National Security Advisor John Bolton’s announcement this week that the U.S. is deploying a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region seemed perfectly framed to put America on a war footing with Iran. And it is.
Claiming that the decision was made in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” Bolton declared that “the United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime.” But, he added, “we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.”
It took the Defense Department a full day to respond to Bolton’s statement, with acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan finally tweeting that the “announced deployment of the @CVN_72 and a @USAirForce bomber task force to the @CENTCOM area of responsibility…represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”
Shanahan followed with another tweet: “We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation. We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests.” Ship of Fools: How a S... Check Amazon for Pricing.
The USS Abraham Lincoln battle group had deployed a month ago from its Norfolk, Virginia, home port and was recently engaged in maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea. The Pentagon acknowledged that Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to support CENTCOM during its deployment, but that its arrival was being “accelerated” due to intelligence indicating an imminent Iranian threat.
The fact that Bolton chose to repurpose routine deployments of U.S. military forces into the Middle East as an emergency response to an unspecified threat from Iran is in and of itself a curiosity. Bolton is an advisor to the president, a non-statutory (i.e., not confirmed by the Senate) member of the White House staff who is not in the military chain of command and lacks any command authority.
While Shanahan followed up indicating that the orders for the deployments had been authorized by him the day of Bolton’s announcement, this simply isn’t the case—they were authorized well prior to Bolton’s statement. The fact that the White House announced the deployment of U.S. military forces in response to allegations of an emerging threat in the Middle East, as opposed to by the Pentagon, reflects the political and operational roots of the current crisis.
“U.S. Central Command [CENTCOM, the U.S. unified military command responsible for the Middle East] continues to track a number of credible threat streams emanating from the regime in Iran throughout the CENTCOM area of responsibility,” a CENTCOM spokesman noted after Shanahan’s tweet.