause you can’t trust him to follow through on an agreement … That’s close to unprecedented.”
These facts were omitted entirely from the briefing in which Pompeo is reported to have “made a very lengthy political argument” for why “Iran is bad”.
According to reports received by Al Jazeera, during yesterday’s meetings, Trump officials are said to have cast the discussion as the United States responding to provocations from Iran and that there was no mention of the decision to withdraw from a nuclear agreement or the imposition of economic sanctions.
“If this whole conversation is absent, if it doesn’t take into consideration what the administration is saying, that the administration keeps heightening tensions, then you a leaving something major out,” Representative Anna Eshoo told Al Jazeera.
Republicans were nevertheless bullish and saw the information differently. Lindsey O. Graham was reported describing the information as “a game-changer”, that it was “credible”, and “consistent”. They dismissed the general accusation that the US was hurtling to war with Iran.
According to the Washington Post, Graham warned the Trump administration not to shy away from using force saying: “If one American is injured or killed by actions coming from Iran, directly or indirectly, at the direction of the Iranian government, and you don’t respond, you will be up here explaining why you let those Americans get hurt and did nothing about it.”
“We’re pushing back against the regime and we’re resetting the rules of engagement. We’re letting them know that you’ve attacked us in the past . . . those days are over.”