Sen. Chris Murphy says Trump is blindly risking conflict with Iran and could spark a war even if he doesn't want one

  • Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy is concerned the Trump administration could be stumbling into a war with Iran.
  • “Just because you don’t want war doesn’t mean you won’t get war,” Murphy told INSIDER on Wednesday, adding that the administration does not seem to be “behaving in a way that would avoid conflict.”
  • “They are continuing to escalate tensions with Iran,” Murphy added. “All it takes is for one Shia militia to knock up against US forces outside Baghdad and we might be spiraling into conflict.”
  • The US has deployed military assets to the Middle East in recent weeks to counter unspecified threats from Iran, prompting fears of a military confrontation that could spiral into an all-out war.
  • Meanwhile, reports suggest the administration is mulling over sending more troops to the Middle East.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, an increasingly prominent voice on foreign policy in Congress, is deeply concerned that the Trump administration could be unintentionally leading the US into a war with Iran that would be utterly disastrous and contrary to the desires of the American people.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran, Iran’s capital, have reached historic heights in recent weeks after the US deployed military assets to the Middle East – including an aircraft-carrier strike group and B-52 bombers – in response to unspecified threats to US forces in the region.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and his advisers have offered mixed messages on what’s happening as acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Thursday told reporters the administration is considering a plan that “may involve sending additional troops” to the Middle East.

Trump has fluctuated between threatening to “end” Iran, downplaying the threat it poses, and proposing Iranian leaders reach out to him for talks.

After the Trump administration briefed members of Congress on the situation earlier this week, Murphy said he did not believe the White House wants war with Iran but that it is still walking down a path that could spark one.

‘Just because you don’t want war doesn’t mean you won’t get war’

“Just because you don’t want war doesn’t mean you won’t get war,” Murphy told INSIDER over the phone on Wednesday, adding that the Trump administration’s statements on Iran “continue to be divorced from the reality they’re creating” and “they don’t seem to be behaving in a way that would avoid conflict.”

“They are continuing to escalate tensions with Iran,” Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added. “Their actions are not bringing Iran to the negotiating table, nor do they seem to be making Iran more reticent about military action or provocative behaviour. All it takes is for one Shia militia to knock up against US forces outside Baghdad and we might be spiraling into conflict.”

Read more:
Trump and Iran may be on the brink of a war that would likely be devastating to both sides

After the closed briefing Murphy attended on Iran’s threat, the Democratic senator said he is concerned that Trump’s approach to Iran is all about “tactics” and lacks substance.

“We got into tactics and what the Iranians are doing and what we are doing back them,” Murphy said. “Never did we discuss how that might lead us to a safer place.”

Trump IranPhoto by Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump.

In mid-May, four ships were damaged in the Persian Gulf – including two Saudi oil tankers – and some US officials have suggested Iran was behind it. The Iranian government denied responsibility.

Meanwhile, a Katyusha rocket landed less than a mile from the US embassy in Baghdad on Sunday. No one has claimed responsibility, and the incident is still being investigated, but the rocket was believed to have been fired from an area in Baghdad that’s home to Iran-backed Shiite militias, Time reported.

Iran has publicly signalled it does not want war with the US and has lambasted Trump for suggesting it call him in order to set up talks.

But Tehran has also flexed its muscles as tensions have risen and has stopped complying with portions of the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a landmark agreement that Trump withdrew the US from in May 2018 against the advice of nuclear experts and the wishes of key US allies.

Murphy said there’s no defending Iran’s aggressive behaviour in region but added that “we knew this was the likely outcome of naming the IRGC as a terrorist group and backing out of the JCPOA. We’re backing them into a corner and you just don’t what happens when a country as belligerent as Iran starts to panic.”

The Connecticut senator was referencing Trump’s recent decision to designate the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation, which marked the first time the US has labelled a foreign-government entity as such. The move was against the advice of some US military and intelligence officials who warned it could put US officials and troops in danger.

‘An utter disaster’

In a recent tweet, Murphy asserted that Republicans have been twisting the intel he’s viewed “to make it sound like Iran is taking unprovoked, offensive measures against the U.S. and our allies. Like it just came out of nowhere.”

He told INSIDER he couldn’t provide explicit details on the intel, and though he didn’t deny that Iran poses a “legitimate threat,” Murphy maintained “the threat is responsive to things that we have done.”

“If we hadn’t pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement and taken other steps, like naming the IRGC as a terrorist group, I don’t know that threat level would have risen in the way that it has,” Murphy said. “We didn’t need to be in a position where our forces were threatened.”

Along these lines, Murphy also said there hasn’t been enough focus on the Trump administration’s recent decision to pull nonemergency personnel out of the US embassy in Baghdad, which he described as “an utter disaster.” He warned that the Iraqi government is potentially weak enough to fall in the coming months, and the US will have no diplomats there to try and help prevent that from happening.

‘Democrats have an unhealthy obsession with John Bolton’

As the situation with Iran has escalated along with fears of a war, a number of Democrats have placed blame on national security adviser John Bolton.

Bolton was one of the architects of the 2003 Iraq War and has a well-documented history of animosity toward Iran, including openly supporting a military strike against it.

But Murphy said Democrats have an “unhealthy obsession” with Bolton and the decisions that have led the US to the point were ultimately made by Trump.

“We sometimes try to infantilize Donald Trump on foreign policy, pretending that there are other people are pulling the strings – that’s not the case. He’s a grown man, he’s making these decisions on his own, and he should be responsible,” Murphy said.

‘It’s an ongoing foreign-policy nightmare’

The senator also said the situation with Iran is part of a broader trend with Trump when it comes to global affairs.

“It’s just one policy disaster after the other… on North Korea, Venezuela, Iran. It’s the most bizarre strategy I’ve ever seen,” Murphy said. “These guys play all their cards so quickly without any thought for how to pace out the management of a conflict. It’s an ongoing foreign-policy nightmare.”

Moving forward, it’s Murphy’s hope that US voters will speak out before the White House potentially leads the country into another military quagmire in the Middle East.

Read more:
The US is sending a ton of firepower to take on Iran – here’s everything headed its way

“Foreign policy is one of those areas that may not raise to the top of the priority list for many voters until something really awful happens,” he said. “What I’m hoping is that the American public gives attention to these escalatory actions with Iran so that it doesn’t become an obsessive topic for the country in the way that Iraq did for years and years.”

Shortly after INSIDER spoke with Murphy on Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee rejected a proposal from the Connecticut senator and Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico to require congressional approval for a US military strike against Iran.

“We lost 13-9. Every Republican except for [Sen. Rand Paul] opposed it,” Murphy tweeted after the vote.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.