Candidates need to assert Congress' role in Iran


Sunday, June 2, 2019

It’s disheartening but not really surprising that both Republicans seeking their party’s nomination in this fall’s 3rd Congressional District special election are willing to pass on demanding Congress exercise its constitutional role as a check on presidential power when it comes to deciding if our country goes to war with Iran.

Both state Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, and Dr. Joan Perry recently told The Daily Advance they’re willing to defer to President Trump on handling tensions and avoiding war with Iran, although Perry did say she would support Congress holding a formal vote before the president committed any troops to any armed conflict with the Middle Eastern country. Murphy, for his part, believes Trump has the power to initiate military action against Iran. We assume he believes the president enjoys this authority under a nearly two-decades-old authorization to use military force, even though that was adopted to fight terrorism in the wake of 9/11, not wage wars against sovereign nations.

That neither candidate would demand a vote by Congress before Trump committed any U.S. troops to armed combat in Iran shows just how much fear Republicans have of asserting any independence from Trump. Unfortunately, it also suggests we’ve learned nothing since the last time a GOP commander-in-chief was rattling a saber and slowly marching us off to war against a Middle Eastern country.

George W. Bush, of course, was the last GOP president to involve us in a war in the Middle East, invading Iraq in 2003 to prevent its then-dictator Saddam Hussein from using what U.S. intelligence sources claimed at the time were weapons of mass destruction. As we all learned much too late, Saddam didn’t have any of those weapons. Nonetheless, it would still take more than a decade — and the deaths of thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — for the U.S. to withdraw our military forces from Iraq.

One would think that going to war because of faulty — and in some cases, deliberately false — intelligence would give our nation’s leaders — and those who want to be its leaders — pause before they agreed ever again to allow intelligence to be the basis for letting a president take preemptive war action against an adversary. But that appears to be what is happening again right before our very eyes.

Right before our eyes is probably overstating things. The public has seen none of the evidence Pentagon officials claim shows Iran is actively planning attacks against the U.S. and its partners in the Middle East, which in turn has prompted the Trump administration to beef up U.S. military forces in the region in recent weeks.

All we know is what, according to The Associated Press, Vice Admiral Michael Gilday told reporters several weeks ago. Gildary said U.S. officials have “very high confidence” that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard caused the explosions on four Saudi Arabian oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and that Iranian “proxies” in Iraq fired rockets into Baghdad. Gilday didn’t provide any direct evidence to back up those claims. Instead, he said they’re conclusions “driven by intelligence.”

Based on that intelligence, the U.S. has deployed about 1,500 troops and a squadron of 12 fighter jets to the Middle East, and decided to keep in place four Patriot missile batteries that were set to leave the region. President Trump described the troops as serving a “mostly protective” role, but then in true Trump fashion left open the door for something else by adding, “we’ll see what happens.”

It’s ironic that President Trump, who has expressed skepticism of, if not downright hostility to, the nation’s intelligence community over its conclusion that the Russians meddled in our 2016 election, and who still criticizes those who supported the Iraq War based on faulty intelligence, would be stoking tensions with Iran based on nothing but intelligence reports. For now the president doesn’t seem eager to go to war with Iran. But Donald Trump is a creature of whim. He’s also someone who has a desperate need to be perceived as tough. That combination of flaws could drive actions toward Iran that could land us in yet another Middle Eastern war.

That’s why Congress needs more people like Walter Jones right now than unlike him. Jones wouldn’t have been as willing to give the president a free hand when it comes to the use of military force. Pained by being duped once by faulty intelligence into supporting the Iraqi War, Jones wasn’t about to let it happen again. Over and over, the congressman expressed skepticism of any intervention, real or suggested, that involved U.S. military forces. If he were alive today, he would demand the Trump administration show more intelligence than it has why the U.S. needs to be ratcheting up tensions with Iran. He also would be demanding a role for Congress in any decision to go to war with Tehran. We think those who hope to succeed him should be doing the same.

Jones learned the lessons of Iraq well. It’s one thing to barge in and topple a regime you don’t like. It’s quite another to try and manage the chaos that results from the power vacuum that follows. War with Iran would destabilize the Middle East and loosen control of the very nuclear materials Iran hard-liners in the Trump administration say they’re trying to prevent from being turned into a nuclear bomb.