Democrats, Republicans at Odds Over Gulf Tensions

Amid a rise in U.S.-Iranian military strains, Republicans have mostly rallied around Trump while progressives accuse him of riding a reckless path to war.


Events of the past week have stoked mutual recriminations between the United States and Iran, raising concerns of a potential outbreak of hostilities. Earlier this month, the White House — citing intelligence reports of increased Iranian preparations to attack American troops in the Middle East — dispatched an aircraft carrier group to the Gulf. Shortly afterward, the U.S. government evacuated personnel from the American embassy in Baghdad. Plans also leaked of a potential deployment of 120,000 troops to the region.

Though Trump had previously denied these reports as “fraudulent and highly inaccurate coverage,” on May 17, he tweeted, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

Iranian officials, for their part, have signaled defiance. On May 16, the Guardian reported that Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani had instructed Iranian proxy militias in Iraq to “prepare for proxy war.” According to one local source, “It wasn’t quite a call to arms, but it wasn’t far off.” On May 20, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted a response to Trump’s May 17 tweet, warning that "genocidal taunts won't 'end Iran.’” He told Iranian state media, "There will not be a war since neither we want a war nor does anyone have the illusion they can confront Iran in the region." 


Republicans rose to the defense of President Trump’s Iran policy. On May 20, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted, “The fault lies with the Iranians, not the United States or any other nation. If the Iranian threats against American personnel and interests are activated we must deliver an overwhelming military response. Stand firm Mr. President.” 

A few days earlier, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas made waves when he said in an interview that, though he “did not advocate military action against Iran,” he believed that the United States would prevail in a military conflict in “two strikes: the first strike and the last strike.”

Across the aisle, the leadership of the Democratic party has reacted with trepidation. On May 16, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in an apparent bid to dissuade the President from a more confrontational course of action, said, “I like what I hear from the President that he has no appetite for [war] -- one place or one of the places that I agree with the President is in both of us and our opposition to the war in Iraq.”  

Taking a somewhat harder line, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for the Acting Defense Secretary and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to testify before Congress: “If the President and Republicans in Congress are planning to take the United States into a conflict, even a war in the Middle East, the American people deserve to know that and they deserve to know why.”