Last Wednesday the House of Representatives, by a vote of 227 to 186, adopted a previously passed Senate resolution designed to require President Trump to get explicit approval from Congress before taking any affirmative military action of any kind against Iran. While Congress has the explicit constitutional responsibility for deciding if and when America goes to war, it should be of concern that this Joint Senate-House Resolution was prompted by some Congressional upset over Trump’s having ordered the strike that killed Iran’s Maj. Gen. Kassim Soleimani without Congressional authorization. We must be alert to any hint that Trump Derangement Syndrome may compromise our national security interests.
Soleimani, of course, was the notorious, hands-on commander of Iran’s campaign of international terrorism, which resulted in countless deaths, including of many Americans. At the time of his death, he was believed to have been knee deep in planning new murderous outrages and the extension of the Iranian terrorist network. There can be no doubt that many people are alive today only because he was eliminated from the scene. Even the Joint Resolution acknowledges this: “Members of the United States Armed Forces and Intelligence community, and all those involved in the planning of the January 2, 2020 strike on Qasem Soleimani, including President Donald J. Trump, should be commended for their efforts in a successful mission.”
Yet, Rep. Eliot Engel, the Democratic Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in support of the resolution that “Congress doesn’t have to wait until the president alone decides to use military force again. It’s our responsibility to do something because we know that tensions could flare up again at a moment’s notice.”
And the lead sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said “For years, Congress has abdicated its responsibility on matters of war, but now a bi-partisan majority in both the Senate and House has made clear that we shouldn’t be engaged in hostilities with Iran without a vote of Congress.” He added that the legislation “doesn’t prevent the president from defending the United States against imminent attack…but demands that the decision of whether or not we go on offense and send our troops into harm’s way should only be made after serious deliberation and a vote of Congress.
To be sure, the resolution explicitly recites that nothing in it “shall be construed to prevent the United States from defending itself from imminent attack.” But the attack on Soleimani was a proactive effort prompted by a desire to thwart attacks in the planning stages, though not imminent ones. Should a president simply be precluded from acting with the urgency with which Trump targeted Soleimani?
And there is another factor to consider as well. In its penultimate section, the resolution declares, “Congress hereby directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of is government or military, unless explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force against Iran.”
However, the resolution was adopted on March 11, 2020, and the Soleimani episode took place on January 2. So there were no American forces in “use” against Iran at the time to “terminate.” Plainly, then, what the resolution was directed at was any and all military contact – urgent and defensive as well as calculated. That is, military action per se, whatever the genesis, will have to be approved by Congress or terminated. Can anyone contemplate that any Trump initiative once commenced will ordinarily be supported by the Democratic House? So would the U.S. be required to cut and run if our enemy retaliated?
Of course, to become binding the resolution will have to be signed by President Trump and he has vowed to veto it. And the numbers are not there for a veto override in both the Senate and House. However, it is important not to go unremarked this effort to tie a president’s hand even when he would go after someone like Soleimani.