Reminding the world that he is, as one critic put it, "a reckless advocate of military force," the Wall Street Journal revealed on Sunday that President Donald Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton "asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year, generating concern at the Pentagon and State Department."
"It is imperative that this Congress investigate Bolton's request for war options and pass legislation placing additional legal and political constraints on the administration's ability to start a new war of choice with Iran that could haunt America and the region for generations."
—Jamal Abdi, NIAC
"It definitely rattled people," a former U.S. official said of the request, which Bolton supposedly made after militants aligned with Iran fired mortars into the diplomatic quarter of Baghdad, Iraq that contains the U.S. Embassy in early September. "People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran."
"The Pentagon complied with the National Security Council's request to develop options for striking Iran," the Journal reported, citing unnamed officials. "But it isn't clear if the proposals were provided to the White House, whether Mr. Trump knew of the request, or whether serious plans for a U.S. strike against Iran took shape at that time."
The Journal's report, which comes just days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered an "arrogant tirade" of a speech vilifying Iran, sparked immediate alarm among critics of the Trump administration's biggest warmongers—who, over the past several months, have been accused of fomenting unrest in Iran and laying the groundwork for war.
Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, called the news "a reminder that when it comes to Iran, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are batshit insane."
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) January 13, 2019
Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), tweeted, "Make no mistake: Bolton is the greatest threat to the security of the United States!" Parsi, an expert on U.S.-Iranian relations and longtime critic of Bolton, called for his immediate ouster over the request detailed in Journal's report.
MAKE NO MISTAKE: Bolton is the greatest threat to the security of the United States!
— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) January 13, 2019
"This administration takes an expansive view of war authorities and is leaning into confrontation with Iran at a time when there are numerous tripwires for conflict across the region," NIAC president Jamal Abdi warned in a statement. "It is imperative that this Congress investigate Bolton's request for war options and pass legislation placing additional legal and political constraints on the administration's ability to start a new war of choice with Iran that could haunt America and the region for generations."
In a series of moves that has elicited concern from members of Congress, political experts, other world leaders, and peace activists, since May the Trump administration has ditched the Iran nuclear deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—and reimposed economic sanctions.
NIAC, in November, urged the new Congress that convened at the beginning of the year to challenge the administration's hawkish moves and restore U.S. standing on the world stage by passing measures to block the sanctions re-imposed in August and November, and reverse Trump's decision to breach the deal—which European and Iranian diplomats have been trying to salvage.
Iran continues to comply with the terms of JCPOA, according to the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's nuclear chief, told state television on Sunday that "preliminary activities for designing modern 20 percent (enriched uranium) fuel have begun." While Iran has maintained that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons, the nation would still have to withdraw from the deal if it resumed enrichment at the level.
As Iran signals that it is considering withdrawing from the JCPOA, the Journal report has critics worried that Bolton and Pompeo have the administration on a war path—with Bolton, just last week, insisting without any evidence that Iranian leadership is committed to pursuing nuclear weapons. Some have compared that claim to former Vice President Dick Cheney's infamous lie in 2002, to bolster support for the U.S. invasion, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Bolton, 2019: “We have little doubt that Iran’s leadership is still strategically committed to achieving deliverable nuclear weapons.”
Cheney, 2002: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.” https://t.co/0eomJyGh7I
— Matt Duss (@mattduss) January 12, 2019
"John Bolton and fellow Iran hawks believe they have two years left to collapse the Iran nuclear deal and trigger a disastrous war that the American people want no part of," Abdi concluded. "We know that Bolton and other administration officials preferred an Iran war to negotiations prior to serving Trump. Now there is confirmation that they are still seeking out opportunities to fulfill their war agenda."
As the Journal noted, "Alongside the requests in regard to Iran, the National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with options to respond with strikes in Iraq and Syria as well."