Once Again, Republicans, Over The Brink
I heard Trump’s statement about Iran yesterday morning as I was driving. I thought it was uncharacteristically sober for him, and was glad for that. I had figured that we would be in a full-on war the day after.
And then, after the Trump administration gave the Senate a private briefing on Iran, Sen. Mike Lee blew up. Look at this:
Most Republican senators on Wednesday left an Iran briefing from top Trump administration officials satisfied. Not Mike Lee.
“The worst briefing I’ve seen — at least on a military issue — in my nine years” in the Senate, said the Utah Republican.
Lee fumed that the officials warned against even debating legislation to restrict President Donald Trump’s authority to strike Iran — blasting their comments as “un-American” and “unconstitutional,” not to mention way too short.
“They had to leave after 75 minutes while they’re in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public,” Lee said of the group that gave the briefing, which included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and CIA Director Gina Haspel. “I find that absolutely insane.”
The briefing, which centered on Trump’s decision to kill top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, has prompted both Lee and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to back a resolution offered by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) forcing the president to stop military action against Iran if not authorized by Congress except in a case of an imminent threat. Democrats need to win over two more Republicans for the resolution to pass and Kaine could bring it to the floor as soon as next week.
“I walked into the briefing undecided. I walked out decided, specifically because of what happened in that briefing,” Lee said.
Amen to that. After the lies that got us into Iraq, after the lies that three administrations have told about Afghanistan, the Trump administration has the gall to tell members of Congress that it can’t debate these matters in public?! And Mike Lee and Rand Paul (who was at Lee’s side when he made these remarks) are the only Republicans with the stones to come out and say that is unacceptable?!
Here’s some of Lee’s commentary. Watch it — this guy is furious, and rightly so:
I want you to read my TAC colleague Scott McConnell’s essay “A Trump Voter’s Lament,” which is elsewhere on the site now. In it, he talks about how he voted for Trump, and has supported Trump all along. He mentions a locker room conversation he had just over a year ago with the president, in which the president told him that there would not be war with Iran, that it was all just talk. (You really have to read the piece for the details of that conversation, which McConnell is only now making public.) And now? Here’s McConnell:
Whatever threatening or waging war might do for Trump politically, the reality of it would be a disaster. No one knows where we are precisely on the escalation escalator. Perhaps Iran will not respond with more than Tuesday’s errant rockets to the assassination of one of its leaders. But one already sees flourishing on the Right all the chest-beating rhetoric which one hoped a Trump presidency dampen; with the critical and important exception of Tucker Carlson, Fox News, the important conservative mass media platform, is in its 2002 mode all over again, as if nothing has been learned from the Iraq war. Once again patriotic Americans are rallying to the absurd notion that the turmoils of the Mideast can be traced to one evil man or evil regime, that a regime change war will solve the problem.
Vaporized from public memory is the fact that Iran, including the leaders now most robustly demonized, played a critical role in organizing the paramilitary militias who defeated ISIS. And if Trump somehow remains aware that occupying Iran with troops—overwhelmingly the sons and daughters of his red state voters—wouldn’t go well, his proposed alternative to occupation of Iran is apparently to commit war crimes against the archaeological legacy of ancient Persia, smashing with drones cultural treasures which are less the property of the Iranian regime than they are of all humanity. Some of his cheerleaders advocate turning Tehran into 1945 Dresden. It is simply obscene.
There was an argument during the last campaign, expressed most notably by Michael Brendan Dougherty, that the worst possiblething for those who wanted a different kind of American conservatism—an end to stupid wars in the Mideast, a more controlled immigration flow, an industrial policy that valued something other than cheap goods and “free trade”—might be a victory for Donald Trump, who campaigned for all of these things. Whether he believed in them or not, Trump recognized that this is what many voters wanted, that this was an open political lane to run in, an untapped yearning. I think, to an extent, he did believe in them, but had no idea, no real plan how to bring them about.
Faced with unrelenting hostility from the Democrats, the media and the permanent class ofBeltway bureaucrats which began before he took office, and no real base in the organized Republican Party, he floundered. No wall was built. No immigration legislation was passed. No grand and necessary Rockefellian infrastructure initiatives were initiated. He has hired to key positions Beltway types who had nothing but contempt for him, and they have led him down well worn paths. One of those paths leads to a major war with Iran, an obsessively pursued project of the neoconservatives since long before 9/11.
Impeachment makes taking that path more plausible. Indeed, Trump could reasonably see it as the best possible way out. It’s now hard to see how a Hillary Clinton presidency could have turned out worse.
The most depressing thing about the piece is McConnell’s observation that patriotic Americans are once again rallying themselves to go to war in the Mideast. Why is every conservative in the country not standing with Mike Lee and Rand Paul? I can’t understand it. Are we really so willing to be suckered into war again?
Tucker Carlson, God bless him, is holding the line on Fox. From Buzzfeed:
But those with real influence, most notably Carlson, have not. Carlson has become an increasingly influential voice for anti-interventionism on the right and is very popular among the Trump base. And according to a source with knowledge of the conversations, Trump told people that he had watched Carlson’s show and it had affected his view on the Iran situation.
Here’s Tucker’s segment from last night, calling on the US to get out of Iraq. Tucker Carlson might well be the best chance this country has of avoiding another catastrophe in the Middle East.
UPDATE: “Trust us,” they said.
Mike Pence urges public to blindly trust Trump: "To protect sources & methods we're simply not able to share with every member of Congress the intelligence that supported the president's decision … [but] I can assure your viewers that there was a threat of an imminent attack." pic.twitter.com/r5DnB5U7Uh
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 9, 2020
UPDATE.2: Here, from an interview Sen. Lee gave to NPR this morning, is a big reason why he erupted yesterday:
RACHEL MARTIN: What kind of hypotheticals were you putting to them in hopes of understanding when the administration sees a need for Congressional authority?
SEN. MIKE LEE: 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 would 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.
Do you see? The Trump Administration reserves to itself the right to decide to assassinate a head of state — a clear act of war — without consulting Congress. And so far, Mike Lee and Rand Paul are the only Republican senators who have a problem with this. Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post:
Obviously, this was an extreme hypothetical. But the point of it was to discern the contours of the administration’s sense of its own obligation to come to Congress for approval of future hostilities. And it succeeded in doing just that, demonstrating that they recognize no such obligation.
“It would be hard to understand assassinating a foreign head of state as anything other than an act of war,” Josh Chafetz, a Cornell law professor and the author of a book on Congress’ hidden powers, told me. “It’s appalling that executive-branch officials would imply, even in responding to a hypothetical question, that they do not need congressional authorization to do it.”
But this is where we are. One more thing from Sargent’s piece:
By the way, it requires restating: Former president Barack Obama abused the war power as well, and far too many congressional Democrats went along with it. Congress has been abdicating its war-declaring authority for decades.
UPDATE.3: I hope it’s not true that in a democracy, we get the government we deserve:
Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she couldn’t “think of anything dumber” than allowing Congress to authorize war, seemingly unaware that the U.S. Constitution specifically gives the legislative branch that exact power https://t.co/5eulqvleU1
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) January 9, 2020
UPDATE.4: Oh, give me a freakin’ break! As you can tell, I’m against Trump’s bellicosity here, but the Iranians shot down a passenger jet because of their incompetence … and this guy is going all “blame America first” (or at least failing to blame the regime that actually shot the plane down):
Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat.
My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of all 176 souls lost aboard this flight. https://t.co/zWaVgWxfdL
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) January 9, 2020