Following a mortar attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad in September by a group linked to Iran, John Bolton reportedly asked the Pentagon to provide the military with options to “strike back” at Iran. The request reportedly raised concern at the Pentagon. “It definitely rattled people,” a former senior U.S. administration official told the Wall Street Journal. “It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”
What boggles my mind is that the Pentagon apparently didn’t already have contingency plans for striking at Iran. I’m not advocating a military strike against Iranian interests, but given the tensions between the two countries and Iran’s past aggression against U.S. interests and personnel, the military ought to have a plan to strike back at Iran in a worst case scenario.
Just last week, Secretary of State Pompeo tweeted:
#Iran plans to fire off Space Launch Vehicles with virtually same technology as ICBMs. The launch will advance its missile program. US, France, UK & Germany have already stated this is in defiance of UNSCR 2231. We won’t stand by while the regime threatens international security.
If that’s our position, and I think it’s the correct one, the U.S. should have contingency plans to strike back at Iran.
Striking back at Iran wouldn’t necessarily mean striking Iran, though there should be a plan to do so. Israel has been striking regularly at Iran in Syria, as Bret Stephens discusses in an article about Gadi Eisenkot, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces.
Our Defense and National Security apparatus seems unwilling not just to engage in planning consistent with action President Trump might take regarding Iran, but also with action Trump said he will take regarding Syria. Attacking Iran is just a possibility, perhaps a remote one. But Trump has long said he wants the U.S. out of Syria.
Yet, according to the Washington Post, Trump’s decision to pull out caught his advisers and the bureaucracy unprepared. One source told the Post:
They don’t give him the kinds of options that he wants. . .It’s not like it came out of thin air that he wanted to leave Syria. He campaigned on that. You can say it’s a bad decision, you can say it’s not helping stability, but you can’t say you’re surprised that he wanted to do it.
There seems to be a common thread here. The foreign policy establishment doesn’t want to strike at Iran, so (reportedly) we don’t have contingency plans to do so, and a request for such plans is deemed “mind boggling.” The foreign policy establishment doesn’t want to withdraw forces from Syria, so (reportedly) Trump’s team is caught short when Trump announces a withdrawal, and Trump is accused of being “erratic,” as the Post puts it.
I don’t like the Syrian pullout either, but the decision is Trump’s to make. It’s fine to try to persuade him not to remove our troops. However, it’s unacceptable for administration officials and bureaucrats to behave as if the pullout is not a genuine option and then have to scramble when the president chooses this option.
One official told the Post that our policy towards Syria is “re-centering,” now that Trump has been assured that U.S. forces will come out eventually. Had Trump been presented long ago with a plan for a gradual pull out, there’s a good chance that our Syria policy wouldn’t have had to be “re-centered” and a good chance that the sh*t show we’ve been witnessing would have been avoided.