WASHINGTON - In word and deed, the administration of President Donald Trump has been sounding the alarm over Iran and its proxies.
“If American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned last week.
Later this week, U.S. officials are expected to brief lawmakers on what has led the administration to strengthen America’s military posture in the Middle East, while evacuating non-essential personnel from diplomatic facilities in Iraq.
Members of Congress of both parties have been demanding the White House share information about perceived threats from Iran.
“I would urge the State Department and DoD (Department of Defense) to come down here and explain to us what is going on, because I have no idea what the threat stream is beyond what I read in the paper,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“We need clarity, we need answers, and we need them now,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat.
Asked by reporters if war with Iran was on the horizon, Trump would only say “I hope not.”
Some fear a repeat of the build-up that preceded the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“We do not need another Iraq weapons of mass destruction moment that led us to one of the worst disastrous military engagements, when there were no weapons of mass destruction to be found,” warned Menendez.
Words of advice came from a former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, who subsequently also served as CIA director. America, he said, should seek to change Iran’s behavior, not regime change in Iran.
“The idea of invading, I think is something that is not seriously on the table.... We should have learned by now, I think, especially after the Arab Spring, that the regime change aftermath is not always what we have hoped it would be,” said Petraeus, speaking Sunday on ABC’s This Week program.
For now, many Republicans are willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt, given Iran’s past actions.
“I support what the administration is doing with regard to reinforcing our military capabilities in the region. And this is the reason: it sends a message to Iran that if you are going to try to do what you did in 2004, 2005 and 2006, which is kill and wound thousands of our military members (in Iraq), that we are going to have the capability to make you pay,” said Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan.
Sen Marco Rubio, also a Republican put it more bluntly.
“It is very straightforward. If Iran attacks, there will be a war. If Iran does not attack, there will not be a war.”
Many Democrats, meanwhile, are reserving judgment.
“I just want to confirm what the purpose of our pressure campaign (against Iran) is. Many of us feel that it has been ham-handed (clumsy), without a well-defined endgame,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat.
“The American people deserve to know what is going on,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, leader of minority Democrats in the Senate. “If the president and Republicans in Congress are planning to take the United States to a conflict, even a war in the Middle East, the American people deserve to know that, and they deserve to know why.”
Congressional leaders received classified briefings late last week. Briefings for rank-and-file lawmakers of both parties reportedly are being planned in the days to come.