No one wanted President Trump to pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal. The agreement signed by President Obama held that Iran would get rid its nuclear fuel in exchange for the U.S. waiving the sanctions that had crippled the nation’s economy. A UN nuclear agency monitored whether Iran was complying. Though many called the deal flawed, few argued it should be scrapped altogether. The international community, nuclear proliferation experts and administration officials like Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all urged Donald Trump to keep it intact.
But laying waste to anything that could have been perceived as an accomplishment by his predecessor was at the top of Trump’s priority list, and the “decaying and rotten” deal, as he described it, was axed, alienating allies and angering Iran while clearing the way for the nation to build a nuclear bomb. A conflict has loomed since the agreement was nixed. Now, the United States is actively taking steps to prepare for one.
On Monday, the New York Times reported that Trump administration officials have drawn up a plan that involves sending up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran show aggression against American forces or resume its nuclear program. The Times learned of the plan, which was presented last week by Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, through discussions with several national security officials. The plan to send troops overseas was devised by National Security Adviser John Bolton, a conflict hawk who unsuccessfully lobbied for action against Iran while serving in the George W. Bush administration. Bolton also supported the invasion of Iraq. As the Times notes, the “120,000 troops would approach the size of the American force that invaded Iraq in 2003.”
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As many have pointed out, the plan looks like a precursor for regime change.
I oversaw Iran policy and planning at the Pentagon from 2009-2011, at the height of concerns over Iran’s nuclear progress, and no plausible contingency except invasion and regime change would require sending 120,000 US forces to the Middle East. https://t.co/tBbpEVzddM
— Colin Kahl (@ColinKahl) May 14, 2019
The news of the potential deployment comes as tension between the United States and Iran has approached a boiling point.
The most recent flare up came Sunday, when four oil ships, two of which belonged to Saudi Arabia, were damaged in the Persian Gulf. On Monday, a team of U.S. investigators reached an initial determination that Iran or groups that support it were behind the attack. Trump was not pleased when asked about the incident. “It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens,” he warned on Monday.
The attack came days after the Trump administration deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln and four B-52 bombers to the Middle East to counter what Bolton described as “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran. “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” he added.
Iran called the deployment “psychological warfare” and, on Friday, said it would not negotiate with the United States. Following Iran’s act of aggression in the Persian Gulf on Sunday, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that though the nation does “not seek escalation,” it has “always defended” itself.
The recent frenzy is the result of months of incendiary rhetoric and aggressive actions exchanged between the two nations since Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal last May. Iran did not take kindly to the move. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei went so far as to tell supporters that the Islamic Republic will still be standing after “Trump is dead” and “his corpse is fed on by snakes and insects.” Though a little less graphic, threats from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani were similarly pointed.
Trump, as he does, responded in kind.
To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
Relations haven’t gotten any better since last summer. In November, the administration restored the sanctions that had been lifted when the nuclear deal was signed in 2015. Trump heralded the move with a “Sanctions Are Coming” Game of Thrones meme. “Our ultimate aim is to compel Iran to permanently abandon its well-documented outlaw activities and behave as a normal country,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at the time.
The administration continued to apply pressure in April by labeling Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, making it illegal for any group to offer it support. President Rouhani maintained that Iran would continue to build its military might despite the designation. Later that month, Pompeo announced the cancelation of sanctions waivers that had been offered to countries importing Iranian oil. “The Trump Administration and our allies are determined to sustain and expand the maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran to end the regime’s destabilizing activity threatening the United States, our partners and allies, and security in the Middle East,” the White House said in a statement.
Unfortunately, Iran has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of acquiescing to America’s vision of how it should conduct itself in the Middle East. Any action to hamstring the nation has been met with steadfast defiance. That defiance now teeters on the brink of military action against American forces and, potentially, something much worse. On Wednesday, President Rouhani said Iran will being to resume producing nuclear material. “The path we have chosen today is not the path of war, it is the path of diplomacy,” he said in a nationally broadcast address. “But diplomacy with a new language and a new logic.”
The United States responded by imposing even more sanctions on Iran, putting “other nations on notice that allowing Iranian steel and other metals into your ports will no longer be tolerated,” as Trump described the move in a statement.
When asked on Monday whether the United States would pursue a regime change, Trump was noncommittal. “We’ll see what happens with Iran,” he said.