Jan 07 2020
This article was originally published in the Virginian-Pilot on 12/7/2020
Virginia’s senators have handled with steady professionalism President Donald Trump’s order of a drone strike against Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, one of the most prominent and deadly military leaders in the Middle East, last week.
It is arguably Trump’s most consequential act in office, and Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have raised thoughtful, measured questions about how it happened and what comes next — questions with resonance in Hampton Roads, home to tens of thousands of military personnel and their families.
Soleimani led the Quds force, the network of Iranian militias responsible for decades of death and destruction throughout the region. Quds fighters caused or provoked much of the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq and Syria and were responsible for a deadly type of improvised explosive that killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers.
Americans need not shed a tear at Soleimani’s demise — it was a fitting end for someone soaked in blood — but they are right to inquire about the strike, the decision-making process and the administration’s long-term strategy for Iran and the region.
Toward that end, Virginia is fortunate to have two senators doing precisely that.
Warner, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a statement on Friday that called Soleimani “an enemy of the United States who … should not be mourned” but also expressed concern that Congress was not informed in advance, “not only because it is constitutionally appropriate, and not only because doing so provides the opportunity to secure bipartisan congressional support — but also because that process allows for the airing of outside perspectives that might not otherwise be considered and ensures that tough questions get answered.”
He expanded on that perspective Sunday, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, when he said that America must balance its strength with making smart strategic decisions. He did not criticize the administration as some of his colleagues have done, so much as ask for more information about the strike and urge coalition building so the United States doesn’t find itself alone as a simmering conflict heats up.
While Warner was more measured in his comments, Kaine’s statement on the strike was more pointed, worrying “this drastic escalation of hostilities — waging a military attack on Iraqi soil over the objections of that country and without congressional authorization — will increase the threat to American troops, diplomats and families in the region.”
Those are fair concerns to express when one represents Virginia, home to tens of thousands of soldiers and sailors who would be asked to fight a war with Iran or engage in intensified conflict with that country’s proxy militias.
But Kaine’s argument that the strike occurred “without congressional authorization” deserves amplification because it is the same argument he made when former President Barack Obama expanded combat operations to Syria in an effort to contain the Islamic State.
Kaine was been consistent in arguing that the executive branch has overstepped its constitutional authority by not seeking Congressional approval for these military deployments. He says approval from Congress, in legislation that authorizes the use of military force, was needed for operations outside Iraq.
Last year, Kaine argued that Congress should repeal the AUMF resolutions from 1991 and 2002 which fostered the ongoing war in that region, so that the federal legislature could debate the long-term strategy for Iraq, Syria and their neighbors as well as how to pay for it.
The senator is correct in his contention that war efforts need broad public support. They are grave undertakings — requiring a commitment of American lives and billions of dollars — and that previous AUMF votes aren’t a rubber stamp for whatever military excursion the commander-in-chief desires.
There is no way to predict what comes next in this episode, with both the Iranian leadership and President Trump engaging in threats and saber rattling. But the commonwealth should be proud its representatives in the Senate are asking the right questions, in the public’s interest and the Constitution’s defense.