The Trump Administration deployed 1,500 more troops to the Middle East last week, the first step in a strategy to combat Iran. Most of the soldiers will manage a Patriot Missile unit and run intelligence missions to monitor Iran. The move comes after U.S. intelligence reportedly revealed missiles loaded onto small boats. Later evidence showed that the missiles had been unloaded, a move by Tehran to deescalate the tensions between the two nations.
The deployment of more troops is noteworthy as U.S. President Donald Trump has often advocated against more U.S. involvement in the region, particularly during his election campaign. Iran, however, is a different story entirely due to the now-cancelled nuclear agreement forged during the waning years of Barack Obama’s tenure. Since Trump negated that deal, Iran has been free to pursue nuclear armaments, an outcome that Washington has sought to avoid by applying both economic and political pressure.
Since the reintroduction of sanctions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has maintained a hardline position of not budging, even as its economy suffers. Rouhani compared the present situation to that of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. His government is unlikely to bow down to American demands, simply for the sake of Trump plastering his name on a deal, one that would likely resemble the previous agreement that he tore up.
“From the Iranian perspective, the only thing that’s more dangers than suffering from sanctions is surrendering to them,” said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group.
Any deal that Trump manages to secure, while it may be effective, will likely not engender good will from Tehran. In 1988, the Iranians were brought to the table broken in spirit and following that cease-fire agreement were two decades of political distrust and venomous attitudes. Even if the sanctions and military pressure work to subvert Rouhani’s nuclear ambitions and somehow lead to a new agreement, it will leave a sour taste in their mouths.
Trump disputed a New York Times story that his advisors were drawing up plans for a ground invasion, in the event that Iran attacks American forces in the region. While this would go against the campaign promise he made of withdrawing the U.S. to a more isolationist role, he did comment that he would send far more troops than the 120,000 that the article estimated.
By some accounts, it could appear as if it’s really John Bolton, national security advisor, who is calling the shots, or at least manipulating Trump, on Iran. A longtime war-hawk, it was Bolton himself who announced the deployment of 1,500 troops.
Considering the way Trump has governed Washington thus far, it is in the realm of possibilities that Bolton has skewed intelligence findings in such a way to provoke a war between the two nations. If that is the case, Trump would most definitely prefer to own any such action himself and call it his idea; he’s not one to share the limelight, nor is Bolton one to step out from the shadows. It’s worth noting that his is the same advisor who pushed President George W. Bush into a war against Iraq, another engagement built on false intelligence.
Senior officials in Washington declined to comment on the record, but painted a portrait of internal division within the administration about how to handle the alleged threat of Iranian aggression. Intelligence findings have not yet been made public, but they also include Iran possibly mobilizing forces in Iraq and Syria, locations which include a large number of U.S. forces.
National security officials already presented their case against Iran to the U.S. House of Representatives. The panel included C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph F. Dunford Jr. While these advisors would make a strong case for troop escalation, it seemed unusual that Bolton himself will not be on-hand. The result of that meeting with the Democrat-controlled house was more Twitter rants and more aggressive posturing.
Ultimately, opinions on Iran remained divided along party lines, even after Iran allegedly destroyed four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. In speaking about the deployment, Shanahan said, “Our job is deterrence. This is not about war.” For a strategy aimed at deterrence, Trump’s advisors are preparing the unusual option for all-out war.