Susan Rice, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. national security adviser, issued a stark warning aimed at the White House on Sunday, saying the risk of war with Iran was still very real, but could be averted if President Donald Trump takes immediate control of his national security policy.
Rice, who served under President Barack Obama, wrote an op-ed published in The New York Times on Sunday, days after Trump said he abruptly called off military strikes against Iran minutes before they were set to take place. According to the president, he ordered strikes in retaliation for the downing of an American spy drone, but scuttled the attack after learning officials estimated 150 Iranians would be killed.
Rice says that she was troubled by the accounts, but that there was a “potential silver lining, if Mr. Trump truly doesn’t want war with Iran.”
“The risk of war remains real,” Rice writes. “How on earth did we find ourselves 10 minutes from an idiotic war without the president having weighed the consequences? As a former national security adviser who has participated in many decisions about whether and when to use force, I am more certain than ever that our national security decision-making process is dangerously dysfunctional.”
Rice urges changes in strategy, including sidelining both the current national security advisor, John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Bolton has reportedly been instrumental in the president’s hawkish attitude toward Iran and recently issued renewed warnings to Tehran, saying Trump could still go forward with the strikes in the future.
After Trump revamps his advisory team, he should hire career experts specializing in negotiations with Iran, set firm red lines and reassure Congress that he will keep them involved in his plans, Rice writes. Tehran has been testing the boundaries of its power in recent weeks as conflict with the U.S. has intensified, saying it would soon blow past stockpile limits on low-enriched uranium set out in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (which Trump has trashed).
“The president needs to narrow and clarify his redlines for military action against Iran,” Rice notes. “He should make plain that three things would force consideration of a United States military response — attacks on American personnel, Iran rushing to acquire the fissile material for a bomb and any direct Iranian attack on Israel.”
Rice criticizes Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the nuclear deal, calling it “foolish” and saying it predictably backfired. But, Rice notes, “we are where we are,” and the onus was on the president to avert a catastrophe.
“Finding a way to leverage his massive mistakes while demonstrating the will and capacity to climb down is our least bad option,” Rice concludes.