WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has been on high alert in response to what military and intelligence officials have deemed specific and credible threats from Iran against US personnel in the Middle East.
But President Trump is frustrated with some of his top advisers, who he thinks could rush the United States into a military confrontation with Iran and shatter his longstanding pledge to withdraw from costly foreign wars, according to several US officials. Trump prefers a diplomatic approach to resolving tensions and wants to speak directly with Iran’s leaders.
Disagreements over assessing and responding to the recent intelligence — which includes a directive from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that some American officials interpret as a threat to US personnel in the Middle East — are also fraying alliances with foreign allies, according to officials in the United States and Europe.
Trump grew angry last week and over the weekend about what he sees as warlike planning that is getting ahead of his own thinking, said a senior administration official with knowledge of conversations Trump had regarding national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
‘‘They are getting way out ahead of themselves, and Trump is annoyed,’’ the official said. ‘‘There was a scramble for Bolton and Pompeo and others to get on the same page.’’
Bolton, who advocated regime change in Iran before joining the White House last year, is ‘‘just in a different place’’ from Trump, although the president has been a fierce critic of Iran since long before he hired Bolton. Trump ‘‘wants to talk to the Iranians; he wants a deal’’ and is open to negotiation with the Iranian government, the official said.
‘‘He is not comfortable with all this ‘regime change’ talk,’’ which to his ears echoes the discussion of removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the 2003 US invasion, said the official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said, ‘‘This reporting doesn’t accurately reflect reality.’’
Trump is not inclined to respond forcefully unless there is a ‘‘big move’’ from the Iranians, a senior White House official said. Still, the president is willing to respond forcefully if there are American deaths or a dramatic escalation, the official said.
While Trump grumbles about Bolton somewhat regularly, his discontent with his national security adviser is not near the levels it reached with Rex Tillerson when he served as Trump’s secretary of state, the official added.
Trump denied any ‘‘infighting’’ related to his Middle East policies in a tweet on Wednesday. ‘‘There is no infighting whatsoever,’’ Trump said. ‘‘Different opinions are expressed, and I make a decisive and final decision — it is a very simple process. All sides, views and policies are covered. I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.’’
Pentagon and intelligence officials said three distinct Iranian actions have triggered alarms: information suggesting an Iranian threat against US diplomatic facilities in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Irbil, US concerns that Iran may be preparing to mount rocket or missile launchers on small ships in the Persian Gulf, and a directive from Khamenei to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and regular Iranian military units that some US officials have interpreted as a potential threat to US military and diplomatic personnel.
On Wednesday, the State Department ordered nonessential personnel to leave the US missions in Baghdad and Irbil.
US and European officials said there are disagreements about Iran’s intentions and whether the new intelligence merits a more forceful response than to previous Iranian actions.
Trump is not inclined to respond forcefully unless there is a ‘big move’ from the Iranians, a senior White House official said.
Some worry that the renewed saber-rattling could create a miscalculation on the ground, said two Western officials familiar with the matter. And Iran’s use of proxy forces, the officials said, means it does not have absolute control over militias, which could attack US personnel and provoke a devastating US response that in turn prompts a counterescalation.
Bolton warned in a statement last week that ‘‘any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.’’
Military officials have described themselves as torn between their desire to avoid open confrontation with Iran and their concern about the recent intelligence, which led the commander of the US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, to request a host of additional military assets, including an aircraft carrier and strategic bombers.
Officials said uniformed officers from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led by its chairman, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, have been among the leading voices articulating the costs of war with Iran.
Other officials said the view that deterrence rather than conflict was required was ‘‘monolithic’’ across the Pentagon and was shared by civilian officials led by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
Trump has called the Iraq War a massive and avoidable blunder, and his political support was built in part on the idea that he would not repeat such a costly expenditure of money and lives.
Anxieties spilled over into Capitol Hill during a classified briefing Wednesday. Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, argued that the intelligence warranted an escalation against Iran, said one person with knowledge of the briefing. In response, Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, accused her of exaggerating the threat in what the person described as a ‘‘very heated exchange.’’