So predictably the President’s fans are rallying around President Donald Trump. They think that the targeted assassination of a high-level government official of a foreign country is standing up to terrorism. These same exact people would be screaming bloody murder if a foreign government targeted the Vice-President, The Secretary of a Defense or the head of the CIA. Qasem Soleimani could be read as either of these three or perhaps all three.
The consequences of this strategic mistake have started. Iraq wants American troops out of the country, their country. I need to place emphasis on this because some Americans do not realize this.
Coordination in the fight against the Islamic State is now suspended. The Iraqis want to tighten their relationship with both China and Russia. (All roads once again, lead to Moscow.)
We are now living in a nation that is holding its breath. Why? Iran has vowed to respond to the assassination. Let me clarify this because Those suffering from cult-like behavior do not understand this. There is a world of difference between this and the hit on Osama Bin Ladin. For starters that hit was authorized by the war resolution after 911 and the United Nations. Also, bin Ladin did not lead a large agency within a nation-state. In other words, the differences are fundamental and legal.
We also are dealing with warnings of a cyber attack. And the Iranians do not hold complete operational control of many proxies. And a threat from the president to target cultural sites, a war crime under the United Nations resolutions and the Geneva Convention. The US is opening itself for sanctions and isolation as well.
Nor is this president offering an off-ramp or de-escalation. He instead continues to ramp up a crisis in the Middle East. He is also threatening to commit war crimes. According to the New York Times:
Aboard Air Force One on his way back from his holiday trip to Florida, Mr. Trump reiterated to reporters traveling with him the spirit of a Twitter post on Saturday, when he said that the United States government had identified 52 sites for retaliation against Iran if there were a response to Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani’s death. Some, he tweeted, were of “cultural” significance.
Such a move could be considered a war crime under international laws, but Mr. Trump said Sunday that he was undeterred.
”They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people,” the president said. “And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.”
With the targeted assassination of a foreign high ranking government official, we have opened the way for the assassination of our own leaders. Why, outside of a declared war, this is not done. It’s also against American law.
And that law includes the War Powers Act and the Constitution. According to Just Security:
The use of force was against Iran — not a proxy force whose actions are attributable to Iran — and specifically against a most senior official of that sovereign country. There clearly was and remains a high likelihood of escalation, with both countries already threatening further action against the other. President Trump has already threatened via Twitter to strike 52 targets in Iran — notably in a manner that would constitute a war crime — which have their own way of spiralling into further tit-for-tat reprisals. The Pentagon also has said it will send 3,500 additional troops to the Middle East “after Iran vowed to exact ‘severe revenge.’” And in anticipation of future violence, the United States has warned its citizens to leave Iraq in an extraordinary “do not travel” advisory. From the opposing side, rockets already have been fired at bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces. And Adil Haque notes Iran’s letter to the United Nations treats the killing of Suleimani as a “terrorist attack,” an “assassination,” and “a criminal act” (the letter argues the strike was “aimed at escalating tensions to an uncontrollable level in a region already facing numerous challenges.”)
Congress need not acquiesce in the executive branch’s interpretation of the president’s unilateral Article II authority. As Brian Egan and I noted in our overview of the debate over the contours of the president’s constitutional authority to initiate force without Congress, the executive branch over several administrations of both political parties has taken a broad view of the President’s unilateral authority, while “Congress does not necessarily view its own authority so narrowly or the president’s so expansively.” In my view, Congress can and should assert its own interpretation and articulate far more concrete constraints than those offered by successive Office of Legal Counsel lawyers.
But even accepting the executive’s own test, this case should meet the threshold for a use of force that required congressional authorization. If it does not, it’s hard to imagine what type of scenario — barring a major land invasion of a foreign country — would make the executive branch acknowledge it needs congressional authorization.
One clear consequence is a deepening constitutional crisis. Now the president has also stated his Twitter page will be his way to inform Congress. Free clue, it does not work this way. The president continues to act as a dictator, to be blunt, or a king.
This reaffirms the need for the imperial presidency to be severely limited after this nightmare is over, no matter what party holds the White House.
These are just the consequences for today. And as I type this, we are shipping out an 82nd airborne brigade. Ostensibly they are there to protect American assets, and rockets have been fired at the Green Zone. However, I expect further deployment. Moreover, and this matters…the president has threatened to sanction Iraq if they kick our troops out. This is how you get a bad situation to further spiral out of control. And he is also losing European allies.
The homepage for the U.S. Federal Depository Library Program was briefly altered Saturday evening to show a pro-Iranian message and an image of bloodied Donald Trump being punched in the face.
A line at the bottom read: “Hacked by Iran Cyber Security Group Hackers. This is only small part of Iran’s cyber ability! We’re always ready.”