TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - The Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy through harsh sanctions and hostile rhetoric has put Washington on a collision course with Tehran.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that after introducing plans to starve Iranian people and zero out the country’s oil exports, hawks in Trump’s team – led by National Security Adviser John Bolton – have gone as far as drawing up plans for a possible military strike that could involve sending 120,000 soldiers to the Middle East.
The talk of war was pushed up another notch on Sunday after unknown assailants targeted four vessels, including two tankers from Saudi Arabia, off the United Arab Emirates in mysterious acts of "sabotage."
Washington has since accused Tehran of planning "imminent" attacks in the region. On Wednesday, the US ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad and consulate in Erbil.
The Pentagon has followed up on the threats by sending B-52 nuclear-capable bombers and a aircraft carrier to the region.
Democratic lawmakers have called on Trump’s White House to reopen diplomatic channels with Iran and tone down their hostile rhetoric, reminding Trump and his officials that they cannot launch a war without first consulting Congress.
"They have no business declaring a war without the consent of Congress," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I think all of us are in the dark over here,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters outside the Senate.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, needed to brief senators.
"There's an alarming lack of clarity here," he said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "There's a lack of strategy and there's a lack of consultation."
"An adventure like this, 120,000 troops or a large number of troops, should have to be approved by Congress. It should certainly be discussed with the Congress," Schumer said.
"The President ought to come up with a strategy and make it clear to Congress. President Trump, what is your strategy? Where are you headed and why aren't you talking to Congress about it?" he continued.
In a move to quell lawmakers' frustration, administration officials are said to be holding a briefing for the Senate and House leaders from both parties later on Thursday.
The lawmakers are also baffled by contradicting remarks coming from American officials in Washington and military commanders on the ground in the region.
While some officials have been insisting that Iran is now posing an increased threat to US personnel in Syria and Iraq, Major General Chris Ghika, the deputy commander of the US-led coalitions’ alleged anti-terror operations in Syria and Iraq, has said that the threat level from Iran has not changed
The British Defense Ministry also backed Ghika’s assessment Wednesday.
Republican Senator Jerry Moran told CNN after a classified briefing on global threats with directors of the CIA and the NSA that "there is a lot more to be known before decisions are made" about going to war with Iran.
Moran, a member of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee that held the briefing in the Capitol, said Ghika’s assessment “is worthy of further exploration," Moran said.
In an apparent reference to the Iraq War, which was launched 2003 on the basis of flawed and downright fake intelligence about the country’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, Moran said that "we know that from history, we know that as a practical matter people's lives are at stake."
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, echoed the same stance.
"We don't need another Iraq weapons of mass destruction moment, where we are engaged in a conflict without understanding, testing the veracity of the intelligence that might lead us to a set of actions, number one," he said. "Number two, you can't make foreign policy and national security decisions in the blind and that's what we're being asked to do with the lack of information."
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo left the door slightly ajar for military action when about the issue after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday.
We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran," he said. “We have also made clear to the Iranians that if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion... We are looking for Iran to behave like a normal country.”
He had suggested last month that Trump had the power to wage war under the Authorization to Use Military Force legislation.
On Wednesday, Pelosi questioned that authority, saying: "The very idea that they would say that they would use the authorization of the use military force that is 18 years old and something by now -- whatever its age, it's not appropriate in terms of its scope, its geography, its timing for any actions they might take, wherever they may be taking them."
American intelligence experts have also voiced concern about the quality of the recent intelligence on Iran, specially since Bolton is known for exaggerating data to push his plans.
"What makes me skeptical is the fact that a lot of the intelligence that has been revealed so far seems to be very normal, it seems to be the kind of behavior that Iran has engaged in before and we haven't really reacted to that before," said Col. Cedric Leighton (Ret.), a former high ranking official at the National Security Agency as well as with Air Force intelligence. "I am very skeptical of the intelligence that we have right now."