- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Republican members of the House and Senate emerged from separate classified briefings Tuesday more convinced about the severity of unspecified Iranian threats against U.S. interests — but many Democrats are still skeptical.

Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters after the briefing, which was attended by a few dozen senators, the latest Iran-related threats have “been a game-changer … this was an escalation of the threat stream we had not seen before.”

The briefings, led by Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, came just days after U.S. military and diplomatic outposts in Baghdad’s Green Zone were the target of a rocket attack.

Administration officials last week cited nonspecific intelligence that attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq may be imminent.

Mr. Graham’s Democratic counterpart, however, was less than satisfied with what she heard.



“No, I don’t believe there are credible threats from Iran,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein told reporters as she left the briefing. “It was a very serious briefing, there needs to be much more discussion with the Congress … of some of the problems in the area.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Iraq War veteran and member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said he walked away from the briefing “very convinced.” The Illinois Republican slammed as “ludicrous” the notion that the administration has overstated or exaggerated the threat.

Following the first briefing with House members, Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he was “told that Iran is less threatening from what we’ve seen as a result of our actions.”

Despite the updated threat assessment, Mr. Smith was hesitant to say that the situation has de-escalated.

The Washington State Democrat told The Washington Times he does not anticipate the U.S. taking military action against Iran and said he believes President Trump, who has insisted that he is not seeking war. But the lawmaker cautioned, “that doesn’t mean that there’s not a risk of it and we need to manage that risk.”

Democratic lawmakers have consistently reminded the administration that only Congress has the authority to declare war and has not authorized any use of military force against Iran, including through the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) which was passed in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told reporters that while he “heard at least one of the briefers say that they could act in defense of U.S. forces or U.S. interests,” they explained that the U.S. is not in a position to use force citing the AUMF.

A group of 62 predominantly left-leaning organizations sent an open letter to Capitol Hill on Tuesday calling on lawmakers to push through legislation that would block Mr. Trump from authorizing military action against Iran without explicit new approval from Congress.

The letter, circulated by the National Iranian American Council, a nonprofit that advocates for diplomacy with Tehran and supported the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, claims the Trump administration seeks to “provoke” a military clash.

Many Republicans, however, maintained that military action is on the table.

Mr. Graham and Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Relations Committee, sent identical messages that if American troops or interests are attacked, the U.S. will use military force.

“We’re in a mode of deterrence and we’re not in a motive of aggression here, we’re protecting and if our soldiers are attacked we will respond in full force,” Mr. McCaul said.

Mr. Shanahan, who was tapped to permanently lead the Pentagon earlier this month, said the “biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation. We do not want the situation to escalate.”

“This is about deterrence, not about war,” he added. “This is about continuing to protect our interests in the Middle East and conducting the missions that we are there to perform.”

The closed-door briefings took place amid frustration from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that the administration has not disclosed enough information in a timely manner about the ongoing threats that have led to the deployment of additional military forces to the region and the withdrawal of American diplomats from nearby Iraq.

“The United States Congress should be far enough up on your list that it doesn’t take you a week before you get to us,” Mr. Smith said. “It is not an acceptable answer for the secretary of state to say to Congress, ‘Sorry we didn’t brief you earlier but we were busy,’ that doesn’t fly.”

Mr. Shanahan told reporters that he spoke to both groups about the complaints, and he agreed to be more communicative with Congress and the public.

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