Congress Should Debate War, Not Mindlessly Cheer for It

The constitutional role of Congress is not to cheerlead a major escalation of a nearly 17-year-old conflict. It's to consider the best interest of the American people.


Things are moving quickly in the aftermath of yesterday's surprise assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the longtime leader of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and key figure in the Iranian regime.

The Pentagon has approved plans to send 3,000 more troops to the region. But the debate over the next steps must now shift to Congress, as the Constitution demands. Sen. Tim Kaine (D–Va.) has announced plans to introduce a war powers resolution in the Senate, forcing a debate over whether the U.S. should go to war with Iran or place limits on Trump's ability to engage in hostilities.

Unfortunately, some members of Congress have failed so far to live up to the expectations that come with their office. The constitutional role of elected officials is not to cheerlead a major escalation of a nearly 17-year-old conflict; it is to consider what is in the best interest of the American people. But many GOP lawmakers preferred to cheerlead, often comparing Soleimani's assassination to the killings of terrorist leaders like Osama bin Laden.

This is dangerously faulty logic. Whatever you think of extrajudicial killings of nonstate terrorists, what the United States did Thursday night is an entirely different matter. Terror cells and militias can sometimes be weakened or even destroyed by taking out top leaders. Soleimani is a high-ranking official within the Iranian military, which is not going to collapse because he's been eliminated.

As for assassinating "evil bastard[s] who murdered Americans": If you do that without regard for circumstances or consequences, you aren't pursuing a doctrine that will promote peace or security. It can as easily encourage more attacks against Americans.

Some Democrats haven't been great on these issues either. Consider Sen. Chris Murphy (D–Conn.), who rushed to Twitter moments after the news of Soleimani's death broke to ask some big questions: "did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?" Those are, indeed, exactly the types of questions a member of Congress should be grappling with today and in the days to come. But Murphy loses considerable credit because he had, just days earlier, criticized the Trump administration for failing to respond with more force after the U.S. embassy in Baghdad came under attack from an Iranian-backed militia.

It's certainly fair for any member of Congress (or any American) to criticize the president's actions, but "Whatever Trump is doing, I want the opposite" is neither a thoughtful nor a useful attempt at fixing America's flawed foreign policy.

Just as neither party has a monopoly on stupid reactions to Soleimani's killing, the serious responses have been transpartisan as well:

While it is tempting to view the domestic political reactions to Soleimani's assassination as a typical partisan game, something more important is also happening here. The executive branch has had free rein—under presidents from both major parties—to engage in a destructive, ill-concieved "War on Terror" that has destabilized the Middle East and caused massive human suffering. Since 9/11, more than 500,000 people have been killed in conflicts across the Middle East and Central Asia, and most of them weren't terrorists.

Now the United States has committed an act of war against yet another country. The threat of open warfare with Iran is now greater than at any time in recent history. The risk now facing Americans—military personnel and civilians—in Iraq and elsewhere is real, as the State Department made clear this morning when it advised all Americans in Iraq to get the hell out as soon as possible. And we may see yet more erosion of Congress' ability to control when the country goes to war. Any politician using Thursday's attack merely to score political points should not be taken seriously.