There’s this searching moment after almost any politicized victory in America where the other side tries to discover the best line to blunt the force of that victory. In terms of the death of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of a terrorist organization, one of the lines the Democrats seem to be settling into is that President Donald Trump required authorization to kill Soleimani under U.S. law.
“The administration did not consult [with Congress] in this case, and I fear that very serious questions have not been answered and may not be fully considered,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday from the Senate floor, according to The New York Times. “Among those questions, what was the legal basis for conducting this operation? And how far does that legal basis extend?
“It is my view that the president does not have the authority for a war with Iran. If he plans a large increase in troops and potential hostility over a longer time, the administration will require congressional approval and the approval of the American people,” he added.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi implied as much when she said in a statement shortly after the attack that 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.”
Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, meanwhile, gave the administration the benefit of admitting the head of the Quds Force “was an enemy of the United States” but raised questions as to whether this was an assassination and compatible with U.S. law.
Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question.
The question is this – as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 3, 2020
One need not question how Murphy would answer that question. One also need not question where these “reports” are coming from: Democrat leadership and the media.
At the moment, this argument seems to be running roughly equal with questioning the Trump administration’s claim that Soleimani was planning an attack against U.S. diplomats and military personnel, and the contention that the attack on Soleimani makes us less safe.
At least in terms of the first count, Obama-era DHS head Jeh Johnson, who was once general counsel of the Defense Department, doesn’t think the Democrats have much of a case.
Johnson was on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday where Chuck Todd asked him, somewhat pointedly, a question about how the Trump administration was referring to the dead general.
Todd’s insinuation was that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to Soleimani as a “terrorist” because the “legal distinction” makes it so that he can be taken out without congressional authorization.
Johnson said there wasn’t a distinction.
“If you believe everything our government is saying about Gen. Soleimani, he was a lawful military objective,” he responded.
“The president, under his constitutional authority as commander in chief, had ample domestic legal authority to take him out without additional congressional authorization,” Johnson said. “Whether he was a terrorist or a general in a military force that was engaged in armed attacks against our people, he was a lawful military objective.”
This morning, Obama DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson debunked Democrats’ claim that Congress needed to approve Soleimani strike
Johnson: Soleimani was a “lawful military objective” & the President had “ample domestic legal authority to take him out” pic.twitter.com/1LUqYAwm9j
— Zach Parkinson (@AZachParkinson) January 5, 2020
No matter what your impression is of the administration’s contention that Soleimani and those in his orbit were plotting an immediate attack against the interests of the United States, there was little doubt that he had a hand in plotting these actions, both in the recent and not-too-recent past. Soleimani’s trail of innocent bodies has been well-documented, if mostly elided over, in the wake of his death.
Is this really what the Democrats want to argue against? That Soleimani posed a unique danger to the United States and that the danger had amplified in recent weeks and months?
The attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was carried out by an Iranian-backed militia as retribution for an airstrike against another Iranian-backed militia that had killed an American citizen. Soleimani’s role in the insurgency in Iraq killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers.
Soleimani wasn’t picking up his stakes in the country and dusting off his hands, content with his handiwork. Reuters reported in the wake of the strike that Soleimani had “instructed his top ally in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and other powerful militia leaders to step up attacks on U.S. targets in the country using sophisticated new weapons provided by Iran” at a meeting in October, held in the shadow of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
This doesn’t invalidate the fact that Soleimani was still a terrorist. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in which Soleimani was a commander, had been designated as a terror group by the United States and other countries well before he was killed, and not without good reason. That said, the designation of the IRGC as a terror group or Soleimani as a terrorist isn’t particularly important, per se, in terms of the president’s legal authority to dispatch him.
It won’t do Jeh Johnson any favors to publicly point this out, nor is it the first time he has made the mistake of saying obvious things Democrats shouldn’t say. He previously noted that “we simply have to enforce the law” on enforcing immigration law and that decriminalizing illegal border crossings, as several Democratic presidential candidates had proposed doing, was “tantamount to declaring publicly that we have open borders.”
He survived those incidents of accidental truth-telling. We’ll see how many more he can withstand.
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