WASHINGTON — One year after US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, and with tensions between the two countries escalating, Democrats are issuing stark warnings that the White House is leading America on an inexorable path toward war.
With National Security Adviser John Bolton announcing earlier this week that the US was sending a carrier and bomber task force to the Gulf, relations between Washington and Tehran have entered a new low.
While Bolton cited Iranian threats on American assets as the impetus for the deployment — “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” he said — officials told the Daily Beast that he inflated the intelligence and blew it out of proportion, leading some Democrats to say that the Trump can’t order an attack on Iran without Congressional authorization.
“I’m deeply worried that the Trump administration is leading us toward an unnecessary war with Iran,” Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday.
“In the months since, Trump’s White House has taken a series of actions to increase tensions, including misrepresenting the regular deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln as a warning to Iran,” he added. “Let me make one thing clear: The Trump administration has no legal authority to start a war against Iran without the consent of Congress.”
Former Obama staffer Ben Rhodes, who was the architect of the administration’s push to sell the deal to Congress, made the same point.
“With Bolton threatening Iran and hyping intelligence, Congress should make clear that this administration has no legal basis to use force against Iran without congressional authorization,” he tweeted on Monday.
On Wednesday, Iran President Hassan Rouhani announced that Tehran was suspending its commitments to certain elements of the deal. Rouhani said Iran would maintain its stockpiles of excess uranium and heavy water used in its nuclear reactors, and threatened a resumption of high-level uranium enrichment.
He set a 60-day deadline to negotiate new terms for a nuclear pact. “We are ready to negotiate, within the boundaries of JCPOA,” he said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal’s formal name.
Rouhani’s announcement came just a few weeks after the Trump administration designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps a foreign terrorist organization and increased sanctions against the Islamic Republic by removing waivers previously granted to five major countries — China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey — to buy Iranian oil.
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, said that the purpose of these moves was to create more friction with Iran. The administration has said it is employing a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran to get the rogue nation to change its behavior.
“Trump’s Iran strategy is blind escalation,” tweeted Murphy, who sits on the Senate’s foreign relations panel. “There is no endgame. No overriding strategy. No way out. It’s just escalation for the sake of escalation. That’s wildly dangerous and inexcusably dumb, in that order.”
The liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street put much of the blame on Bolton, who is known for his hawkish views. An early supporter of George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion, Bolton told a Paris audience before joining the administration that the “declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullah’s regime in Tehran.”
“John Bolton was instrumental in pushing the US into a disastrous war of choice with Iraq,” said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, “and now he’s using the same playbook to try to instigate a new confrontation with Iran.”
The group urged members of Congress to pass a bill introduced by New Mexico Senator Tom Udall and California Rep. Anna Eshoo last month to prevent an armed conflict with Iran without Congressional approval.
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