Foreign Policy

Is the U.S. Stumbling Towards an Accidental War With Iran?

Trump administration officials discuss plans to deploy 120,000 troops to the Middle East amidst rising tensions in the Persian Gulf.


Tensions between Iran and the United States have ratcheted up in the past two weeks, following a series of provocative actions and statements from the Trump administration, including news yesterday that senior defense officials are revising contingency plans to send thousands of troops to the Middle East to counter Iran.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that last Thursday senior defense officials reviewed plans to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the event that Iran attacks U.S. troops in the region or begins ramping up its nuclear program. The review of these plans, according to the Times, was initiated by  John Bolton, the national security advisor and a noted Iran hawk.

This was not the first provocative action taken by Bolton in recent weeks. Last Sunday, Bolton announced that an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and a number of bombers would be headed to the Persian Gulf in response to unspecified warnings that Iran and its proxies were preparing to attack U.S. forces in the region.

The Abraham Lincoln was already headed to the area but was ordered to skip several scheduled stops at European ports. Its expedited journey, along with the additional bombers, was intended to serve as "a clear and unmistakable message" of resolve from the U.S. to Tehran, Bolton said, according to Reuters.

This was followed by the deployment of even more U.S. forces, including another naval vessel and an anti-missile battery, to the Persian Gulf on Friday.

Iranian military officials have upped their rhetoric in response.

"An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past. But now it is a target and the threats have switched to opportunities," said Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's air force, to Al Jazeera on Monday.

The U.S. has assured the world that its intentions are peaceful, with the Department of Defense issuing a statement Friday saying that "the United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region."

Nevertheless, the threat of accidental escalation is real, says Emma Ashford, a foreign policy scholar at the Cato Institute.

"I don't believe either side really wants a conflict, but you put this many troops from both sides in a small area and raise tensions like this, there's always the risk that something happens accidentally that spirals into a larger conflict," Ashford tells Reason.

This risk, she says, is heightened by the possibility that militant groups aligned with Iran, but not directly controlled by the government, might stage an attack that leads to a U.S. response.

Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both rivals of Iran, reported that their oil tankers were sabotaged in the Persian Gulf. On Tuesday morning, Saudi Arabian officials also said that terrorists used drones to attack two oil pumping facilities in the country.

Pentagon officials revising plans to add additional troops to the Middle East to counter Iran is more routine, says Ashford.

"The Pentagon has a plan for everything, and these plans are constantly revised to deal with changing circumstances," she tells Reason.

Nevertheless, that it was Bolton in particular who's been pushing defense officials to revise their Iran plans may indicate his willingness to exploit any bureaucratic opportunity to raise tensions with the country.

That the Trump administration itself lacks a coherent Iran strategy only raises the possibility that it will stumble into a conflict it doesn't want, says Ashford. As she told Reason, "there's a real risk someone will take a step that ends up putting us in a conflict situation."

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74 responses to “Is the U.S. Stumbling Towards an Accidental War With Iran?

  1. “That the Trump administration itself lacks a coherent Iran strategy only raises the possibility that it will stumble into a conflict it doesn’t want, says Ashford.”

    If she doesn’t approve of the Trump administration’s Iran strategy, that doesn’t make it incoherent.

    1) Trump has pulled out of Obama’s nuclear deal and reintroduced sanctions that were originally put in place by the UN Security Council with the support of both China and Iran’s ally, Russia–and those sanctions are hurting Iran.

    “The annual inflation rate in Iran jumped to 51.4 percent in April [2019] from 47.5 percent in the previous month. It was the highest inflation rate since December 1995”

    I never hear supporters of Obama’s Iran deal answer questions about why the Iranian government is willing to subject its economy to so much pain–rather than come back into compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty–if the intentions of their nuclear program are purely for civilian use.

    2) Trump has withdrawn all support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Iran’s proxies in Yemen–except for prohibiting the sale of weapons to the Saudis by U.S. contractors and they still share intelligence with the Saudis in going after anti-American terrorists. This may seem to conflict with the goals of forcing Iran to return to the NPT, but it’s hardly incoherent. It simply appears that Trump is trying to keep the U.S. from getting drawn into a quagmire, which isn’t incoherent at all.

    It’s pragmatic.

    Some people buy stock indexes. It’s a coherent strategy.

    Some people buy some stocks–but not others. They do that for all sorts of reasons. If I explained to you why I made some investments and not others, it would be pretty complicated. But that’s life! It’s not incoherent. Pragmatism is just complicated–like the real world.

    1. Nice review Ken.

      If we go to war with Iran it better not be because we are all involved in these little battles with terrorists.

      If Iran shoots missiles at our ships or tries to close the Persian Gulf, then I am on board.

      As you say, It would seem Trump is not going to have drawn into a conflict via an accident. It will be a deliberate act of war by Iran.

        1. That piece spends a lot of time bobbing and weaving around the legal definitions of this and that.

          The fact is that Iran enriched uranium (among other things) in secret, in violation of the treaty, and in so doing, they forfeited the right to enrich their own uranium.

          Another fact is that their ally Russia, or some other country, would be more than happy to enrich their uranium for them–which would be perfectly legal under the NPT. There is no need for them to enrich their own uranium if they only need it for civilian use.

          Another fact is that Iran would rather suffer crippling sanctions rather than comply with the NPT. The fact is that Iran has chosen–every day for years–to suffer sanctions rather than comply with the NPT.

          In the short term, suffering sanctions is the peaceful alternative to violating the NPT. Over the long term, complying with the NPT is the peaceful alternative to war. We should do everything within reason and the highest law of the land to encourage Iran to return to compliance with the NPT. I suggest a free trade agreement.

          1. Yup. When reason publicly accepts that Iran is a shitheel nation for violating a contract, I will allow them to lie about being Libertarians. Until then, I will continue to blast nearly every one of them for being the non-Libertarians that they are.

            Reason doesnt give a shit about contracts (NPT) as long as America is destroyed for Leftyism or Anarchism, depending on the reason staff flavor.

    2. Trump is litereally the worst businessman to ever live and you think he is good at a pragmatic foreign policy.

      He withdrew from the nuclear deal, which was painstakingly negotiated and was working just fine, because Obama did it and he hates Obama same as his mouth-breathing defenders.

      What even is the use of you? Shall I check in when he shoots someone on 5th avenue just to see what kind of defense you’ll put up?

      1. I would add more than: hahaha

        but your comment is only worthy of a laugh.

      2. The worst business man to ever live managed to get his name on top of a giant building in downtown New York that he live on the top of with his hot wife and got elected president in his first try against the most qualified candidate ever.
        A total and complete failure according to tony who I never heard of.

        1. Literally all of that he did with the underwriting of the Russian oligarchy.

          1. Do tell. Which oligarch would that be? cause most of them were cutting huge cheques to the Clinton Foundation.

            Maybe Mueller can tell us… Oh wait.

            Just kidding, I can remember back in 2012 when Trump begged Moscow to give him “space” until after the November ballot, and then he will have “more flexibility” to collude on missile defense… Oh wait.

            1. I see you have your stale Steve Doocy whataboutism talking points in hand.

              1. Answer the question you dishonest fraud

              2. I am eaten up with staggering ignorance and rank hypocrisy = you are guilty of “whataboutism”

        2. You seem to be a big fan of inheritance as achievement; immigration-motivated, uneducated trophy wives and vulgar infidelity; staggering losses and serial business failures; and campaigns built on intolerance, stale thinking, and belligerent ignorance.

          1. Poor troll.

            1. Open wider, clinger. Guys like me are not done shoving liberal-libertarian mainstream American progress down your whimpering, bigoted, inconsequential throat.

              1. Poor Kirkland troll.

                It Cannot fathom that people dont pay attention to his scripted stupid shit.

      3. “Trump is litereally the worst businessman to ever live and you think he is good at a pragmatic foreign policy.”

        If you want to be persuasive, you should attack his policies rather than him personally.

        How many times have you had these things pointed out to you? You can lead a man to water, but you can’t make him a duck. And you, Tony, are no duck.

      4. Tony Baloney: “Trump is litereally the worst businessman to ever live”

        Forbes magazine: “the net worth of Donald Trump is approximately $3.1 billion as of 5 March 2019”

        Do tell, Tony.

        1. How much of that is arbitrary estimates of the value of his brand? I’m sure he’ll lower that estimate when it’s tax time.

          He’d have more than double that if he had put the $100 million he inherited into an index fund and sat on his ass.

          1. Wow, look at those goalposts move.
            From worst businessman ever to “he’s gonna cheat on his taxes” and “my crystal ball says Y would’ve happened if he did X”.
            You’re so incredibly dishonest.

          2. 6,000% returns, huh?

            Which Index is that?

            1. 6000% after paying 50+% tax, and withdrawing principal to pay for 3 wives, 5 kids, and an opulent lifestyle

          3. Its fun to watch Tony squirm.

      5. Tony, you have the causation backwards. Furthermore, who said, “You bring a knife; we bring a gun”?

    3. It’s bold to argue Trump’s actions are like business tactics, given he’s such an incompetent bungling businessman. Besides, has everyone developed amnesia? It wasn’t that long ago:

      1. We were told Iran’s nuclear program was an existential threat.
      2. We were told Iran wouldn’t negotiate, but they did.
      3. We were told they wouldn’t negotiate seriously, but they did.
      4. We were told they wouldn’t reach a pact, but they did.
      5. We were told it wouldn’t be a serious pact, but it was.
      6. We were told it wouldn’t include verification, but it did.
      7. We were told Iran would cheat, but they didn’t

      Then we were told to junk the agreement because it didn’t include missiles – or Iran didn’t morph into the Mr Rogers of the Middle East. Some “existential threat”, huh? So let’s review possible aims: The odds Trump can recreate Obama’s coalition are virtually nonexistent. The odds we can get a treaty which recreates the past pact while re-making Ali Khamenei into George Washington are nonexistent. Military strikes would ensure Iran becomes a nuclear power, whatever the delay. War would be a catastrophe. It would be like the ultimate Atlantic City casino deal. See? I can do a Ken Shultz-style metaphor too….

      Trump doesn’t do strategy; he postures, panders and tweets. With Iran, he’s hit the grand-trifecta, pandering to his base, the Israelis, and the Saudis. If there’s a war, it will be by Saudi machinations : They’re the ones now suddenly being “victimized” by mystery provocations.

      Remember Trump’s first meeting with Mohammed bin Salman? DJT came out calling for jihad against Qatar; he was that easily led by the nose. You can imagine Trump’s aides rushing to whisper to him the largest U.S. military base is in Doha. It took weeks to untangle that mess. The Saudis are full aware how easy it is to manipulate a fool.

  2. That sound you hear is Bolton creaming his war-jeans.

    1. Trump didn’t appoint Jeff Sessions to be the head of the Justice Department because he wanted to go after recreational marijuana in the states like Jeff Sessions wanted to do. He appointed Sessions because he trusted Sessions since Sessions supported him in the Republican primaries when almost no one else would. Trump promised during the campaign that he’d leave marijuana alone in the states that legalized it, and that’s what Sesssion had to live by whether he liked it or not. Trump only fired Sessions when he no longer trusted him to watch his back on special counsels.

      Trump didn’t appoint Larry Kudlow to be his economic advisor because he wanted to go all free trade like Kudlow wants to do. Trump appointed Kudlow because Kudlow supported Trump in the Republican primary when almost no one else would and Trump felt like he could trust him. Trump is actually pretty anti-free trade–certainly compared to Larry Kudlow. Anyone who thinks Trump is pro-free trade like Kudlow despite all the anti-free trade things he’s done–just because he appointed Kudlow? They’re out to lunch.

      From all indications, Trump is not a neocon like Bolton. In fact, the reason McCain and the other Never Trumpers were so anti-Trump was largely because Trump’s pragmatism, especially on his willingness to work with Putin in Syria, flew in the face of everything the neocons wanted to do there. If there’s anything neoconservative about Trump’s foreign policy, I’m not seeing it–beyond the fact that Bolton is there. But then, the reason Trump trusts Bolton is because Bolton backed Trump back in the Republican primaries when almost no one else in the Republican establishment would.

      It doesn’t matter what Bolton wants.

      1. So why hire him?

        I know! Because Trump saw him on FOX News.

        You’re defending an insane person.

        1. I criticized Trump, I said that it doesn’t matter what Bolton wants, and I showed why.

          I wasn’t defending anybody.

          You need to work on your reading comprehension. You might try starting with something that seems hard to read. When it start feeling easy, try something harder. You might even start with the KJV version of the Bible if you’re up to it. The mechanics of late Middle English are sure to improve your comprehension. However, it will take work.

          1. I studied Joyce and I still don’t want to read sixteen paragraphs of Ken sucking Trump cock.

            Your “criticism” of Trump is that he doesn’t want the advice of people he chose as advisers. Meaning he’s on the side of good despite the bizarre decision to appoint advisers whose advice you don’t want.

            1. Tim Cavanaugh’s classic Reason piece about the hilarity of people who claim to have read Jame Joyce doesn’t seem to have survived the transition to the new format, but wherever Cavanaugh is now, know that he’s laughing at you from 15 years ago.


              P.S. My first guess when I meet monolingual English speakers who claim to have read the Quran is also that they’re lying. Having read it myself, I know that when my Muslim friends say it loses its beauty and magic when translated to English, they’re telling the truth. I’ve had more fun doing my taxes.

              1. I have not read Finnegans Wake, because nobody has, but I did read everything else including Ulysses twice for two separate college courses. I’ve also read everything Ayn Rand has ever written, in case you think I’m insulated.

                1. Hell, I can’t even listen to Finnegans Wake on audiobook, though I’ve tried. I went the distance reading Ulysses in my more energetic youth, and have a dutifully annotated copy on my shelf to show for it. That book does reward an audio listen, the Cyclops chapter being particularly charming…..

        2. I know! Because Trump saw him on FOX News.
          Tony watches MSNBC religiously.

          You’re defending an insane person.
          If anyone has demonstrated intimate familiarity with insanity it’s Tony.

          1. All you have to do is not defend Donald Trump constantly. He’s not even a libertarian version of a Republican.

            1. I’m not defending Trump. I’m attacking your insane statements.
              Listen Tony. I honestly, truly believe you to be an evil person.

              1. You think I’m evil because I criticize Cheeto Mussolini.

                Is it that incompetent leadership heightens the contradictions for you guys?

                1. Ironic that Tony supports the real Mussolini and his Socialists friends, like Adolf.

      2. Trump has earned the benefit of the doubt and my trust on Trade. Kudlow says Trump’s goal is 0 tarriffs, and I believe that.

        We’ve never had Free Trade with China. Nothing even in the same stratosphere

        1. How does someone reach ostensible adulthood in America without learning capitalization? Get an education. Start with standard English.

  3. Next thing you know, the Iranians will take a bunch of hostages from the US Embassy.

    1. We haven’t had an embassy in Iran since the last time they did that.

      1. Redirect them to the Swiss embassy.

    1. “Would I do that? Absolutely,” Trump told reporters gathered Tuesday when asked about a New York Times report that his administration was considering a military build-up. “But we have not planned for that.”

      A second later, Trump increased his threats on Tehran, suggesting if the administration does send service members to the region “we’d send a hell of lot more troops than that.”

      Slam down that rumor-mill!

      1. A plan to send and talking about sending if a conflict happens are two different things.

        1. And he could nuke Tehran and you’d defend it. You’re even more useless than Ken.

          1. Poor Tony.

            He wants the USA to be destroyed.

            I would absolutely defend nuking Iran if they attacked the USA. Just like it was good that the USA nuked Japan to end WWII.

            The USA does not just attack countries for no reason. Some reasons were flimsy (Iraq Part II) but US interests have always been attacked before the USA started military action. Always.

            1. Some reasons were flimsy (Iraq Part II) but US interests have always been attacked before the USA started military action. Always.

              What US interests did Iraq attack prior to Iraq War II?

              1. What are we mad about again?

                That Iran is thinking about not abiding by a deal we ripped up?

                That Trump is a big fat criminal and needs to wag the dog for a while?

                Or is it that John Bolton’s war boner is a more powerful force than Trump’s storied negotiating skills?

              2. Are you fucking serious?

                Kuwait was not a major ally of the USA? Then Iraq attacked Saudi Arabia which became a major ally of the USA… then Iraq threatened Israel which has been a friend of the USA….

                Do you want me to go on?

                Iraq War II was a continuation of Iraq War I but Bush lied as to the reason.

        2. The Pentagon has a plan for everything. Multiple plans for everything. It is why the Pentagon exists. They have plans for DeepImpact and the Zombie Apocalypse. They probably have 4 plans to invade and conquer Canada. You better believe they have all sorts of plans to fight Iran, and with a lot more than 120K soldiers

          1. The Pentagon exists to provide huge taxpayer-funded advantages to a military that struggles to settle for a series of vague draws against ragtag irregulars across the globe. We did win a war in the mid-40s, though.

  4. What is this “accidental war” of which you speak?

  5. Betteridge’s law of headlines.

  6. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both rivals of Iran, reported that their oil tankers were sabotaged in the Persian Gulf.

    I’m tellin’ y’all, it’s sabotage

    1. “Remember the Maine!”

    2. They could have waited a *bit* longer after the US intelligence reports of proxy dangers were, um, made public.

  7. If someone with a straight face ever says they accidentally stumbled into war, you have my permission to punch them in the face while explaining to them that they accidentally stumbled into your fist.

  8. I hope Pres. Trump is smart enough to refrain from battling Iran for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, John Bolton, or anyone else.

  9. The USA is creating them , once again the bitch of the supremacist zionist cult .

  10. Why is the US wasting troops and money to protect Saudi interests?

  11. Anything bad that happens in the middle east will be considered an attack on the US by Iran.

    That will justify the US becoming the bitch of Israel and Saudi Arabia and starting a war with Iran.

  12. As she told Reason, “there’s a real risk someone will take a step that ends up putting us in a conflict situation.”

    Hey, I’m like on my best behavior … so far … this week.

  13. Tensions between Iran and the United States have ratcheted up in the past two weeks,

    What are the odds of the Middle East becoming hot when I visit it?

  14. […] a week in which tensions between the U.S. and Iran reached new highs: A new aircraft carrier was deployed into the Persian Gulf. Nonessential personnel were evacuated from the U.S. embassy Baghdad in […]

  15. […] a week in which tensions between the U.S. and Iran reached new highs: A new aircraft carrier was deployed into the Persian Gulf. Nonessential personnel were evacuated from the U.S. embassy Baghdad in […]

  16. […] a week in which tensions between the U.S. and Iran reached new highs: A new aircraft carrier was deployed into the Persian Gulf. Nonessential personnel were evacuated from the U.S. embassy Baghdad in […]

  17. […] a week in which tensions between the U.S. and Iran reached new highs: A new aircraft carrier was deployed into the Persian Gulf. Nonessential personnel were evacuated from the U.S. embassy Baghdad in […]

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