Nancy Pelosi fancies herself a foreign policy expert who not only must be consulted by the president’s foreign policy team, but who can set or manipulate American foreign policy. Recall her foray into Middle East policy a decade ago, when she defied the Bush State Department, met with Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and declared him the key to bringing peace to the Middle East.
Here is what Shadow Secretary Pelosi said about the killing Gen. Soleimani:
American leaders’ highest priority is to protect American lives and interests. But we cannot put the lives of American servicemembers, diplomats and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions. Tonight’s airstrike risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence. America — and the world — cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return.
The Administration has conducted tonight’s strikes in Iraq targeting high-level Iranian military officials and killing Iranian Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran. Further, this action was taken without the consultation of the Congress.
The full Congress must be immediately briefed on this serious situation and on the next steps under consideration by the Administration, including the significant escalation of the deployment of additional troops to the region.
Most of this is nonsense. If the killing of Soleimani was “disproportionate,” that’s only because Iran’s terrorist in chief is responsible for the death of hundreds of Americans. Unfortunately, we can only kill Soleimani once.
Moreover, American intelligence indicated that Soleimani was planning new attacks that would have killed more Americans. If so, then it wasn’t “disproportionate” to kill him and his associates for that reason, as well.
I think the administration may be too optimistic about the extent to which taking out Soleimani will prevent future attacks. Presumably, he had deputies who can step into his role effectively enough to cause serious trouble. However, it’s not disproportionate to kill a terrorist who is responsible for many American deaths and who is plotting many more.
Pelosi’s suggestion that President Trump needed an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran and that he needed to consult Congress is also nonsense. As Jim Geraghty reminds us, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps was designated a terrorist group in April. The president doesn’t need authorization to take out the head of a terrorist group who is planning an attack on U.S. interests, nor does he need to consult with Congress before doing so.
Does Pelosi really think Congress has to pass an authorization before the president can take out a dangerous terrorist? How would that work? Soleimani wasn’t sitting around waiting to be attacked. The opportunity to take him out was short-lived. Quick action was required. Congress can’t act quickly enough.
Moreover, David French points out that the attack on Soleimani occurred in Iraq, not Iran. This is important “because American troops are lawfully in Iraq, there by congressional authorization and with the permission of the Iraqi government. . . [and] have a right of self-defense.”
Iranian-backed militias attacked U.S. troops lawfully present in a combat zone under valid legal authorities. Moreover, America’s military response isn’t limited to immediate self-defense or tit for tat. It can act to remove the threat. That threat includes enemy commanders.
The true “act of war” was thus Iran’s — by putting one of its commanders, boots on the ground, in Iraq to assist in planning and directing attacks on U.S. forces. America is entitled to respond to that threat.
Pelosi is right about one thing — the killing of Soleimani is provocative in the sense that it will likely provoke military action by Iran, including action it might not otherwise have taken. She’s also right to worry about “tensions escalat[ing] to the point of no return.”
But tensions were escalating already due to previous Iranian attacks, and were bound to escalate further if/when Soleimani carried out the new attacks he apparently was in Iraq to orchestrate. The U.S. could not have failed to respond to what Soleimani was planning.
The U.S., through its sanctions, has placed Iran in a box. The regime is responding with provocative attacks on U.S. allies, interests, and troops. In the face of this aggression, Trump’s alternatives are to sit back and take it, to respond weakly, or to respond in a way that shows he means business.
The last of these options makes the most sense, and that’s the option Trump has selected.
Pelosi’s real quarrel is with Trump’s decision to reject President Obama’s nuclear deal and to place tough sanctions on Iran. I agree with Trump’s decision, but reasonable people can disagree with it.
However, in view of Pelosi’s whining about lack of congressional involvement, it’s worth noting that Obama did not seek ratification of his deal as a treaty. If he had, and if the Senate had ratified the treaty, Trump would have been bound by it.
Obama had the option of seeking Senate ratification of the Iran deal as a treaty. Trump did not have the realistic option of seeking congressional authorization to have Suleimani killed.
JOHN adds: Did I forget the time when Barack Obama sought Congressional authorization to kill Osama bin Laden, the proudest moment of his presidency? Or have I forgotten how Congressional Democrats lamented the absence of a vote?
UPDATE: Paul reminds me that the killing of bin Laden was authorized under the 2001 Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force that followed the September 11 attacks, so that isn’t a good example. However, the broader point is correct: the Obama administration carried out thousands of strikes–2,800 in Iraq and Syria alone, according to the Washington Timws–with no Congressional authority other than the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, the latter of which authorized the Iraq War. To its credit, the Obama administration executed many missions comparable to the killing of Soleimani, although targeting less well-known figures with the exception of bin Laden, and to my recollection, the only time there was any controversy was when Obama killed an American citizen, Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen.