The Pentagon came under intense scrutiny last week after a Wall Street Journal report about additional troop deployments in the Middle East sparked questions from lawmakers and a chain of conflicting statements from the Department of Defense.
The Journal reported last Wednesday that the Trump administration “is considering a significant expansion of the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East to counter Iran, including dozens more ships, other military hardware and as many as 14,000 additional troops.”
In a tweet later that day, a Pentagon spokesperson dismissed the Journal’s reporting but did not categorically deny that additional troops would be sent to the Middle East, opting instead to deny the specific number of troops that were reportedly going to be deployed.
“To be clear, the reporting is wrong. The U.S. is not considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East,” Alyssa Farah, the Defense Department’s press secretary, said.
Nancy Youssef, one of the reporters who broke the story, later responded to Farah’s tweet and said the Journal stood by its reporting. The next day, a senior Pentagon official testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmed that additional deployments to the Middle East were being considered.
Under questioning by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy, admitted that “it is possible we would need to adjust our force posture.”
Shortly after Rood’s testimony, Farah released another statement specifically denying the deployment of 14,000 troops, adding that the Pentagon is “constantly evaluating the threat situation around the world and considering our options.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), another member of the Armed Services Committee, later tweeted that Farah’s statement was not accurate since Rood had testified that the Department of Defense was actively considering an additional deployment.
Per John Rood today, this statement is not accurate. DOD *is* actively considering additional troops – Rood wouldn’t rule out any number. I’d like to get a straight answer @WSJ https://t.co/CLqCZGHHBr
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) December 5, 2019
President Trump also denied the reporting, tweeting “the story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!” But earlier that day, Trump told reporters at the White House that “If there is a threat, it will be met very strongly.”
Also on Thursday, CNN reported that the Department of Defense was considering deploying an additional 4,000 to 7,000 troops to deter Iran, confirming the Journal’s claim that additional deployments were likely.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper released a statement saying that reports “discussing or considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East” are “flat out wrong,” challenging the number of troops cited by the Journal but not the main crux that additional deployments were being considered.
The conflicting statements coming out of the Pentagon are hardly the first time the Trump administration has been pressed to clarify confusing or contradictory positions. In fact, the president has often contradicted statements made by his own staff.
In August, Trump confirmed to reporters that he was considering a payroll tax cut ahead of the 2020 election just hours after White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said the idea was “not being considered at this time.” And in late November, Trump denied that he directed Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, to meet with Ukrainian officials in pursuit of investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden.
As CNN reported at the time, Trump not only contradicted his own words during his July 25 call with the Ukrainian president but “also contradicted sworn testimony from members of his administration and claims from his own White House acting chief of staff.”