As the president reportedly plans a last-minute drawdown of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan against his advisers’ recommendations, Trump also considered escalating a conflict in the region, according to the New York Times. In an Oval Office meeting last Thursday, President Trump reportedly asked senior advisers if there were any options to strike Iran’s primary nuclear-testing site in the coming weeks. Thankfully, the group at hand — including Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the acting defense secretary, who had been in the job for just three days at that point — convinced Trump to abandon an action that could put the two countries back on a path to war.
The meeting came a day after International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors determined that there was a substantial increase in Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material, with the nation now possessing around 5,385 pounds of low-enriched uranium. Though that weight is over 12 times larger than what was permitted under the Iran deal Trump left in 2018, it’s still far lower than the 25,000 pounds that Tehran had acquired before agreeing to the nuclear accord with the Obama administration.
As the Times notes, a U.S. attack on Iran would likely occur at a desert stockpile in Natanz, where there was a fire this summer caused by an “act of sabotage,” according to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. But after Pompeo and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley detailed the risks of a military strike, officials “left the meeting believing a missile attack inside Iran was off the table, according to administration officials with knowledge of the meeting.” However, officials also told the paper that the president might still be considering options for hitting Iranian assets, including those in Iraq. In January, Baghdad served as the unfortunate setting for a series of strikes that began with Trump ordering a strike on the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, an act of aggression that the United Nations deemed “unlawful.”
As the president refuses to cooperate with the incoming administration and changes policy in an apparent effort to frustrate President-elect Joe Biden’s early goals, any future actions related to Iran could be, in part, a move to make it more difficult for Biden to revive the Iran deal. Unlike some of Trump’s other lame-duck tweaks, such an action could have serious consequences for our relations with Iraq — the likely setting, again, for any possible conflict — and Iran, as the anniversary of Soleimani’s death approaches. As the Times notes, Iranian leaders “regularly insist” that they have “not yet avenged” his extrajudicial death.