Lame-duck presidents typically avoid doing anything too provocative in their last days, particularly regarding national security. But Donald Trump is anything but typical.
Trump threatened Iran after a rocket attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad that the US has blamed on Iranian-backed militias.
Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden has said he's not receiving extensive briefings from the Pentagon.
It was unclear whether Biden had been briefed on the situation with Iran, which he inherits in 27 days.
President Donald Trump is leaving the White House in less than a month, but you wouldn't know it from his behavior.
Beyond refusing to concede to President-elect Joe Biden, the president has continued to threaten Iran with military action, and his administration has reportedly discussed potential responses to recent rocket attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad thought to have been carried out by Iranian-backed militias.
Meanwhile, Biden has said he's being stonewalled by the Pentagon and hasn't been thoroughly briefed on several crucial issues.
After the discovery of the massive SolarWinds hack, Trump claimed that "everything is well under control." Biden on Wednesday said he'd seen "no evidence" to back that up and suggested the department hadn't been forthcoming with information on the hack.
The president-elect said the Defense Department "won't even brief us on many things." The Pentagon pushed back on that assertion, describing it in a statement on Wednesday as "patently false."
It was unclear whether Biden had been briefed on the situation with Iran and any actions Trump might take.
The Biden transition team did not offer a comment when contacted by Insider.
Trump issued a grave warning to Iran during his final days in office
Trump has been an inherently unorthodox president since he was sworn in, but his atypical approach to leadership has been especially stark since he lost the election to Biden.
Most lame-duck presidents wouldn't dream of threatening war or military action against an adversary, typically focusing on final legacy policies as their staffers update their counterparts during the transition. But Trump has not shied away from it.
In mid-November, Trump reportedly asked top aides for military options against Iran over its nuclear program, but he was ultimately talked out of it by senior advisors who warned of sparking a broader conflict during his final days in office. Iran has violated the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, which has steadily crumbled since Trump withdrew the US from it in May 2018.
More recently, he's lashed out at Iran over the attacks on the embassy in Baghdad.
"Our embassy in Baghdad got hit Sunday by several rockets. Three rockets failed to launch. Guess where they were from: IRAN," Trump tweeted on Wednesday. "Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq. Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over."
The attack damaged the embassy compound and killed at least one Iraqi civilian, US diplomatic sources told NPR.
"The Dec. 20, 2020 rocket attack on the green zone in Iraq was almost certainly conducted by an Iranian-backed rogue militia group," Central Command said in a statement, adding that the 21-rocket attack "was clearly NOT intended to avoid casualties."
But Gen. Frank McKenzie, the Central Command chief, earlier this week told The Wall Street Journal that he didn't know "the degree to which Iran is complicit."
"We do not seek a war, and I don't actually believe they seek one either," McKenzie said.
Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said in a tweet that Trump had "recklessly" accused Iran of being behind the attack. "Trump will bear full responsibility for any adventurism on his way out," Zarif said.
'Trump is ending the year like he started it, trying to provoke a disastrous war'
Trump's threats toward Iran came nearly a year after he ordered a drone strike that killed the country's top general, Qassem Soleimani, and pushed Washington and Tehran to the brink of war. The Soleimani assassination was partly inspired by a rocket attack in Iraq that killed an American contractor in late December 2019.
But tensions between the US and Iran were high before that, largely because of Trump's controversial decision to withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions as part of a "maximum pressure" campaign to hammer the Iranian economy.
In November, a top Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated. Iran accused Israel of orchestrating the killing. Experts have suggested that the US was also involved, saying the assassination was part of Trump's desire to derail Biden's ambitions of returning to the 2015 deal. Some analysts suspect Trump might take further action to tie Biden's hands.
"Friendly reminder before Trump does whatever crazy thing he's about to do to #Iran, this is all his fault," Stephen Miles, the executive director of Win Without War, tweeted on Wednesday. "He inherited a working diplomatic nuclear deal and thawing relations, blew that all up to try out 'maximum pressure' which predictably failed, and now here we are yet again."
Derek Johnson, CEO of the anti-nuclear-weapons group Global Zero, said, "I see Trump is ending the year like he started it, trying to provoke a disastrous war with Iran."
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