The consequences of President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to kill Iran’s top general are already playing out in ways that only heighten the possibility of direct military conflict. Americans remain weary of war after the costly and exceedingly bloody eight-year war in Iraq that was launched on false premises. If Trump is leading the country into yet another war with a far more formidable adversary in Iran, he owes the American people a well-articulated explanation of his plans.
This is no time for Trump to revert to his preferred tactic of winging it and trusting his gut instincts. Twitter is not the proper venue for Trump to notify Congress of his plans, despite his assertions to the contrary (via Twitter) over the weekend. Congress has every right to consider curbing Trump’s war-making authority unless he can demonstrate that he is using it properly.
Trump contends his legal justification for last week’s attack to kill Gen. Qassem Soleimani was the Authorization for Use of Military Force, approved by Congress in 2001 to make it easier for the president to launch military action against al-Qaida and “associated forces” responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Although Soleimani masterminded roadside bombings and other attacks that killed or maimed thousands of U.S. troops, nothing has surfaced to link Iran with al-Qaida and 9/11. In fact, the Shiite populations dominating Iran and Iraq are sworn enemies of the Sunni Muslim fighters who form al-Qaida and its more radical offshoot, the Islamic State.
Those radicals are the ones who brought terrorism to American shores, and they must remain the focus of U.S. military efforts overseas, as specified in the 2001 congressional authorization. Trump’s actions now put that fight in grave danger, mainly because he chose Baghdad’s airport as the location for Soleimani’s assasination. Iraqi lawmakers are furious and approved legislation to expel the estimated 5,000 U.S. troops currently in the country. If approved by Iraq’s prime minister, the ouster would severely hamper U.S. efforts to continue battling Islamic State in Iraq and neighboring Syria. A troop withdrawal also would make it easier for Iran to dominate Iraq militarily and politically.
Trump says he’s prepared to attack Iranian cultural sites, some of which date back thousands of years. That would constitute a war crime. Tehran also says it will stop complying with terms of the 2015 deal to curtail its enrichment of weapons-grade nuclear fuel.
None of these developments advance U.S. strategic interests, which raises the question of what, exactly, Trump is trying to accomplish while sidestepping the restrictions imposed by Congress. Lawmakers and the American people have every right to demand accountability and a full-throated explanation of the administration’s plans — before the president immerses the nation in an even deeper Middle Eastern quagmire.