This week will be critical for Congress to stop President Trump’s march to war with Iran following the US killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Here are ten of the top reasons why Congress needs to take action and stop this reckless President from leading us into an ugly regional war:
1. There was no “imminent threat” from Soleimani.
Contrary to the Trump administration narrative, it doesn’t appear that the killing was prompted by an imminent threat. Trump ordered the strike from a menu of options presented by his national security team days in advance, which both surprised them and prompted a scramble to locate Soleimani’s whereabouts. Intelligence officials have said the evidence behind the administration’s assertions of an imminent threat are “razor thin” and that the administration’s conclusion was an “illogical leap.” Moreover, reports indicate Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been pushing to target Soleimani for months.
2. Trump hid the strike from Congress while blabbing about it at Mar-a-Lago.
Congressional leaders were kept in the dark about the strike. But that didn’t stop Trump from previewing his big plans to his guests at Mar-a-Lago. As reported by The Daily Beast, “Trump began telling friends and allies hanging at his perennial vacation getaway that he was working on a ‘big’ response to the Iranian regime that they would be hearing or reading about very ‘soon…’ [T]he president specifically mentioned he’d been in close contact with his top national security and military advisers on gaming out options for an aggressive action that could quickly materialize.” Why would the President blab about his strike if it was to prevent an imminent threat? It seems more likely that this was a calculated provocation that Trump hid from Congress.
3. War with Iran could make the 2003 invasion of Iraq pale in comparison.
Iran is nearly four times the size of Iraq and more than twice as populous. Unlike Saddam Hussein, whose strategy rested solely on a conventional army, Iran has invested in both conventional and guerrilla tactics which would ensure a drawn out war of attrition. This includes a host of allies in neighboring Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Yemen who could expand the battlefield, harm US troops stationed around the region, and directly target US allies.
Trump has unwittingly hit upon the third rail in Iran’s body politic — fierce nationalism in the face of foreign domination — in a way that may not have been triggered since the bloody Iran-Iraq war that lasted for eight years.
4. The American people don’t want a war with Iran.
An entire generation of Americans have never known their country at peace. The forever war never ends, it only finds new beginnings. And polling shows the American people are sick of it across political stripes. According to Shibley Telhami, “Overwhelmingly, the US public does not believe that US interests warrant war with Iran. Only about one-fifth of respondents say that their country ‘should be prepared to go to war’ to achieve its goals with Iran, while three-quarters say that US goals do not warrant it. Among Republicans, only 34 percent say that war should be on the table to protect US interests.” Why would Congress allow the US to enter into an unauthorized, unpopular, and completely avoidable war with a capable adversary?
5. There is no Congressional authorization for an Iran war.
Congress did not authorize a war with Iran when it passed the 2001 authorization to use military force against al-Qaeda and associated forces more than 18 years ago. Nor did it authorize war with Iran when it passed the 2002 authorization to use military force against Saddam Hussein’s now-defunct regime. Yet administration officials have claimed they could use these authorizations to justify war with Iran, despite bipartisan majorities in Congress having voted over the summer to clarify that Donald Trump does not have authorization for an Iran war. That language was shamelessly stripped out of the 2019 defense bill by Senate Republicans just weeks ago. Congress must revisit this issue.
6. The strike may have killed backdoor talks to reduce regional tensions.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi alleged on Sunday before the Iraqi parliament that Qassem Soleimani was on his way to meet him that morning as part of a diplomatic mission. As translated by The Washington Post’s Baghdad correspondent Mustafa Salim, Soleimani “came to deliver me a message from Iran responding to the message we delivered from Saudi to Iran.” Abdul-Mahdi was reportedly serving as an intermediary between Saudi Arabia and Iran at the behest of the United States to calm regional tensions.
7. Trump is uniting Iranians around the flag.
Iran has undergone three days of mourning following Soleimani’s assassination, with mass gatherings across the nation. Iranian politicians of all political stripes have condemned the strike, including hardliners eager to challenge the US and moderates and reformists who have sought accommodation with the US and had been critical of Iran’s brutal crackdown on November protests. Trump has unwittingly hit upon the third rail in Iran’s body politic — fierce nationalism in the face of foreign domination — in a way that may not have been triggered since the bloody Iran-Iraq war that lasted for eight years. The Iranian regime could not have asked for a more beneficial propaganda tool at a sensitive time.
8. Trump just threatened Iran with war crimes.
Trump has made very clear his disregard for Congressional restraints and international law. His tweet on Saturday shocked Iranians, the diaspora, and all humans of good conscience. According to Trump, the US will respond to Iranian retaliation over the Soleimani killing by targeting “52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!” Targeting cultural sites is a war crime that has been committed by the likes of the Taliban and ISIS. It is shocking to see such a threat come from the President of the United States. Moreover, threats against their shared cultural heritage only further unite Iranians against the US.
9. Trump is getting the US kicked out of Iraq.
If there was still a US military mission worth saving in Iraq, Donald Trump appears to have ended it with his foolhardy assassination of Soleimani and Iraqi Shia leaders. Iraq’s parliament on Sunday passed a resolution obligating the government to work to end the presence of all US troops. Muqtada al-Sadr, the influential Shia cleric and former militia leader-turned parliamentarian, denounced the resolution as weak and has pushed to terminate Iraq’s security agreement with the United States immediately and close the US embassy and all military bases. Trump has struck a caustic tone in response, threatening to sanction Iraq if US troops are expelled. To add to the chaos, a letter addressed to the Iraqi military circulated on social media Monday, suggesting that the US military would be withdrawing from the country. No such decision has yet been made. Oops!
10. This is a 2002 moment for Congress.
Add it all up, and this is a 2002 moment for Congress. The Trump administration has lied about an imminent terror threat, and has even tried to link Iran to the September 11th attacks in order to justify a rush to war. If that sounds like George W. Bush’s march to war with Iraq, it should. Congress’ vote on the 2002 war authorization has cast a long shadow over many political leaders. But such moments are also moments to shine by standing up for truth and peace. The American people don’t want a war. Congress needs to make sure they don’t get one.
Ryan Costello is Policy Director with the National Iranian American Council. Follow him on Twitter @RN_Costello.