Donald Trump's 'Locked and Loaded' Iran Threat Triggers Alarm Among Lawmakers: 'The U.S. Should Never Go to War to Protect Saudi Oil'

Crude oil prices are soaring following this weekend's Houthi drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure. As global markets grappled with the turbulence, President Donald Trump issued a belligerent statement accusing Iran of being behind the attack and threatening subsequent action against Tehran.

Though tensions between the U.S. and Iran have eased in recent weeks, this attack—plus Trump's initial response—has raised fears that the two countries are sliding back towards conflict. This weekend, U.S. lawmakers warned that Trump should not allow the U.S. to become engaged in a costly war in the Persian Gulf.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have been high for several months as a result of Trump's withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a.k.a. the Iran nuclear deal. Trump is trying to force Tehran back to the negotiating table to agree a more restrictive deal, but Iran has thus far resisted American diplomatic, military and economic coercion.

The threat of war has diminished in recent weeks, helped by French President Emmanuel Macron's efforts to facilitate a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting. The departure of hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton also raised hopes that Trump might move towards dialogue with Iran.

But the weekend drone attack on the Saudi Abqaiq facility in the east of the country appears to have dashed hopes of a detente. The attack was claimed as a drone strike by the Yemeni Houthi rebels, who Saudi Arabia has been fighting since 2015. But the U.S. has suggested that Iran was behind the incident, possibly using cruise missiles launched from either Iran or Iraq.

On Sunday, Trump suggested the U.S. was considering retaliation. "There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification," he tweeted, in reference to Iran.

The president added that the U.S. is "waiting to hear from [Saudi Arabia] as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!"

Democratic Virginia Senator Tim Kaine was among those to condemn Trump's threatening comments. "The US should never go to war to protect Saudi oil," he tweeted.

Democratic Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy was equally skeptical, warning that an aggressive U.S. response would likely create more problems than it would solve.

"No matter where this latest drone strike was launched from, there is no short or long term upside to the U.S. military getting more deeply involved in the growing regional contest between the Saudis and Iranians," Murphy tweeted.

"Bottom line: the Saudis sowed the seeds of this mess," he continued. "They marginalized the Houthis in the 80s and thru the 2000s wars. They bungled the prosecution of the post 2015 conflict. Houthis/Iranians have blood on their hands too, but the U.S. should not be a part of this disaster."

"If the Administration has evidence that the Iranians - not the much more likely suspects, the Houthis, who claim responsibility - launched the attack on Saudi oil facilities, show it," Murphy concluded.

Former Obama staffer and podcast host Dan Pfeiffer, meanwhile, said that a "war of choice with Iran to defend Saudi Arabian oil production seems like a tough sell to the American people."

And even if the U.S. and Saudi Arabia agreed to respond, the complexities of the conflict mean that retaliation is a minefield of its own.

Carnegie Endowment Senior Fellow Aaron David Miller explained that if the president does nothing, "a new and dangerous precedent will have been set." However: "A serious response designed to punish and deter could trip into an escalation he wants to avoid. And against whom would the US retaliate?"

Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump, war, Iran, oil
A picture taken on September 15, 2019 shows the Aramco oil facility near al-Khurj area, just south of the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh. FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images/Getty