President Trump’s National Security Council asked the Pentagon in September for military options against Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
The request was made shortly after an attack near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which the White House blamed on Iranian proxies in Iraq.
The request from the National Security Council troubled many at the Pentagon and State Department, especially given that the attack caused no casualties and little damage.
“It definitely rattled people,” one former senior U.S. administration official told the Journal. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”
Months later, it remains unclear whether the proposed military actions were provided to President Donald Trump, and even whether he knew that the request was made.
U.S. foreign policy towards Iran has seriously escalated since April, when John Bolton became national security advisor and Mike Pompeo became secretary of state.
In May, the White House released a statement announcing that Israeli intelligence proves that “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.” According to U.S. intelligence, Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. The White House later corrected the statement to the past tense, without issuing a formal correction online.
A few days later, Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal, despite repeated confirmations from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran was complying with the agreement. As part of that withdrawal, the United States re-imposed nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, which took effect in November.
The upheaval has seriously affected the Iranian economy, with an approximately 60 percent decrease in the Iranian rial last year and inflation soaring to about 40 percent.
Both Bolton and Pompeo are Iran hawks and have advocated for regime change in Iran.
Bolton is a strong supporter of the Muhajideen-e Khalq, a cult-like diaspora group that advocates for regime change in Iran. Bolton has been paid by the group and spoke at MEK conferences even when the group was still on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. (It was removed from the list only in 2012). In 2015, while the Iran nuclear deal was being negotiated, he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”
Pompeo has also been a vocal opponent of the Iran deal. Shortly after it was announced, Pompeo declared in a National Review op-ed that the deal “strengthens Muslim extremists.” One year later in 2016, Pompeo maintained that it was a bad deal and called on Congress “to change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime.” On Thursday, Pompeo gave a speech in Cairo blaming many of the problems in the Middle East on Iran.
In December, Trump announced a withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria and Afghanistan. Since then, multiple generals have left the Trump administration, including Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk.