War Has Become Another Frivolous Partisan Issue
The world continues to process last week's missile strike killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani as President Donald Trump continues to rattle his favorite saber, Twitter, against threats of Iranian retaliation. Already the international response to Trump's military escalation, a decision categorized as “the most extreme response” by American military officials, has been strong. In its aftermath, members of the Iraqi parliament have called for the American military to be evicted from the country, while Europe and other traditional American allies have cautioned against any further escalation from the US.
Back at home, the domestic response has been predictable. Trump's actions have been largely defended by his party, and criticized by his opposition and a series of mealymouthed legal analysis from “experts” about the constitutionality of the attacks. The NPC-like script in responding to the attacks has been so on the nose that Vice President Mike Pence even tried to tie Soleimani to September 11 in a move that must have made Trump's attorney and frequent gaffe machine, Rudy Giuliani, proud.
While the return of the antiwar left is a refreshing change of pace from the Democrats' recent maneuvering of the party of military action against Russia and Syria, the beltway response is most useful in highlighting how unseriously America's capital takes the single most important matter in government: when and how to wage war.
After all, the same Democrats that have railed against Trump's “mental instability” and “temperament” have dutifully signed on to not only the president's military budgets, but his reauthorization of programs such as the Patriot Act. For years, the American left has been far more interested in disarming American citizens than it has been in restraining the executive branch's ability to wage war.
It is those same legal precedents established by President Barack Obama and passionately defended by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that bar the majority of the president's opposition from any meaningful and consistent argument against the legality of the Soleimani strike.
Similarly, the partisan hypocrisy from Republican cheerleaders is highlighted by their own opposition to Barack Obama's flirtation with escalating military conflict in Syria. With the exception of the most hawkish of Republican neocons, Republican leadership vocally criticized the idea of further expanding yet another military front. In the words of Senate leader Mitch McConnell:
A vital national security risk is clearly not at play, there are just too many unanswered questions about our long-term strategy in Syria … Either we will strike targets that threaten the stability of the regime — something the President says he does not intend to do — or we will execute a strike so narrow as to be a mere demonstration.
Will McConnell voice similar questions about the long term strategy in Iran, particularly in light of President Trump's post-strike statement that the attack was to “stop a war [not start one]”?
Of course not, because Congress has long since conceded its authority over war to the executive branch, and few congressmen are interested, or competent, enough, to debate matters of national security seriously, from either a geopolitical or constitutional perspective.
Trump's announcement that his tweets serve as an official “notification to the United States Congress” that a future potential strike from Iran will be responded to “quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” is a fitting illustration of the serious extent to which Washington has relegated the limits of the commander in chief's ability to wage war.
If Democratic politicians were sincere in their concerns about Trump flexing the muscles Congress has given him, they would begin a concerted effort to restore the previous checks on war powers. A congressional declaration explicitly barring further action against Iran would be a start and a push by the House for the repeal of the fraudulent War Powers Act should be obvious starting points. If Democrats are truly concerned about Trump's “abuse of executive power,” which was the stated cause for House impeachment, then they should obviously be willing to make the case as it applies to Iran.
If Democrats fail to attempt any of these moves, it will be clear that their criticism of Trump's foreign policy is simply another example of toothless virtue signaling.