Democratic senators blasted President Donald Trump for escalating tensions with Iran late Thursday after The New York Times reported Trump had authorized then backtracked on targeted strikes on the Islamic Republic.
The president authorized the strikes against Iran after an unmanned American drone was shot down off the Iranian coast, with U.S. forces in place to carry out the strikes Thursday evening until the administration “abruptly” called them off, the Times reported, citing senior administration officials.
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The Washington Post and the Associated Press confirmed that Trump had ordered the strikes and then called them off, citing unnamed officials. It remains unclear if the strikes, which the AP reported were recommended by the Pentagon and included radars and missile batteries, will eventually be carried out.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is running for president in 2020, linked to the Times story in a tweet and criticized Trump for withdrawing the United States from the Iran nuclear deal struck by former President Barack Obama.
“Donald Trump promised to bring our troops home,” Warren tweeted. “Instead he has pulled out of a deal that was working and instigated another unnecessary conflict. There is no justification for further escalating this crisis—we need to step back from the brink of war.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also attacked the president over his administration’s policies toward Iran.
“The place we have arrived at tonight on Iran is Donald Trump’s choice,” Murphy tweeted shortly after the Times story was published. “He chose escalation over diplomacy, without any idea how to get out of the downward spiral he set in motion.”
Ben Rhodes, a former Obama foreign policy adviser, also criticized Trump, tweeting: “This is precisely why politics isn’t a game, diplomatic agreements should be honored, and temperament, intellect and judgement are what matters in who is President. It should never have come to this.”
Trump earlier Thursday had played down the shooting down of the drone, for which Iran has claimed responsibility. While Iran says the drone entered its airspace, American officials say it was in international waters.
“I imagine someone made a mistake,” he told reporters, speaking from the Oval Office. “We didn’t have a man or woman in the drone. It would have made a big, big difference.”
He added, “Look, I said I want to get out of these endless wars, I campaigned on that, I want to get out.”
Tensions flared between the United States and Iran after two commercials ships sustained explosions in the Gulf of Oman last week, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo squarely blaming Iran.
Iran announced this week that it would exceed the uranium stockpile limits set in the 2015 nuclear agreement in an apparent rebuke to the administration.
The FAA warned pilots Thursday that the air space around the Gulf of Oman, where the drone went down, was now off limits for civilian aircraft. The FAA cited “heightened military activities and increased political tensions.”