New Iran Threat 'Hard To Discern,' House Armed Services Committee Chair Says

Download Audio
Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., during a House Armed Services Committee budget hearing on April 2, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., during a House Armed Services Committee budget hearing on April 2, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Images reported by The New York Times on Wednesday showed Iranian missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf. Now, lawmakers are demanding briefings on what the Trump administration has called threatening actions, though evidence still appears scant and U.S. allies say they're skeptical.

House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) — who says he's been briefed on the situation and has had multiple conversations with acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan — says it is difficult to discern whether Iran is doing anything now that is substantially different than what the country was doing a week, a month or even years ago.

"Certainly, Iran is engaged in a variety of activities in the Middle East and Syria and Lebanon and Yemen and Iraq," Smith tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. "I don't see the evidence that there's actually been an increase in that threat environment."

Americans are currently being moved out of the embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Irbil, and U.S. military forces are being moved in the area to discourage an attack by Iran, Smith says the acting defense secretary told him.

The tipping point was the U.S. labeling Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization in April, Smith says. Iran expressed anger and retribution over the designation, escalating an already tense situation.

President Trump's national security advisor John Bolton has also long advocated for regime change in Iran. Bolton has made it clear he won't shy away from the possibility of advancing policy objectives through military action, Smith says.

"I'm worried that Bolton is pushing that agenda and that without [former Defense Secretary James] Mattis up at the Pentagon and his credibility on foreign policy matters ... and then with President Trump, who doesn't have much of a record one way or the other, could John Bolton force us into a conflict with Iran with unpredictable consequences?" Smith says.

It's difficult to say what might happen if the U.S. were to take military action against Iran, Smith says, adding that the current situation is escalating in a region already in embroiled in conflict.

"If someone fires the first shot, a whole lot of shots could fire in a number of different countries throughout the Middle East," he says. "You could be in a full-scale conflict that dwarfs the size of what happened in the Iraq War."

Lynn Menegon produced this interview and Ciku Theuri edited it for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Jackson Cote and Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on May 16, 2019.


Headshot of Jeremy Hobson

Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.


Headshot of Jackson Cote

Jackson Cote Digital Producer
Jackson Cote was a freelance digital producer for WBUR and Here & Now.



More from Here & Now

Listen Live