Top Trump administration officials have told Congress that recent actions by the U.S. have deterred Iranian attacks on American forces. But some lawmakers remain deeply skeptical of the White House approach in the Middle East.
“We’re concerned that information is being used for the purposes of accomplishing an objective, rather than for the purposes of making a decision,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told USA TODAY after former CIA Director John Brennan briefed Democrats on Capitol Hill.
“Let’s hope that the administration is not rationalizing a move towards war,” Hoyer added.
After Tuesday’s closed-door briefings on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said their objective over recent days has been to deter Iran.
Shanahan says they now want to prevent further escalation, telling reporters, “We’re not about going to war.”
He says the administration’s goal “is to prevent Iranian miscalculation,” adding, “We do not want the situation to escalate.”
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Democrats are particularly concerned the administration may try to rely on nearly 20-year-old war authorizations rather than seek fresh approval from Congress for any action.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat and former CIA analyst who studied Iranian proxy groups, said the Trump administration's incoherent strategy risked the possibility of an inadvertent conflict.
“The president vacillates between saying that he cares only about the nuclear file and increasingly threatening on Twitter to essentially wipe Iran off the map,” Slotkin said. “If I and you cannot understand U.S. strategy, then you can bet the Iranians don’t understand it. And if neither side can determine what actions are offensive versus defensive, it sets us on a course to misunderstanding each other and a slide towards war.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the president and his advisers are sending mixed messages on the seriousness of the threat from Iran.