9 January 2020   Leave a comment

Iran offered the world a good example of war diplomacy in its response to the US strike that killed Qassem Suleimani. First, Iran demonstrated its capabilities by using ballistic missiles instead of rockets. Ballistic missiles are far more accurate and devastating than rockets and represent a greater threat to an adversary. In essence, Iran was sending the message that it had the capability to inflict great losses on US forces. Parenthetically, I wonder why the US did not use its vaunted anti-missile systems to shoot down the incoming missiles–it lost the ability to prove that it could defend its forces. Apparently those anti-missile systems are not as effective as we have been led to believe.

But the far more important message was that Iran did not wish to escalate the conflict. First, it sent messages to Iraq and to the US through the Swiss intermediaries to warn of the attack. The messages gave the US and Iraq three hours to protect their forces. Second, the missiles were sent to areas in which there were no US or Iraqi troops. The deliberate intent to avoid human casualties was an important measure to reduce the need to retaliate. Third, Iran clearly indicated that it did not wish to take any actions that would justify a counter-attack on the Iranian homeland. Iran is well aware of the fact that some members of the Trump Administration, such as the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, support a larger policy of regime change in Iran. The restrained Iranian response was likely a major disappointment to those hawks.

National Public Radio conducted an interview with Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) on the briefing he received from the Administration on the reasons for the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani. He had earlier described the briefing as one of the worst he had ever received: “probably the worst briefing I have seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate….What I found so distressing about the briefing is one of the messages we received from the briefers was, ‘Do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran,’ and that if you do ‘You will be emboldening Iran.’”

But in the interview he described an attitude of absolute contempt for Congressional war powers:

“As I recall, one of my colleagues asked a hypothetical involving the supreme leader of Iran. If at that point, the United States government decided that it wanted to undertake a strike against him personally, recognizing that he could be a threat to the United States, would that require authorization for the use of military force? The fact that there was nothing but a refusal to answer that question was perhaps the most deeply upsetting thing to me in that meeting. I think it was unprofessional, inappropriate and reflective of a certain cavalier attitude toward the Constitution to refuse to make a commitment on that front.”

If the assassination of the highest political leader of a state is not an act of war, there are few other circumstances that would meet that criteria. It also seems clear that Senator Lee did not think that the briefing justified the characterization of Suleimani’s threat as “imminent”. If the threat was not imminent, then the justification that the US acted in self defense is not at all persuasive. If the threat was not imminent, then the act of war requires Congressional authorization.

The House of Representatives voted for a War Powers Resolution today which may have the effect of restraining further actions by the US in Iran. The vote was 224 to 194, mostly along party lines. The measure was passed as a concurrent resolution, not as a law. Such a resolution is “considered to be enacted once both chambers approve it and is never presented to the president for his signature — rather than a joint resolution, which Mr. Trump could veto.” A concurrent resolution would not have the force of law. It is not clear whether there are enough votes in the US Senate to pass a regular bill and it is likely that, even if it does pass, President Trump would veto the bill. But the resuscitation of the war powers of the Congress is a development that is long overdue.

Posted January 9, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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