While Congress has most of its attention on Ukraine and the impeachment investigation against President Donald Trump, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee wants lawmakers to keep a closer eye on Saudi Arabia and U.S. military forces headed there.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., on Thursday blasted the Trump administration’s decision to deploy American troops and equipment to the region in response to Iranian aggression, saying officials are “setting the conditions for further escalation” rather than working towards diplomatic solutions.
“From the beginning I have been deeply concerned about the administration’s so-called maximum pressure campaign and its lack of a cogent strategy,” Smith said in a statement Thursday.
“Following this most recent announcement from the Pentagon, we will have more assets in the region than at the start of the Trump Administration — an action that is inconsistent with the National Defense Strategy and could lead to further escalation.”
One Patriot battery and four Sentinel radar crews will head to Saudi Arabia, while three more Army units are on-call.
Pentagon officials earlier on Thursday announced they would send about 200 service members, an Army Patriot missile defense battery and four Sentinel RADAR units to defend Saudi Arabia against potential future attacks, following airstrikes on oil fields earlier this month.
In addition, three other military units — two additional Patriot batteries and one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system’s operators and maintainers — have been put on “prepare to deploy” orders.
The moves come in response to drone attacks on Saudi oil fields earlier this month that the Trump administration has blamed on Iran. Government leaders there have denied any involvement.
The White House announced new sanctions on Iran in the wake of the Sept. 14 attacks, and they pledged military assistance to Saudi Arabia to counter the Iranian threat. But that response drew criticism from numerous Democrats in Congress, who said that Trump’s actions could inflame tensions in the region instead of calming them.
Saudi Arabia alleged Wednesday an attack by drones and cruise missiles on the heart of the kingdom's oil industry was "unquestionably sponsored by Iran," naming but not directly accusing Tehran of launching the assault.
Smith said the shift of more U.S. troops to the Middle East undermines the administration's public claims of preferring diplomatic solutions. He also said shifting resources there undercuts the military’s work of countering “the challenges of the future,” including Russia and China
“It is past time to focus on de-escalation and diplomacy, not a military solution,” he said.
In a speech before the United Nations this week, Trump criticized “Iran’s bloodlust” and called upon the international community to force them to abandon sponsoring terrorist groups.
“All nations have a duty to act,” he said. “As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted, they will be tightened.”