When it comes to U.S. allegations against Iran, we’ve seen a play in three acts unfold in recent weeks. Act I featured the Trump administration pushing highly provocative claims, which were met with fierce international skepticism, including from U.S. allies.
In fact, when the top British general in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS said there was no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces, the U.S. Central Command went surprisingly far in rebuking our ally’s assessment.
Regardless, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed foreign intelligence officials on Iranian aggression, they were insulted by how weak the pitch was. One NATO official was quoted saying, in reference to Trump administration officials, “Do they think that we are stupid?”
Act II pitted congressional Republicans allied with the White House against congressional Democrats skeptical of the administration’s claims. When Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), for example, seemed to lobby for an escalation in tensions, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) explained, “I get the same intel as Cotton. He is greatly exaggerating the situation to spur us to war. Don’t fall for it.”
Soon after, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he received a briefing from White House National Security Advisor John Bolton and, as far as Graham’s concerned, it’s “clear” that Iran has “created threat streams against American interests.” The senator raised the prospect of “an overwhelming military response.” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added soon after that Republicans are “twisting” the intelligence.
Act III features Donald Trump contradicting his allies. When a reporter asked the president yesterday afternoon where things stand with Iran, the president replied:
“We have no indication that anything has happened or will happen. But if it does, it will be met, obviously, with great force. We’ll have no choice.”
The key part of that answer, of course, was the presidential assertion that U.S. officials “have no indication that anything has happened or will happen.” That was a far cry from Lindsey Graham’s assertion, made just hours earlier after hearing from John Bolton, “It is clear that over the last several weeks Iran has attacked pipelines and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American interests in Iraq.”
What the White House has not explained is why top members of Trump’s team have been thumping their chests, rattling their sabers, and lobbying our allies if the administration has “no indication that anything has happened or will happen.”
Will the president back away from his own rhetoric? Will Republicans denounce Trump’s newest claim? Will the administration make any effort to explain the contradiction? Will the Pentagon address why Trump’s comments were similar to the top British general who faced an American rebuke?
Your guess is as good as mine. There is no real policymaking process, so the answers seem to vary by the day.