- 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 has issued new threats against Iran in the wake of a rocket attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad, which the US has blamed on Iranian-backed militias.
- Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden says he's not receiving extensive briefings from the Pentagon.
- It's unclear whether Biden has been briefed on the situation with Iran, which he inherits in 27 days.
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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 says he's being stonewalled by the Pentagon and hasn't been thoroughly briefed on a number of crucial issues.
In the wake of the discovery of the massive, embarrassing SolarWinds hack, Trump has claimed that "everything is well under control." Biden on Wednesday said he's seen "no evidence" to back that up and suggested the department hasn'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 as "patently false" in a statement on Wednesday.
It's unclear if Biden has been briefed on the situation with Iran and any potential 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 the moment 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 policies for their legacy as their staffs begin updating their counterparts during the transition — but Trump has not shied away from it whatsoever.
In mid-November, Trump reportedly asked top aides for potential military options against Iran in relation to its nuclear program, but was ultimately talked out of it by senior advisors who warned of the potential for 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 from it in May 2018.
More recently, he's lashed out at Iran over the attacks on the Baghdad embassy.
"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, per NPR.
"The Dec. 20, 2020, rocket attack on the green zone in Iraq was almost certainly conducted by an Iranian-backed rogue militia group," Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for Central Command, said in a statement. He added that the 21-rocket attack was "clearly NOT intended to avoid casualties."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explicitly blamed "Iran-backed militias." The US is now considering closing the embassy in Iraq, Axios reported.
But Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie earlier this week also told the Wall Street Journal that he doesn't know "the degree to which Iran is complicit" in the incident.
"We do not seek a war, and I don't actually believe they seek one either," McKenzie said.
Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif responded to Trump in a tweet, stating that the president 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 after the rocket attack in Baghdad came nearly a year after he ordered a drone strike that killed the country's top general, Qassem Soleimani, which pushed Washington and Tehran to the brink of war. The Soleimani assasination 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 had reached historic heights before that, largely due to Trump's controversial decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal and re-impose 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. Meanwhile, experts have suggested that the US was also involved, stating that 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 actions 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, 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, in a tweet said, "I see Trump is ending the year like he started it, trying to provoke a disastrous war with Iran."
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