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January 3, 2020
Last night’s news about the assassination of Iran’s military leader Qassem Soleimani has today turned into a predictable split. Defenders of the president insist that Soleimani was an evildoer and the United States absolutely should have taken him out. They have no patience for anyone questioning Trump’s decision, suggesting that those questioners are anti-American and pro-terrorist if they do not support the killing of a man they insist has been one of our key enemies for years.
Those questioning the president’s decision to assassinate a member of a foreign government as a terrorist—remember, this is unusual because people like Osama bin Laden were rogue, non-state actors—freely acknowledge that Soleimani was a dangerous man. But they are concerned that Trump appears to have ordered the man assassinated illegally and has, in the process, ignited a firestorm.
The White House did not notify the Gang of Eight, the leaders of the House and Senate from both parties, but Trump did tell South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Representative Kevin McCarthy, both Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declined to say whether or not he was briefed in advance, but he has spoken up to praise the raid. News also broke today that apparently Trump told guests at Mar-a-Lago that something big with Iran was in the works.
Apparently, he informed Republicans and cronies, but not Congress.
White House has offered three arguments for why the assassination of Soleimani without notifying Congress was legal. First it vaguely asserted that the president could do this under Article II of the Constitution, which is a non-starter. Then it suggested it was legal under the law 10 USC 127e, but this concerns budgeting, so the idea it enables the president to do something like this unilaterally is absurd. By tonight, it said the authorization for the assassination of Soleimani was the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. That law very specifically deals with the president’s ability to use force against Iraq…but it never specified if that meant Iraq’s government or its landmass, and it was amended in 2012 to include the words “associated forces.” Under this AUMF, the president can make unilateral decisions, but must inform Congress within 48 hours.
But, the AUMF requires that the president’s actions intended to prevent acts of future terrorism against the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said repeatedly that the killing of Soleimani stopped just such a threat against Americans. But he has refused to produce proof, and this afternoon a congressional aide told NBC News that the overwhelming evidence the administration cited looked very much like Soleimani’s normal actions. “The case for acting this week was not made.”
The problem here is the same as it has been with this administration all along. This is a democracy. Our leaders are supposed to make a case to Congress about why they must risk military action on our behalf, because Congress is supposed to hold the power to declare war. But Trump has made no such case. Rather than addressing the nation, he told reporters only that he ordered the killing to “stop a war,” and has not yet briefed Congress. In a wonderful Twitter thread, Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that until last night, 99% of Americans—including me, I might add—had never heard this man’s name, so the angry preaching that he was one of our chief enemies sounds forced. We need our leaders to explain to us the specifics of what this man did, and how the world is safer with him gone.
Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), a former CIA analyst of the Shia militia who served multiple tours in Iraq and worked at the White House under both Presidents Bush and Obama, took on the firestorm concerns. She noted that she had been part of countless discussion of how to respond to Soleimani’s campaigns. What kept other presidents from targeting Soleimani was that they concluded the retaliation for such a strike, and the likelihood it would draw the US into a long war. Trump has come to a different conclusion, she notes, but “it is crucial that the Administration has thought out the moves and counter-moves this attack will precipitate….” Most serious thinkers expect that Iran will retaliate in a big way for this killing, and they are concerned that the administration is not equipped to handle that retaliation in a measured, intelligent way.
The unilateral attack on Soleimani and his entourage reveals the escalation of Trump’s refusal to answer either to Congress or to the American people. He highlighted that today when he simply refused to respond to a court order that the White House turn over 20 emails between a Trump aide and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney about freezing the congressionally ordered funding for Ukraine aid. He just… refused. This will go to the courts, of course, but Trump is sending a clear message that he, alone, calls the shots.
And in the midst of all this is Russia. Putin and Trump spoke on December 30, and we have no readout of what they discussed—we only have what Russia produced. In an unprecedented development, Russian news defended a US president today, floating the idea that Trump had been tricked into the attack by our intelligence agencies.
And here’s the one that jumps out to me: today the Moscow stock exchange hit all-time high thanks to the rise in oil stocks after the assassination.
No new news on Soleimani:
Intelligence tricked trump:
Moscow stock exchange: https://meduza.io/en/news/2020/01/03/moscow-stock-exchange-reaches-all-time-record-as-oil-prices-rise-following-soleimani-assassination?fbclid=IwAR3pIoKsMpS-LzdXFOR5FWsKn5NHcl567AxHV0Ch14SyLhJmrW1b9KygFLE
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