Home/Daniel Larison/Democratic Accountability and the Administration’s Iran Lies

Democratic Accountability and the Administration’s Iran Lies

Vice President Mike Spence, speaking at the Southern Baptist Convention (Fox4 News DFW screen grab)

Barbara Boland reports on the angry reaction from members of Congress to the administration’s Iran briefing that I mentioned yesterday:

The GOP senators were angered when Trump officials suggested that a debate over war powers would “embolden” Iran.

Lee said he thought such comments were “absolutely insane. I think that’s unacceptable.”

The Trump administration sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley to brief House and Senate lawmakers on Wednesday, reports The Hill, after Iran launched missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops Tuesday night.

“I find this insulting and demeaning … to the office that each of the 100 senators in this building happens to hold. I find it insulting and demeaning to the Constitution of the United States,” Lee said, according to The Hill. ​

War supporters generally do not want a debate on the merits and wisdom of the war that they want the U.S. to fight. They either avoid debate all together by starting the war without one, or they seek to vilify critics of the policy by accusing them of helping the enemy. In this case, the Trump administration is trying to do both of those, and it is also claiming that it can’t share the “most compelling” evidence that they have with Congress because it would supposedly jeopardize intelligence collection. Previous administrations have resisted disclosing information publicly for this reason, but it is truly bizarre to refuse to tell members of Congress in a classified briefing what they know. The vice president offered up this lame argument this morning:

If the executive can decide what information they will and won’t share with Congress, and presidents claim the right to be able to start wars at will without Congressional approval, then there is no longer even a semblance of accountable and representative government when it comes to matters of war. Keeping Congress in the dark while ordering an attack against another state is already an outrageous abuse of power and a clear violation of the Constitution. Continuing to keep them in the dark about why that attack was ordered adds insult to injury. If the administration refuses to share the “most compelling” evidence with Congress, that tells me that there is no evidence or that it isn’t compelling at all. Telling our representatives that they just have to trust the administration is absurd, especially when we are talking about the most dishonest administration in living memory. Trump, Pence, and Pompeo have all shredded whatever credibility they ever had long ago, so no one should take them at their word when they say anything. When it comes to something as important as the decision to attack another state, we should never be willing to take an administration’s claims at face value anyway.

The Defense Secretary reportedly made one of the statements that angered Sen. Lee so much:

This is an affront to the way our system is supposed to work, and it also shows us why the Congressional debate and vote are supposed to come before the decision to attack another state. The president doesn’t get to start a war on his own. Having done that, he doesn’t get to tell Congress that they can’t debate the illegal thing he just did. It is also telling that the same officials that claim that they aren’t starting a war insist on using wartime rhetoric about “the troops” to stifle debate about the terrible decision the president made. There are few things less patriotic and less honest than invoking the morale of our armed forces to cover up for the administration’s own failures and violations of the Constitution.

Last week’s illegal assassination was alarming for many reasons. One of them was the attack on democratic accountability and constitutional government that it represents. The president has enormous power, and the modern presidency is more power than any person should have, and without enforcing strict limits on how the president uses that power we cannot really have a representative and democratic form of government. Over the decades, Congress and the public have allowed the presidency to grow ever more powerful and unchecked in what it can do, and in the name of national security and the “war on terror” we have let presidents run amok all over the world. We need to start changing that right now for the sake of a saner foreign policy and for the sake of peace, but it is also crucial that we reject any more illegal acts of war for the sake of reasserting our control over our own government.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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