The U.S. Congress has not declared war on Iran. And yet, last week, the U.S. government deliberately killed a top Iranian military official — which is to say it committed an unambiguous act of war against a sovereign nation-state without congressional authorization.
As a result of president Trump’s unilateral decision to assassinate Qasem Soleimani, U.S. forces in Iraq had to weather a barrage of Iranian missiles, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel the U.S. military from its country, and Iran announced that it will cease to comply with some terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Many in Congress found all of this quite concerning. In our constitutional republic, the people’s representatives are technically supposed to be consulted before the White House whacks a foreign official. But the Trump administration insisted that it simply had no choice but to take the initiative — because dropping a missile on Soleimani was the only possible means of averting an “imminent” attack on “dozens, if not hundreds,” of Americans (and/or Europeans) overseas.
This story never made much sense. For one, by the administration’s own account, Soleimani’s “imminent” attack was “days,” if not “weeks,” away — which is to say not imminent at all. For another, no White House official ever explained how killing a single general could render Iran incapable of carrying out a preexisting plan that it’s top military mind had already formulated.
Still, some members of Congress chose to reserve their judgment until they got a peek at the intelligence that had supposedly forced the president’s hand. And after a closed-door Senate briefing, Marco Rubio announced that the White House’s case was incontrovertible.
“Natl Security officials gave a compelling briefing to Senators just now,” the Florida senator tweeted. “They answered every important question. Anyone who walks out & says they aren’t convinced action against #Soleimani was justified is either never going to be convinced or just oppose everything Trump does.”
Around the same time, multiple other Republican senators (who support almost everything Trump does) told reporters that the briefing was worse than uncompelling, and that they are not convinced action against Soleimani was justified.
Mike Lee was especially scathing in his assessment. The conservartive Utah senator told the press that he had gone into the meeting undecided as to whether he would support Senate Democrats’ push for the passage of a War Powers Resolution that would constrain the administration’s capacity to take further military action against Iran without congressional approval.
“That briefing is what changed my mind,” Lee said. “I’m now going to support it.”
Lee described the administration’s presentation as “probably the worst briefing, at least on a military issue, I’ve seen in nine years I’ve been here.”
“I find it insulting, and I find it demeaning to the Constitution of the United States to which we’ve all sworn an oath,” Lee continued. “It is, after all, the prerogative of the legislative branch to declare war.”
Lee said that when he asked the briefers to describe a scenario in which the White House believes it would need congressional authorization to take military action overseas, they were unable to name one.
Somewhat less surprisingly, Kentucky’s pseudo-libertarian senator Rand Paul shared Lee’s concerns, and said he would also support a War Powers Resolution.
Democrats were similarly unimpressed with the administration’s showing.
Nevertheless, as of this writing, the resolution does not have anywhere near enough Republican support in the Senate to pass. And so, Donald Trump can carry on exercising the powers of his thermonuclear monarchy however he sees fit, until January 20, 2021 at the earliest.