National Security Advisor John Bolton’s statement regarding threats from Iran appears to have overstated the severity of the White House’s response. The U.S. carrier strike group and bomber task force dispatched to the Middle East in response to the threats from Iran are on a routine deployment to the region.
Bolton said Sunday the U.S. is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region in response to “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran and its proxies.
“We are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” the statement said.
Bolton’s bluster gave the impression the deployment is only in response to the new threats. But a spokesman for U.S. Central Command said in a statement the carrier group and bomber task force were scheduled to be deployed to the region regardless. (RELATED: Bolton Turns Up Anti-Iran Rhetoric In Speech: ‘We Will Come After You)
“The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled deployment that was expected to include a significant amount of time in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility,” U.S. Central Command spokesman, Navy Capt. Bill Urban, said. The deployment was “expedited” to respond to the threats, but that was simply a matter of changing the schedule.
A White House spokesman declined to comment, but a spokesman for the National Security Council said Bolton’s statement was put out at the request of the Department of Defense.
A DOD spokeswoman told the Caller there is “no light” between Bolton’s statement and the nature of the deployment according to the statement from CENTCOM, reiterating that the deployment was expedited.
“[Bolton] put out that we were deploying the aircraft carrier and the B-52s to CENTCOM in order to counter the Iranian threat, and that’s exactly what we have done,” she said.
Bolton’s framing of the deployment and aggressive rhetoric prompted a series of ominous headlines about the move and the potential for war with Iran:
- John Bolton is doing everything he can to get the US into a new war — Business Insider.
- John Bolton may be trying to provoke Iran into firing the first shot — The Washington Post.
- Bolton: US Sending Iran Clear And Unmistakable Message — CNN
Unnamed officials who spoke to The Wall Street Journal backed up Bolton’s framing, resulting in a report that U.S. troops in the region are in grave danger. “New intelligence suggests allied interests and American forces could be imperiled,” the WSJ’s subhead reads.
The officials also overstated the significance of the deployment by claiming the carrier group and bomber task force “may have ended up” in the region “eventually.”
A buried paragraph in the WSJ report reads, “The carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its accompanying ships, which recently deployed from Norfolk, Va., may have ended up in the Persian Gulf eventually, but this move sends it there directly, the officials said.”
The statement from U.S. Central Command contradicts this characterization of the deployment, and suggests the officials’ claim that troops in the region are “imperiled” is also overblown.
“CENTCOM has seen recent and clear indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack U.S. forces in the region,” Urban said.
The line from “making preparations to possibly attack” to the term “imperiled” is dubious, though backed up by Bolton’s rhetoric.
Several unnamed officials told The Daily Beast the administration is intentionally overreacting to the severity of the threat in order to send a clear message to Iran.
“I would characterize the current situation as shaping operations on both sides to tilt the field in preparation for a possible coming conflict,” one official told The Daily Beast. “The risk is a low-level proxy unit miscalculating and escalating things. We’re sending a message with this reaction to the intelligence, even though the threat might not be as imminent as portrayed.”
Another official added: “[The White House response] is meant to send a clear message and remove any ambiguity from a tense situation. We’re demonstrating the overwhelming capability we can bring to the region.”
Tensions have risen in recent weeks after the Trump tightened economic sanctions on Iran and designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Iran, in turn, has indicated it might break part of the nuclear deal reached under President Obama.