In a detailed and revealing report Wednesday night, the Washington Post described the background chaos of the Trump administration’s apparent slide toward war with Iran.
President Donald Trump is “frustrated” as he perceives his aides — most notably National Security Adviser John Bolton — as pushing him into a conflict he’s not ready for, according to the report. Bolton is a longtime advocate of regime change in Iran and was a part of the George W. Bush administration’s push for the Iraq war, which is exactly the sort of quagmire and calamity Trump wants to avoid.
The report also provides the most detailed account yet of the intelligence that is supposedly persuading U.S. officials that the threat from Iran is growing:
Pentagon and intelligence officials said that three distinct Iranian actions have triggered alarms: information suggesting an Iranian threat against U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Irbil; U.S. concerns that Iran may be preparing to mount rocket or missile launchers on small ships in the Persian Gulf; and a directive from Khamenei to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and regular Iranian military units that some U.S. officials have interpreted as a potential threat to U.S. military and diplomatic personnel. On Wednesday, the State Department ordered nonessential personnel to leave the U.S. missions in Baghdad and Irbil.
This is hardly a slam-dunk case, and it leaves a lot of room for interpretation and questioning of the underlying facts. It’s not surprising, then, that foreign officials do not appear to be on board with the U.S. military’s assessment.
“U.S. and European officials said there are disagreements about Iran’s ultimate intentions and whether the new intelligence merits a more forceful response than to previous Iranian actions,” the Post found. It also indicated that officials worry, as I have argued, that the increased alert on both sides could itself set the groundwork for escalating conflict, even if the underlying basis for tensions is weak or non-existent.
Also clear from the report is how much Trump has damaged American credibility and alliances abroad:
Many officials in European capitals said they fear that conflict with Iran could have a cascading effect on their relations with Washington, ripping open divisions on unrelated issues.
They distrust Trump’s Iran policy, fearing that key White House advisers are ginning up rationales for war. And leaders need to win reelection from citizens who hold Trump in low regard and would punish them for fighting alongside Americans on the Iran issue.
It also said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unexpected trip to Brussels last week because Trump was angry that, despite the fact that he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal crafted under President Barack Obama, our allies are still a part of the agreement. But when Pompeo went to meet with the leaders, they were unimpressed:
Pompeo was not accorded the symbolic welcome of joining their joint Iran-focused meeting. Instead, he met with foreign ministers one by one.
Pompeo’s visit was meant to convey both U.S. alarm over the recent intelligence on Iran and Washington’s desire for diplomacy, not war, two officials said.
But European leaders, who have been watching the febrile atmosphere in Washington with alarm, have not been convinced, according to conversations with 10 European diplomats and officials from seven countries, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive assessments of Washington and Tehran.
Pompeo “didn’t show us any evidence” about his reasons Washington is so concerned about potential Iranian aggression, said one senior European official who took part in one of Pompeo’s meetings. The official’s delegation left the meeting unconvinced of the American case and puzzled about why Pompeo had come at all.
So, to review: The report finds that Trump is in conflict with his own aides, the U.S. is escalating tensions with Iran based on thin evidence, and European allies have no respect for or trust in the administration. In other words, it’s a recipe for utter disaster, failure, or both.