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Then-Defense Secretary James Mattis and President Trump last year. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis had "deep concerns" about a request late last year from national security adviser John Bolton for options to attack inside Iran, according to a source close to Mattis.

The big picture: "There were deep concerns about any efforts to escalate a conflict with Iran," the source told me. As the Wall Street Journal first reported, Bolton's request came "after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad's sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the U.S. Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells — launched by a group aligned with Iran — landed in an open lot and harmed no one."

Behind the scenes: Mattis thought that attacking inside Iran risked escalating a conflict with an Iranian proxy into war with a nation state — the Iranian regime. The source told me that despite Mattis' concerns, the Pentagon provided the White House with options to counterattack against Iran.

  • In response to questions for this article, National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said: "The NSC coordinates policy and provides the president with options to anticipate and respond to a variety of threats. We continue to review the status of our personnel following attempted attacks on our embassy in Baghdad and our Basra consulate and will consider the full range of options to preserve their safety and our interests."
  • And Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning responded: "The Department of Defense is a planning organization and provides options to the president for decision. Discussions between the secretary of defense and the president are privileged."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Updated 2 hours ago - Economy & Business

S&P 500 on track for worst-ever start to year

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Stocks suffered their steepest drop of the year early Monday, putting the S&P 500 on course for its worst-ever start to a year.

Driving the news: The benchmark S&P 500 dropped for its fifth straight day, with losses nearing 3% in early trading, momentarily putting it on track to fall into a "correction." Some of the steepest losses were recovered in early afternoon trading.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
3 hours ago - Health

Health care workers hit new breaking point

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The ranks of health care workers are dwindling and stretching what it means to be reaching their "breaking points," particularly at small nonprofit hospitals.

The big picture: Even as Omicron cases have begun to wane in some places, many hospitals are still fielding a crush of patients amid record employee callouts.