The U.S. has been at odds with Iran for four decades, ever since the hostage crisis. Since then Iran has been a sponsor of terror and a supplier of deadly munitions, most notably roadside bombs, that killed and wounded thousands of American soldiers in the Middle East fighting what I will just put under the general heading of “the war on terror”.
I would be among the first to criticize and in fact distrust our current president. He has a terrible record for honesty and world knowledge (he confesses he hates to read). But let’s look at two responses:
Beginning in November of 1979, 52 American citizens were held hostage in Iran. They were held for 444 days. President Jimmy Carter spent much of that time in self-exile in the White House rose garden. About half way through their captivity there was a failed rescue attempt by the U.S. military. The hostages were not released until Carter lost re-election and Ronald Reagan took office (some claim Reagan made a secret deal with Iran, arms for hostages — don’t know about that one). So that’s the way one president, Carter, handled things with Iran.
Recently Iran has stepped up its program of inciting and supporting militias and other forces to attack U.S. forces in the Middle East and most recently orchestrated a demonstration and attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
While it is reported several administrations considered taking out Iran’s Gen. Qassim Suleimani, purported to be the master mind of terror and military actions outside Iran’s borders, the other presidents and their administrations apparently did not want to push the envelope, fearing the break out of all-out war with Iran or starting something they could not finish.
President Donald Trump decided to strike a target of opportunity. The General was in a vehicle at or near Baghdad Airport in Iraq. An American drone obliterated it with the general inside. Other personnel (as far as I know, all military or military related, some in other vehicles as I understand) were killed as well.
President Barack Obama ordered a lot of drone strikes against terrorists. In many, non-combatants were killed along with the bad guys. Have not heard of any collateral damage in this one.
So anyway, one president took action in the case of the general, while the others passed.
That is not to say that it was the right action or if it was prudent. Time may tell. He made a decision.
Was it legal? Well, it seems as if others considered it so, but passed on other grounds.
While I think it could be called an act of war by the U.S., so is all the support Iran has given to forces against the U.S.
Congress often objects that its war powers set forth in the constitution are being circumvented when a president takes military action without consulting it. But it is congress who over the years has let its war powers erode and who has given them over to the executive for fear of taking responsibility itself.
Someone or some body has to carry the burden of deciding how and when we go to war or if we go at all. Power abhors a vacuum.
Also, in an ongoing situation it is highly impractical to make tactical decisions by committee.
Still, it is up to congress to stand up and do something concerning its constitutional duties.
The president contends that there was an imminent threat and therefore the killing of the general purportedly planning specific attacks against U.S. soldiers was necessary. Others suggest the general was simply an ongoing threat with his actions.
(Ironically the president heretofore has expressed no confidence in the U.S. intelligence gathering apparatus.)
If the argument is that the president does not have the authority to direct forces in the Middle East, one wonders what they are doing there. Is it not congress who has authorized the funding for those forces?
There certainly is an ongoing dispute involving war powers and has been since Vietnam. But I suspect congress over the years has found it more politically convenient to pass the buck to the executive so that it can have cover if something goes wrong or the fickle fate of public opinion turns against it.
Meanwhile, presidents will do what they think needs to be done at the time.
There is the existential threat of a rogue president going too far, and although on a slightly different subject, that is being dealt with now in the impeachment of the president by congress (now awaiting for senate action). Exactly how this fits in or what its effect is, don’t know.
I just think that the congress, both houses, need to think more on overall war policy, rather than just passing it off to the president or even smugly saying “we stand by the president”.
There was a little ripple when the president pulled some troops out of Syria, unilatterlly changing previous policy there, and there needs to be more of that.
And I do think the president should have consulted with or notified key members of congress (from both parties, both houses) before the drone attack in question. He did not.
Right now there is a lot of hand wringing because Iran is threatening to take revenge. I don’t want to see war, and I hope there can be a peaceful resolution to our differences. But for one thing, Iran needs to quit shooting at us or having others do it. And if we are afraid of Iran, we are in worse shape than I thought.
It does look as if the president, though, has gone out on a limb on this one. But if he can get out without sawing himself off, geez, another four years maybe.
Time for Democrats to show their own hands on foreign policy.
It’s always so complex when dealing with the Middle East. Some reports say young people, especially, in Iraq actually are against Iran’s influence in that country. Young people there are said to be on the side of the U.S. But you know, we tried nation building there and all we got was death of our own soldiers. Maybe we need to leave the Middle East to the Middle easterners.
In my previous post on the killing of the Iranian general I wrote that the president needs to address the American people. Since then, he has held a brief news conference and made a statement but it was not much. He has not relayed a coherent vision of overall strategy or even current foreign policy. Many suspect he has none of either.