How the Trump administration got into a showdown with Iran that could lead to war

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi

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FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi
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Reuters

  • Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern about a potential war with Iran amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran.
  • The Trump administration has rejected the notion it’s moving toward war despite deploying military assets to the region in response to alleged threats.
  • Critics of President Donald Trump believe the situation is being driven and escalated by National Security John Bolton, who has a long record of animosity toward Iran.
  • Some reports have suggested the Trump administration is planning on sending 120,000 troops to the Middle East as part of a plan to take on Iran.
  • Trump rejected these reports, but said he’d “send a hell of a lot more troops than that” if necessary.
  • Trump on May 19 issued a grave threat to Iran, tweeting, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Rising tensions between the US and Iran have sparked fears of a military confrontation and potentially an all-out war.

Democrats, including a number of candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination, have warned that President Donald Trump and his National Security Adviser John Bolton are “inching” toward conflict.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration rejects the notion that they are seeking a war and Iranian leaders have made similar assertions. But many lawmakers and experts in the US are still concerned.

Here’s a timeline of the evolving situation, and a summary of what both countries have been saying.

Read more: The US is sending a ton of firepower to take on Iran – here’s everything headed its way

Read more: Trump says he’d send ‘a hell of a lot more’ than 120,000 troops to fight Iran if it came to that

Read more: Democrats are raising alarms about Trump ‘inching’ toward war with Iran, but experts are torn over what happens next


On May 5, National Security Adviser John Bolton released a statement announcing the US was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the Middle East to counter threats from Iran.

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White House national security adviser Bolton arrives to speak about the political unrest in Venezuela, outside the White House in Washington
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Reuters

Source: WhiteHouse.gov


Bolton said that the deployment was designed to send “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack” on the US or its allies “will be met with unrelenting force.” Bolton added, “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack.”

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A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna.
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Reuters

The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, which consists of the carrier and its powerful carrier air wing, as well as one cruiser and four destroyers, moved into the region earlier this month along with a number of B-52 Stratofortress heavy long-range bombers.

Source: INSIDER


A US official said the show of force was in response to “clear indications” of a “possible attack” against US forces in the region by Iran or its proxies.

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US soldiers from 1st Cavalry Division in Samarra, Iraq, October 9, 2011.
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US Amry/Pfc. Aaron Herrera

Source: INSIDER


Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan characterized the deployment as a “prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”

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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan listens as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a meeting with senior military leaders at the White House in Washington.
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Reuters

On May 8, US Air Forces Central Command announced that F-15C Eagle fighter jets were repositioned within the region to “defend US forces and interests in the region.” The next day, the Pentagon announced that the USS Arlington, an amphibious landing ship, and a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery were also on their way.

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An F-15C Eagle prepares to refuel with a KC-135R Stratotanker Sept. 12, 2013, en route to the Arctic Challenge Exercise in Norway.
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US Air Force Photo

Source: US Air Forces Central Command


Democratic lawmakers have raised alarm bells over these developments. Sen. Chris Murphy, for example, on May 7 tweeted, “Hey everybody, we are at war in 3 different countries — Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria — and inching toward conflict in 2 more — Venezuela and Iran.”

Source: INSIDER


Fears from Democratic lawmakers of a war with Iran are largely linked to their wariness toward Bolton, who’s long been hawkish toward Iran and has called for military strikes against it before. Bolton was also one of the architects of the ultimately disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Source: INSIDER


Republican lawmakers like Sen. Marco Rubio have rejected the idea the US wants a war with Iran, but he also said “any efforts by Iran to threaten shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and/or to target U.S. naval vessels or commercial shipping vessels will result in a swift, devastating & justified response.”

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Senator Marco Rubio
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Reuters

Source: INSIDER


Amid all of this, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on May 8 that Tehran is partially withdrawing from the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal — a landmark agreement that Trump withdrew the US from last May.

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
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Reuters

Source: INSIDER


The same day, the Trump administration announced new sanctions against Iran targeting its metal exports.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with President Trump.
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Getty Images

Source: The Washington Post


“We have information that you don’t want to know about,” President Donald Trump said on May 9 in response to questions on the move. “They were very threatening and we have to have great security for this country and many other places.” He also urged Iran to hold talks with him regarding its nuclear program.

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President Trump
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Reuters

Source: Reuters


On May 10, Ayatollah Tabatabai-Nejad, a high-ranking cleric in the Iranian government, warned that US forces will face “dozens of missiles” if any move is made against Iran. The next day, Yadollah Javani, the deputy head of political affairs of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said that the US “wouldn’t dare to launch military action against us.”

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Iranian guards march during celebrations in Tehran’s Azadi Square (Freedom Square) to mark the 37th anniversary of the Islamic revolution on February 11, 2016. Iranians waved ‘Death to America’ banners and took selfies with a ballistic missile as they marked 37 years since the Islamic revolution, weeks after Iran finalized a nuclear deal with world powers.
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ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

Source: INSIDER


Overall, Trump has been fairly vague in responding to questions about Iran. “We’ll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything it’ll be a very bad mistake, if they do anything,” Trump said on May 13, adding, “If they do anything, they will suffer greatly.”

Source: INSIDER


Meanwhile, reports have also emerged suggesting the Trump administration has discussed a plan to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks US forces in the region or makes significant steps toward developing nuclear weapons.

Source: INSIDER


Trump on May 14 rejected these reports but also said he’s prepared to send “a hell of a lot more” troops than 120,000 if necessary.

Source: INSIDER


Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on May 14 said his country would not go to war with the US. But in what was perhaps a veiled threat, he also signaled that it wouldn’t be hard for Iran to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels.

Source: INSIDER; TIME


On May 14, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels carried out drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the US, which has supported the Saudi-led coalition in the war against the Houthis in Yemen. With that said, it’s not clear if these attacks were linked to rising tensions between the US and Iran.

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Yemen’s Houthi movement forces are seen during a withdrawal from Saleef port in Hodeidah province.
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Reuters

Source: The New York Times


Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the top contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination, on May 14 said, “It appears that John Bolton wants a war in Iran. A war in Iran would, in my view, be many times worse than the Iraq War.” Sanders said he’s “working hard” to ensure that if Trump wants to take military action against Iran he must seek congressional authorization.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders
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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Source: CBS News


The US on May 15 ordered all nonessential government staff to leave Iraq. The State Department didn’t fully explain the move, but it’s viewed as a possible response to the increasingly tense situation between Washington and Tehran. This also came roughly a week after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unscheduled visit to Iraq.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters in flight after a previously unannounced trip to Baghdad.
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Reuters

Source: CNN; The New York Times


Major General Hossein Salami, the commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, on May 15 said, “We are on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy.” Salami added, “This moment in history, because the enemy has stepped into the field of confrontation with us with all the possible capacity, is the most decisive moment of the Islamic revolution.”

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Hossein Salami, then-deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, speaks during Tehran’s Friday prayers on July 16, 2010.
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Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters

Source: INSIDER


The Trump administration has taken a hardline stance against Iran from the beginning, and defied US allies by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. In keeping with this stance, Trump recently designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terror group.

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Members of the Iranian revolutionary guard march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011.
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REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Source: INSIDER


Trump on May 19 issued a grave threat to Iran, tweeting, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

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President Donald Trump
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Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Source: INSIDER


Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded to Trump’s threat via Twitter the next day. He said Trump “hopes to achieve what Alexander, Genghis & other aggressors failed to do,” adding, “Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone.” Zarif said “economic terrorism” and “genocidal taunts” won’t “end Iran.”

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Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
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Reuters

Source: Twitter