by Scott Ritter via The American Conservative,
National Security Advisor John Bolton’s announcement this week that the U.S. is deploying a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region seemed perfectly framed to put America on a war footing with Iran. And it is.
Claiming that the decision was made in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” Bolton declared that “the United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime.” But, he added, “we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.”
It took the Defense Department a full day to respond to Bolton’s statement, with acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan finally tweeting that the “announced deployment of the @CVN_72 and a @USAirForce bomber task force to the @CENTCOM area of responsibility…represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”
Shanahan followed with another tweet:
“We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation. We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests.”
The USS Abraham Lincoln battle group had deployed a month ago from its Norfolk, Virginia, home port and was recently engaged in maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea. The Pentagon acknowledged that the Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to support CENTCOM during its deployment, but that its arrival was being “accelerated” due to intelligence indicating an imminent Iranian threat.
The fact that Bolton chose to repurpose routine deployments of U.S. military forces into the Middle East as an emergency response to an unspecified threat from Iran is in and of itself a curiosity. Bolton is an advisor to the president, a non-statutory (i.e., not confirmed by the Senate) member of the White House staff who is not in the military chain of command and lacks any command authority.
While Shanahan followed up indicating that the orders for the deployments had been authorized by him the day of Bolton’s announcement, this simply isn’t the case—they were authorized well prior to Bolton’s statement. The fact that the White House announced the deployment of U.S. military forces in response to allegations of an emerging threat in the Middle East, as opposed to by the Pentagon, reflects the political and operational roots of the current crisis.
“U.S. Central Command [CENTCOM, the U.S. unified military command responsible for the Middle East] continues to track a number of credible threat streams emanating from the regime in Iran throughout the CENTCOM area of responsibility,” a CENTCOM spokesman noted after Shanahan’s tweet.
This threat was deemed serious enough for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to cancel a long-planned visit with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Pompeo instead made a secret trip to Baghdad, where, according to reports, he met with Iraq’s political and national security leadership to discuss the emerging threat from Iran.
In a statement made to reporters on his way to Baghdad, Pompeo declared that “it is absolutely the case that we have seen escalatory actions from the Iranians, and it is equally the case that we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests.” He added, “If these actions take place, if they do by some third-party proxy—a militia group, Hezbollah—we will hold the Iranian leadership directly accountable for that.”
But the reality is that the deployment of American military forces and the diversion of the secretary of state to Baghdad is little more than grand theater. This is being done in support of a policy dictated by Israeli intelligence and passed to Bolton during a meeting on April 16, 2019 at the White House, where, according to Bolton, they discussed “Iranian malign activity and other destabilizing actors in the Middle East and around the world.”
The intelligence, derived from analysis conducted by the Mossad, consisted of “scenarios” regarding what Iran “might” be planning. According to an Israeli official, “It is still unclear to us what the Iranians are trying to do and how they are planning to do it, but it is clear to us that the Iranian temperature is on the rise as a result of the growing U.S. pressure campaign against them, and they are considering retaliating against U.S. interests in the Gulf.”