Sending additional troops to Middle East is "prudent," former acting CIA director says

How "miscalculation" could spur Iran conflict

Former acting CIA director and CBS News contributor Michael Morell told "CBS This Morning" that the decision by the Trump administration to send an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East was "prudent."

"I think we're sending the message that we're going to defend our interests," Morell said. The decision to augment troops in the region comes as tensions with Iran continue to rise after recent attacks on two oil tankers, which the U.S. says were carried out by Iranian forces.

The Iranian government has denied involvement in the attacks. The country's atomic agency said Monday it was increasing its production of uranium and will surpass the limit allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal within 10 days. President Trump announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from that accord in 2018.

Morell said that Iran was trying to put pressure on the U.S. to ease sanctions on Iran by threatening to pull out of the nuclear deal and allegedly orchestrating attacks on the tankers. However, Morell noted that Iran was at least a year away from producing a nuclear weapon.

Morell said that he was convinced that Iran was behind the tanker attacks due to high-resolution visuals provided by the State Department, as well as the conclusion by Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, that Iran was likely involved.

However, Morell said that U.S. allies were somewhat skeptical about American intelligence conclusions on the tankers, in part due to the memory of false intelligence that led to the conflict in Iraq in 2003.

"It's going to be a long time before that gets out of people's memory," Morell said.

Another issue, Morell said, is the lack of credibility in the Trump administration, due to the president's tendency to tell falsehoods. The biggest factor in allies' distrust of the U.S., he said, was that Mr. Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement.

"Our allies blame us for pulling out of the nuclear deal and creating this crisis," Morell said.

Morell noted that "neither side at this point wants war," but that conflict could be precipitated by "miscalculation." If Iran attacked a region with U.S. forces and American troops were killed, Morell said, conflict between the two countries would be more likely.

  • Grace Segers

    Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.