As lawmakers ask for more information on the potential threats posed by Iran in the Middle East, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said intelligence briefings he has received have convinced him that an increased military presence in the region is needed.
“The information and warnings that we have collected are of greater concern than the normal Iranian harassment activity that we’ve seen in the Persian Gulf and surrounding area,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. “I don’t think it’s business as usual. It is cause for greater concern.
“And a great part of that concern relates to Americans being targeted.”
Last week, the chairman of the committee — Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. — called recent deployments of troops and equipment to the region “deeply troubling” given the lack of justification given to Congress for the moves. On Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and a close ally of President Donald Trump, said lawmakers have not been “well informed” on the moves.
But Thornberry said he had received a pair of briefings on the issue, meetings which were open to all members of his committee. The first came from Central Command leadership, the second from representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He left those sessions confident in Trump’s moves.
“There had to be a strong signal sent to Iran that we would defend ourselves if we are attacked,” he told reporters at a press event on Thursday. “I hope everybody can rally around that. Showing that we are willing to stand up and defend Americans was an important thing to do.”
Pentagon officials recently presented a military plan for countering Iranian hostilities in the region with a deployment of up to 120,000 troops and a potential crippling cyber-attack on Iran’s infrastructure.
In recent days, Trump has dismissed those reports, saying that “we have not planned for that … and if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
In addition to deploying additional military assets to the region, the U.S. State Department has ordered out all non-emergency employees at U.S. embassies in Iraq, in a precautionary move.
Politico reported on Thursday that acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel will provide all House and Senate lawmakers with a full briefing on the threat posed by Iran early next week.
Thornberry said he hopes as more information gets out, his colleagues can put aside partisanship and evaluate the threats for what the are.
“What I worry about is if our partisanship has become so entrenched that we can’t look at facts anymore when it comes to national security,” he said. “If Trump’s doing it, it must be bad. Or if Trump’s doing it, it must be good.
“If we’re attacked, I expect our military forces will be in a position to respond. I hope that’s not what happens. It shouldn’t happen. I hope the tensions start to diminish.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.