U.S.-Iran Tensions Soar With Saudi Oil Tankers Attack, White House Warnings

May 15, 2019

With Meghna Chakrabarti

The saber-rattling out of the White House on Iran is getting a lot louder. Saudi oil ships mysteriously attacked. What’s actually going on, and what exactly is the White House plan?

Guests

Nancy Youssef, national security correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. (@nancyayoussef)

Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine. Author of “The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy.” (@stephenWalt)

Reuel Marc Gerecht, senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (@FDD). Former director of the Middle East Initiative at the Project for the New American Century, and former Middle East specialist at the CIA’s Directorate of Operations.

From The Reading List

ABC News: “State Department orders non-emergency government employees out of Iraq amid tensions with Iran” — “The U.S. State Department has ordered all non-emergency government employees to leave Iraq as soon as they can amid tensions with Iran and warnings about possible threats to American interests.

“The order comes after U.S. officials told ABC News last week there were ‘clear indications’ Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were preparing for a possible attack against U.S. forces at sea and on land, including in Iraq.”

Foreign Policy: “If Nobody Knows Your Iran Policy, Does It Even Exist?” — “What is the Trump administration’s objective with Iran? We’ve all been watching its efforts for months now—including National Security Advisor John Bolton’s announcement on Sunday that the United States had sent an aircraft carrier to the Middle East in response to ‘a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings’ from Tehran—and I still can’t figure out what it is trying to achieve. That’s partly because President Donald Trump prizes being unpredictable, and his chaotically run administration is either unable or unwilling to provide clear and coherent justifications for many of its policy decisions. If you never tell anyone exactly what you’re trying to do, it’s harder for outsiders to hold you accountable later.

“We are forced, therefore, to divine the administration’s objectives for ourselves. Here’s my best guess at some of the possibilities.”

New York Times: “White House Reviews Military Plans Against Iran, in Echoes of Iraq War” — “At a meeting of President Trump’s top national security aides last Thursday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.

“The revisions were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. They do not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops, officials said.”

USA Today: “Iran says Trump playing ‘very dangerous game,’ risking ‘devastating war’” — “The United States is playing a ‘very dangerous game’ as it attempts to ‘drag Iran into an unnecessary war,’ a senior Iranian official said Tuesday.

“Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, said the Trump administration made a ‘serious miscalculation’ in deploying an aircraft carrier strike group, B-52 bombers and other military personnel and equipment to the Persian Gulf to counter alleged, unspecified Iranian threats.

“Baeidinejad denied that Iran or its ‘proxies’ were behind what Washington described as the ‘sabotage’ of oil tankers in the Gulf belonging to Saudi Arabia, Norway and the United Arab Emirates. Tuesday, Saudi Arabia said drones attacked one of its oil pipelines and other energy infrastructure, an incident that caused global oil price benchmarks to jump.”

Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Says Iran Likely Behind Ship Attacks” — “An initial U.S. assessment indicated Iran likely was behind the attack on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers and two other vessels damaged over the weekend near the Strait of Hormuz, a U.S. official said, a finding that, if confirmed, would further inflame military tensions in the Persian Gulf.

“The assessment, while not conclusive, was the first suggestion by any nation that Iran was responsible for the attack and comes after a series of U.S. warnings against aggression by Iran or its allies and proxies against military or commercial vessels in the region.

“The U.S. official, who declined to be identified, didn’t offer details about what led to the assessment or its implications for a possible U.S. response. The U.S. has said in the past week that it was sending an aircraft carrier, an amphibious assault ship, a bomber task force and an antimissile system to the region after it alleged intelligence showed Iran posed a threat to its troops.”

Stefano Kotsonis produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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