Beto O'Rourke says Trump is "provoking yet another war in the Middle East"

Beto O'Rourke on troops to MidEast

Last Updated May 25, 2019 4:49 PM EDT

Beto O'Rourke, one of the Democratic candidates running to challenge President Trump in 2020, accused the president of "provoking yet another war in the Middle East" by sending an additional 1,500 troops to the Middle East to counter the threat from Iran.

"President Trump is escalating tensions, is provoking yet another war in the Middle East where we find ourselves already engaged in war in so many countries -- in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen, not too far from there in Libya, and in Afghanistan," O'Rourke said in an interview with Margaret Brennan for "Face the Nation," which will air on Sunday.

The U.S. is currently embroiled in several conflicts in the Middle East. The U.S. recently pulled personnel out of Iraq in response to U.S. intelligence that Iran posed a threat to American forces there. Although Mr. Trump has said that he wants to pull American forces out of Syria -- a decision which led former Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign in protest -- several hundred troops will remain in the country.

Mr. Trump vetoed a resolution to stop supporting the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen, and announced this week that the administration would bypass Congress to continue selling weapons to the Saudis. Mr. Trump recently had a phone call with Khalifa Haftar, a longtime Libyan warlord who is spearheading an effort to topple the North African country's United Nations-backed government. Thousands of troops remain on the ground in Afghanistan as the U.S. tries to negotiate peace with the Taliban. 

Mr. Trump announced that he is ordering more troops to the Middle East before departing to Japan Friday. The U.S. will also send more Patriot missile batteries and other force protection systems, and will be designed for the long-haul confrontation with Iran, CBS News' David Martin reports, citing U.S. officials.

"We want to have protection the Middle East," Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday. He said he was sending a "relatively small number" of "very talented" people to the region. Martin reports that the move is considered to be a very limited buildup – with about 900 new troops plus 600 who were already in place.

O'Rourke told Brennan in the interview for "Face the Nation" that "we don't need another war," and that a better foreign policy strategy would be to "find a way to work with allies and partners and in some cases with our enemies."

O'Rourke expressed doubt about U.S. intelligence that Iran posed a threat to U.S. forces in Iraq, a claim which some American allies have disputed, although the U.K. supports the American finding. He also questioned the motives of National Security Adviser John Bolton, who was a key advocate for the war in Iraq during the George W. Bush administration.

"I have a really hard time believing this administration and believing a president who has so wantonly lied and misconstrued the facts at every single turn to his own gain. I'm suspicious of a national security team that has so often called for war," O'Rourke said. " You have someone in Bolton who has publicly said that he wants regime change in Iran."

O'Rourke continued that a war with Iran could result in thousands or hundreds of thousands casualties in the Middle East.

"If there is a peaceful alternative to this -- and I know that there is -- then we must do everything within our power to pursue it. That's what I would do in my administration," O'Rourke said. "I'd stick up for our values, make sure that we defend our allies, protect the lives of our fellow Americans. But do that peacefully where we can."

"Otherwise, we will produce more wars, more veterans coming back to this country seeking the care that they are being effectively and functionally denied today. I think we need to do far better going forward and I know that we can," O'Rourke continued.

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    Grace Segers

    Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.