Amid all the insane things we’ve done in the Middle East for decades, the killing of Soleimani was a very prudent and justified operation. Naturally, that is the event that triggered outrage from Congress and awakened legislators from their slumber on foreign policy.
After years of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars lost in aimless, unaccountable nation-building activities overseas, Democrats and some Republicans are finally asserting congressional control … only over the one “war” the Trump administration deftly avoided. But the social work operations getting our soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue without any congressional oversight. It’s self-evident that the upcoming votes in the House and Senate restricting President Trump’s powers to counter Iran are all about appeasing the one country in the Middle East that actually affects us in the one theater where Trump actually beat the regime with zero American lives lost. It has nothing to do with asserting congressional control over unaccountable wars.
In two weeks, the House will vote on a bill (H.R. 5543) sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., to block funding for any potential operations against Iran. Support is building in the Senate for a similar plan using the 1973 War Powers Act to bar any use of the military to counter Iran. The lead sponsor, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., claims he has 51 supporters for a binding resolution (SJ Res 68) because GOP Sens. Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Susan Collins, and Todd Young have agreed to it.
Over the years, in this space, I have railed against these unaccountable and missionless operations refereeing tribal warfare in the Middle East. As the body count mounted every week during Obama’s presidency and then in recent years, I have asked hard questions about why our soldiers are dying. Just two days before the strike on Soleimani, I referred to the Iraq war as a “colossal mistake.” Aside from Sens. Lee and Paul, few of these loudmouths in Congress feigning outrage over the Soleimani strike expressed concern over these wars during that era, and in fact, Democrats consistently voted for defense bills continuing these operations without question.
The president himself has consistently been skeptical of these wars for years and has expressed a desire to leave them in the rearview mirror. But he has gotten no backing from Congress. Quite the contrary. When he decided to leave Syria, which in itself (unlike Iraq) was an unauthorized war, Democrats in Congress held hearings and attacked the president mercilessly. In fact, every single Democrat in the House voted for a resolution condemning the pullout on October 16. Some even said it would boost Iran, which was a bizarre contention given that we were fighting Iran’s and Assad’s Sunni enemies there.
Thus, every time Trump tries to actually change directions and bring troops home, Democrats are practically on the verge of bringing articles of impeachment against him for it. They would likely react the same way over Afghanistan, were the president to follow through with his promise to pull out. Over the weekend, two more of our finest soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar, where we’ve been moving soldiers around like sitting ducks for 17 years. There is no desire from Congress to act to rein in that operation, despite the expose from the Washington Post demonstrating the lies behind its premise and progress.
Yet, suddenly, when the president takes out the number-one global terrorist of Iran who is not only evil, but killed more Americans and attacked more of our interests than any other player in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, members of both parties are demanding congressional oversight to prevent any war with Iran. For the first time, we actually have a president responding to a direct threat with peace through strength while assiduously avoiding ground conflict and nation-building, yet they are assailing him for using unilateral authority. Iran captured an American naval crew in 2016 and has been escalating attacks with greater intensity in recent months without any end in sight because the regime feared no consequences. Trump’s killing of Soleimani turned out to be the ultimate act of de-escalation.
Democrats continue to find no faults with endless undeclared ground wars in numerous countries throughout the Middle East and Africa where the threat to our interests is a fraction of what Iran has done, killing hundreds of our soldiers in Iraq and attacking our embassy. There is no effort to conduct an operational audit of what we are doing in any of those theaters, but just an insidious motivation to hamstring the president in his successful deterrence against the one adversary that matters and in the one theater where he is actually refusing to get us sucked into a protracted, expensive, and untenable war.
There is no meaningful effort in Congress to ask questions about the billions of dollars we throw at nonexistent, unreliable, and often enemy militaries all over the Middle East and Africa, such as the “Lebanese Armed Forces.” Whenever Trump tries to cut funding to these missions, Democrats cry bloody murder and then pass budgets increasing foreign aid. Just this week, the WSJ reported that we’ve given a total of $11 billion to one side of a civil war in South Sudan that we are now sanctioning as an enemy.
It gets worse than that. Last week, 11 congressmen, including 9 Democrats, sent a letter to the Trump administration demanding that he not follow through with a plan, recently publicized by the New York Times, to pull out of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Four of the signatories of that letter – Reps. Anthony Brown, D-Md., Gilbert Cisneros, D-Calif., Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and Jason Crow, D-Conn. – are also co-sponsors of the House bill to block any action against Iran.
Last week, I reported that our troops in Niger were teaching kids how to use dental floss. A simple strike with no collateral damage against the man single-handedly responsible for more of our soldiers dying than in any conflict since Vietnam is off-limits to them, but pulling out of an unauthorized conflict in a far corner of Africa is also bad?
In reality, there is no mystery to the unprincipled behavior of many in Congress. It’s all about virtue-signaling because Iran has become a political issue. Love for the Iranian regime is now on par with abortion, transgenderism, and illegal immigration in terms of Democrat ideology. Those Republicans joining in with them are claiming to be protective of Article I powers, but they are purposely using the issue for Democrat and media agreement with them, but are not aggressively pushing to end the more unjustified conflicts.
Why were none of these “principled” Republicans, much less the Democrats, expressing public concern over the operation to find and kill ISIS head al-Baghdadi? I’m not suggesting I opposed it, but if you think the Soleimani strike was unjustified, then the one against Baghdadi was much less defensible.
One of the common refrains from the “principled” crowd is that just because someone is evil doesn’t mean the president has the authority or justification to take him out. Well, that applied to Baghdadi much more than Soleimani. ISIS was evil, but it didn’t affect our security or interests as much as it affected the Assad regime and the Shiites in Syria and Iraq. Unlike in Iraq, there was no authorization of force in Syria. Unlike with the operation to take out Soleimani, Baghdadi himself was not an imminent threat and was holed up in a corner of Syria. Soleimani, on the other hand, was conducting operations against our bases and attacked our embassy, aside from his history of killing over 600 troops in a war authorized by Congress. Moreover, the attack on Baghdadi was a much riskier ground operation than the drone strike that killed Soleimani.
Yet not a word of complaint from anyone. Why? Because ISIS is viewed as the “good” war. The media has framed ISIS in such a way that opposition to killing Baghdadi would be tantamount to opposing the killing of Hitler. Iran, on the other hand, is viewed as political, even though Soleimani was a much greater strategic threat. But few people ever heard of Soleimani, while everyone saw the ISIS videos on the web of Baghdadi’s minions torturing people. However, a true principled statesman doesn’t conflate gruesome videos with a strategic threat when assessing legal authorization and prudential justification.
Trump of all people was against the Iraq war more than any Republican or Democrat president; nonetheless, he inherited our presence there and was responsible for defending our assets against imminent attack. Thus, from a purely strategic and legal standpoint, if you are a Republican expressing “principled” concern over the Soleimani strike, you should have verbalized that same skepticism against the Baghdadi operation. The fact that no such concern was expressed demonstrates that some Republicans only like to take principled stances when it’s popular with the media. That is not principled.
Use of soft power and one airstrike against Iran in a theater authorized by Congress is the wrong time and the wrong place to suddenly debate presidential war powers. Trump, a man who has consistently expressed a desire to exit these wars, is the wrong president to tag with the allegation of starting unauthorized wars. Those who really care about the principle of congressional oversight, prudent and defined missions, and putting our soldiers first would work shoulder to shoulder with the president to responsibly exit these theaters in a bipartisan fashion. What they are doing instead is merely an exercise in virtue-signaling on behalf of Iran. Anyone who denies that should be asked why they never spoke up about the Baghdadi operation. (For more from the author of “The Same Democrats Opposing Trump on Nonexistent War With Iran Opposed His Effort to End Actual Unaccountable Wars” please click HERE)