John Faso: War Powers And Political Theatre | WAMC

John Faso: War Powers And Political Theatre

Jan 21, 2020

“This government wants Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.”  So said Secretary of State John Hay in 1904 during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.

Ion Perdicaris was a wealthy American living in Morocco who was kidnapped by forces aligned with a local warlord named Ahmed er Raisuli, seeking a $70,000 ransom.

Roosevelt, who famously said, “speak softly, but carry a big stick”, sent seven U. S. warships and the Marines to Tangiers, to enforce his message.  A big stick indeed and sent without the permission from Congress.

The experience from 1904 is relevant in today’s controversy over the decision of President Trump to kill the leading Iranian general in a drone attack in Iraq on January 3rd.

Last week, the House of Representatives, on a near party-line vote, adopted a resolution intended to limit the power of President Trump under the War Powers Act to engage in military action against Iran.

The resolution, which wouldn’t have the force of law even if adopted by the Senate, was in response to the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Soleimani was the leader of the Quds Force, an elite military unit and was also considered to be the most influential leader in Iran next to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Over the past 20 years, Soleimani has spearheaded the spread of Iranian influence in the Mid-East and beyond.  He orchestrated the creation of Iranian proxy militias in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.  He provided the radical Hezbollah organization in Lebanon and Syria with an estimated 20,000 rockets targeting Israel.  Soleimani is widely believed to be behind the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in a massive explosion which also killed 21 others. 

Soleimani was responsible for the killing of approximately 600 U.S. soldiers, largely using roadside bomb technology exported from Iran and used by their proxy militias in Iraq.  Iran has also provided critical support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen in that nation’s civil war which has cost tens of thousands of lives. 

The Quds Force was designated by the U.S. in 2007 as a terrorist organization. In 2011, the Quds Force was behind a failed effort to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. outside a Washington DC restaurant.

Given this history, the decision to kill Soleimani was overdue. Since the nuclear agreement between the U.S., the UK, France, Russia, Germany, China, the EU and Iran in 2015, Iran has not moderated their malign activities in the Mid-East region.  While there is disagreement about the degree to which they were complying with the agreement, there is no question that Iran has chosen to aggressively expand their military and political hegemony in the area from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. The Iranians were likely to use the cover of the nuclear agreement to resume their full efforts to secure nuclear weapons after 2023.  Given all of this, the Trump Administration pulled out of the deal and renewed economic sanctions.

Democrats protested Trump’s actions, even though he has been very reluctant to engage militarily against Iran. Mr. Trump didn’t respond when the Iranians shot down a U.S. observation drone, or when allied ships were attacked in the Persian Gulf, or when Iran attacked a Saudi Arabian oil refinery.  Only after Soleimani’s local militia in Iraq killed a U.S. interpreter and wounded three U.S. military personnel did Mr. Trump order retaliation.

Trump sent a clear message to Iran’s leaders by ordering the killing of Soleimani.  Just as important, he reinforced the principle of deterrence which is critical when dealing with hostile powers.

This action was unquestionably within Mr. Trump’s power as Commander in Chief and was simply a modern version of a principle which U.S. presidents—including as recently as President Obama—have long upheld. Of course, Congress should have the final say before the nation is committed to a long-term or significant military conflict and on a bipartisan basis, they should reexamine the authorization for use of military force adopted after 9/11.

However, passing resolutions which have no legal force, as Democrats just did in the House, is just political theatre and nothing more.  In the meantime, modern adversaries of America would be advised to heed Secretary Hay’s blunt message:  Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.

Former Representative John Faso of Kinderhook represented New York's 19th House district in the 115th Congress.

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