Trump's Soleimani Strike Turns Democratic Hawks Into Doves and Republican Doves Into Hawks

Whether politicians care about congressional oversight seems to hinge on who is in power.


President Donald Trump's decision to carry out a targeted assassination of Iran's top military leader, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, has resurrected a much-needed debate about America's use of military power in the world. After two decades of occupying and bombing large swaths of the Middle East, most American politicians now treat war-making like any other government action: how they feel about it depends on who's in the White House, not who it hurts.

It was just nine years ago that the House of Representatives voted on a War Powers resolution to limit former President Barack Obama's military actions in Libya, which he pursued without congressional oversight. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) announced yesterday that she would similarly move to rebuff Trump this week. (It's worth noting, however, that the resolution may be on hold in the wake of Iran's attack on two bases housing U.S. military personnel early on Wednesday.) Writing to House Democrats, she said that the resolution "reasserts Congress's long-established oversight responsibilities by mandating that if no further Congressional action is taken, the Administration's military hostilities with regard to Iran cease within 30 days."

Yet when it came to Obama, Pelosi departed from bipartisan consensus and voted in favor of military intervention without approval from Congress.

There are differences, of course, between the two conflicts. The White House wrote in 2011 that U.S. efforts in Libya "do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve U.S. ground troops." That amounts to little more than semantics. The deposition and subsequent killing of Col. Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 sparked chaos in North Africa and the Libyan Civil War, which is still ongoing. (Obama would go on to call his failure to plan for that the "worst mistake" of his presidency.) 

In other words, the major difference between Gaddafi and Soleimani is Trump.

There is a long list of Republican culprits here, as well. The House GOP voted overwhelmingly in 2011 to admonish Obama for participating in NATO combat operations in Libya without congressional approval, despite the fact that Gaddafi had ordered the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, which was flying from Frankfurt to Detroit and carrying both American civilians and American government officials. Republicans did not consider that fact—nor Gaddafi's slaughter of Libyan civilians during a popular uprising in 2011—justification enough for waging war without congressional consent. Yet, conservatives thus far have overwhelmingly supported the assassination of Soleimani.

"As a father, this isn't complicated: The United States took out an evil terrorist who killed thousands of people so he couldn't kill more people," Rep. Steve Scalise (R–La.), the second-ranking member of the House's Republican minority, tweeted. "Amazing how many on the far left will cover for a terrorist rather than give credit to @realDonaldTrump." 

Did Scalise vote to rein in Obama's military interference in Libya in 2011? Reader, he did. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.) placed some blame on Adam Schiff (D–Calif.), the head of the House Intelligence Committee, telling Fox and Friends that, had the congressman not been so focused on impeachment, he might've been able to protect the U.S. from Iranian aggression. "The world is safer today because this president took action," McCarthy said. "I don't think it's a place for them to play politics."

McCarthy also voted with the majority of his Republican colleagues in 2011 to admonish Obama for waging war without congressional approval. 

Speaking of Schiff: the Democrat recently called for open hearings on Trump's airstrike. "The president has put us on a path where we may be at war with Iran," he told The Washington Post. "That requires the Congress to fully engage."

Schiff sided with the Obama administration in 2011.

Are you sensing a pattern here?

While ideological inconsistency is the norm, there are a few notable exceptions. Just 10 House Republicans sided with Obama in 2011. Of that cohort, only two are still serving: Reps. Louie Gohmert (R–Texas) and David Schweikert (R–Ariz.). Neither member has released a statement in response to Trump's actions.

Forty-five House Democrats in 2011 voted against their party and in favor of constitutionality, pushing back against Obama's lack of restraint in Libya. That resolution, although it was non-binding, declared "that the President shall not deploy, establish, or maintain the presence of units and members of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Libya." It also requested that Obama give Congress more information on the administration's military objectives and provide lawmakers with reasons for why the president chose to circumvent them.

Rep. Dave Lipinski (D–Ill.), a pro-life Democrat, formally expressed his desire for congressional oversight and will likely do so again in this week's vote. Reps. Dave Loebsack (D–Iowa), Paul Tonko (D–N.Y.), and Peter DeFazio (D–Ore.) also voted to constrain Obama's actions in Libya. DeFazio told the East Oregonian this week that "there is still time to stop this risky escalation, but Congress must assert its constitutionally-granted war powers immediately to do so."

Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.), a Republican in 2011 and now an independent, is also expected to vote with most Democrats.

"When a president engages in war without congressional authorization and Congress does nothing to stop him, the two branches cut the American people out of the process, in violation of our Constitution's design," he tweeted. "This undermines both the liberty and the safety of the people."