Congress Must Check and Balance Trump to Avert War With Iran
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Congress Must Check and Balance Trump to Avert War With Iran

On Friday morning, France’s deputy minister for foreign affairs echoed global concerns about President Trump’s unilateral decision to order the assassination of a top Iranian military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and other key Iranian and Iraqi figures. “We are waking up in a more dangerous world,” Amelie de Montchalin said. “Military escalation is always dangerous. When such actions, such operations, take place, we see that escalation is underway.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo immediately announced that the French official was “wrong.” But by Friday afternoon, she had been proven right, when it was announced that the United States plans to send approximately 3,500 more troops—some arriving as early as this weekend—to the Middle East. Where the escalation will end is an open question. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed out that Trump is ordering military action “without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran” and “without the consultation of the Congress.” Even a few Republicans have raised constitutional concerns. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul argued that any move toward a broader war requires congressional authorization. “A war without a Congressional declaration,” warned Paul, “is a recipe for feckless intermittent eruptions of violence with no clear mission for our soldiers. Our young men and women in the armed services deserve better.” Congressional Progressive Caucus cochair Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat who has been one of the chamber’s loudest advocates for diplomatic rather than military responses to challenges in the Middle East, is particularly worried that mistakes of the past will be repeated—in the Middle East, and in Washington.   “Trump’s unilateral decision to escalate tensions in the region by assassinating Iranian General Qasem Soleimani without any notification to or approval from Congress is wrong, it will destabilize the region and further endanger the lives of innocent Americans, Iranians, and Iraqis,” says the representative. “The President has repeatedly shirked diplomatic priorities in pursuit of military action across the Middle East, and he is on the brink of starting a wholly avoidable and unnecessary war with Iran.” Pocan share’s Lee’s sense of urgency. “We have to make sure that this doesn’t turn into another endless war,” he argues. “You have to expect that this [air strike] is going to escalate tensions. Congress needs to hear why the president thinks this was a necessary step and what we are going to do next in regard to whether this escalates to another war-like situation. We have to be concerned about the prospect that the president hasn’t thought through his actions.” The frustration with Trump is warranted. But so, too, is a measure of frustration with congressional leaders from both parties, who have long failed to make a priority of the checking and balancing of presidents when it comes to matters of war and peace. On these issues, the prospects for building anti-war coalitions that include at least some Republicans are real—as was confirmed by last year’s bipartisan House and Senate votes for measures to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition’s unlawful attacks on Yemen. This week’s events are a stark reminder that Democratic leaders in the House and Senate should have worked much harder in 2019 to make the NDAA a tool for checking and balancing Trump on Iran. Now, Democrats and at least some Republicans worry that Trump’s actions will lead to instability and perhaps war. It’s time that Democratic leaders stop sending mixed signals and act to avert another catastrophe in the Middle East. Some good steps have been taken; for instance, Senator Tim Kaine has introduced a war powers resolution to force a debate and vote in Congress to prevent further escalation of hostilities with Iran. And Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ro Khanna are introducing legislation that would block funding for any military action “in or against Iran” that does not have congressional authorization. But that’s not enough. There must be a greater sense of mission with regard to the reassertion of congressional authority over military decisions regarding Iran, Iraq, and the whole of the Middle East. “Our nation must avoid another endless war in 2020 and the potential senseless loss of millions of lives,” Pocan says, as he argues for a policy that would “de-escalate military action and instead prioritize diplomacy to secure peace in the region.”  

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