The reactions to President Trump’s authorization to assassinate Qassem Soleimani reveals a new escalation in today’s partisanship, and in so doing has made the world less safe. Presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, with no access to classified intelligence beyond twitter and CNN accused the President of tossing “a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” while Rep. Liz Cheney tweeted with total certainty that “[President Donald Trump] was right to order decisive action to kill Soleimani to prevent further attacks and defend American lives and interests.”
Only Wyoming’s Senator Mike Enzi had the patience and prudence to resist the rush to judgment. Perhaps because he has the advantage of retirement, or that he correctly sees the world as complex and understands that his job as a Senator goes beyond building a twitter following. Enzi no doubt appreciates that General Soleimani may be replaced with a more restrained leader, or by a madman who proves to be an even greater threat to the region. Iran may now accelerate their plans for terrorism, or they may show restraint. The world could become safer or far more dangerous, the truth is we really don’t know.
We do know that for a time we’re entering an uncertain period. After all, the State Department told American citizens to leave Iran, and our embassy in nearby Iraq has suspended consular services. Ft. Bragg deployed an additional 3,500 troops for the Middle East, and the Department of Homeland Security warns us that “[Iran] is capable, at a minimum, of carrying out attacks with temporary disruptive effects against critical infrastructure in the United States.”
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All of which appears lost among most of our nation’s always-certain lawmakers. How else to describe Senator Bernie Sanders confidence that “Trump’s dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East,” or Senator John Barrasso’s machinelike support when Trump showed prior restraint in the face of deadly attacks against U.S. targets, yet within minutes of the assassination assured Americans that the action will prevent further strikes against American citizens.
In today’s partisan world there is no tolerance for nuance or dissention and a lust for soundbites among Members of Congress. Therein lies the danger because our system of government depends upon the legislative branch acting independently from the executive branch. We rely on our Senators and Congresspeople not to parrot party-line talking points in advance of the next election, but to judiciously review the evidence and make independent conclusions. Putting an American son or daughter in the way of an IED is not about political party fealty, but about exercising prudence without regard to the next election.
When we passed the War Powers Act following the Vietnam War, Congress put contemporary definition to the Constitution’s Article 1, Section 8. We made clear that while the President is the Commander in Chief, Congress has a Constitutional role in foreign policy and in the deployment of our military. But in 2011 when President Obama invaded Libya without Congressional authorization, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued that the invasion was none of Congresses business. At the time Republican lawmakers were outraged, but since then we have sent forces into Syria, Yemen, and now Iran without regard to Article 1, Section 8. Furthering the danger, we’ve reached a new level of partisanship whereby President Trump feels comfortable consulting only with members of his own party. Republican House and Senate members seem to think this is okay, but one day the shoe will be on the other foot and my party will regret having set the precedent of excluding the other party from their Congressional responsibility.
All Americans must be mindful that Presidents from both parties will come and go, and future Presidents will at times be more or less wise than that of their predecessors. Which is why we set up a system of safeguards, designed around structural checks and balances not treacherous partisan loyalty. Those controls still remain in place, the question is whether our legislative branch can put aside partisanship and remember that a Member of Congress’s job is not to win the next election, but to serve the Legislative Branch.
It remains to be seen whether the Middle East becomes more or less safe as a result of the death of General Soleimani. We can be certain though that our own world will remain more dangerous as long as our Senators and Congresspeople place their partisan loyalties above their greater responsibility to protect our system of checks and balances.
Dave Dodson lives in Wyoming and is former CEO, professor at Stanford University, and former Wyoming Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Read more from his archive at davedodson.com/news.