Congress Must Reassert Check on Executive Branch After Trump Airstrike Against Iran

Statement of Lisa Rosenberg, Executive Director, Open The Government.

Note: The U.S. drone strike that recently killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq stirred talk of war as Iran, vowing to retaliate, launched missile strikes against two Iraqi military bases that house U.S. forces. Iran had also announced it would no longer abide by the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. Iraq’s parliament subsequently voted for a resolution to expel U.S. troops, as the U.S. plans to deploy an additional 3,000 troops to the Middle East. Tensions appear to have cooled following Trump’s remarks yesterday about the Iranian strikes, but the consequences of the past week’s events are still unfolding.

As tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalated, a real threat of war loomed. Following Soleimani’s killing, the Trump administration sent Congress a classified War Powers notification that leaves Americans in the dark about the justification for the strike. A growing number of Members of Congress, including Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), have stated the notification raised more questions than it answered and should not have been classified.

The gravity of the strike has also prompted Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, to call for open House hearings. Since the Trump administration did not consult Congress before the strike, it is incumbent on the White House and the Pentagon to present evidence to the public on whether Soleimani was truly an imminent threat to the U.S. before more lives are lost in a broader conflict. The Trump administration can start by releasing an unclassified notification and welcoming open hearings related to U.S. actions relating to Iran.

Trump’s tweet threatening to attack Iran if there is retaliation for Soleimani’s death is not an official notification to Congress, much less a sufficient attempt to secure Congressional authorization for a potential war. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to declare war, and it is past time Congress reasserts that check on the executive branch.

Congress cannot abdicate its oversight responsibility at this crucial time. The American public and our military must be confident that decisions about when and whether to go to war are made based on facts, not due to political whims.

The Trump administration’s actions suggest it may be setting the stage to use a nearly 18-year-old war authorization to justify the military attack. Neither the post 9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) nor the 2002 Iraq AUMF authorize a new war that the American public does not support.

America has engaged in endless and expanding wars since 2001, with staggering financial costs and loss of human lives. Congress and the public need much more than strong rhetoric on social media to justify going to war. To hold the White House accountable to the American people, all Members of Congress, regardless of political party affiliation, must relentlessly demand answers on the intelligence behind the White House’s recent military action against Iran.