This week, much has been made of the recent decision by President Trump to authorize an airstrike that killed the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force branch, Qasem Soleimani. Social media has been flooded with content suggesting that this act will lead to a third world war, and the political world has come to a hotly contested debate about the implications of the killing. The event has certainly caused strong reactions, especially from high-ranking Iranian government officials, and is sure to dominate the headlines in coming weeks as tensions between the United States and Iran likely escalate.
Critics of the strike against Soleimani, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, advance at least one of two main points. First, that the President acted outside of his legal powers to facilitate this strike and should have sought the approval of Congress prior to it. They also assert that Trump’s decision will only serve to escalate violent conflict between the U.S. and Iran and was a serious mistake. Such criticisms, however, fall short of accurately assessing the legal and strategic realities of this military decision.
Since the development of military drones, this technology has played an increasingly significant role in military operations, particularly for the U.S. As various presidential administrations have engaged in drone operations, discourse surrounding the regulation of drone use through executive power has surfaced on multiple occasions, often following a significant American drone strike.
Yet no legislation has arisen to curtail a president’s right to use drones, or any other conventional means for American military operations, without consulting Congressional leaders. President Obama acknowledged in 2013 that despite his choice to alert Congress about his military decisions in Syria, he was not required to do so. His administration also attempted to expand the definition of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force to apply the measure to U.S. actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Though the 1973 War Powers Resolution aimed to give Congress some power over military action by a president, the president still retains his constitutional status as Commander in Chief and has historically had the final say on similar and more extreme operations. Such instances include U.S. interventions in Kosovo and Libya, among others. Further, the Trump Administration did not send any armed forces into action through the decision to eliminate Qasem Soleimani, rendering the act as less, if at all, applicable in this case.
It is clear that outside of a desire to be kept informed of all strategic operations by the military, members of Congress and others who claim the decision was illegitimate or illegal due to Trump’s decision not to notify Congress cannot justify their claims. Precedent and legislation on such a topic prove that the decision can be legally justified. Yet the question remains, for some, whether the strike can be supported from a strategic standpoint. To answer this question, it is important to establish clarity about who Qasem Soleimani really was.
Soleimani commanded the Iranian military’s Quds Force, which is responsible for carrying out the Islamic Republic’s agenda abroad. In his efforts to advance the malignant interests of Iran in the Middle East and around the world, Soleimani’s state-sponsored terrorism led to the deaths of many civilians — the most recent example being an American defense contractor in Iraq in late December, according to the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense’s statement also noted the fact that Soleimani has been responsible for the deaths of many American and allied service members and had plans to cause more harm to Americans and U.S. interests.
The operations Soleimani oversaw in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, among other conflict zones, caused years of instability in the region and put U.S. troops and allies like Israel at risk. His career and entire adult life were dedicated to sowing this chaos. The Trump Administration justifiably viewed it as important to prevent this man, infamous for his cunning and unique abilities to promote Iranian hegemony, from causing more destruction. After declaring Soleimani’s Quds Force, and the IRGC as a whole, a terrorist organization (Soleimani himself had already been designated as a terrorist in 2011), the president put an end to his malignant activities.
General Soleimani’s record speaks for itself. While those who opposed the strike that killed the Quds Force leader alleged that the attack will only destabilize the region, they fail to consider that it was Soleimani who was the cause of great instability in the Middle East for the past few decades. Though the Iranian regime is sure to attempt retaliation, the risk of all-out war is likely minimal, given Iran’s lack of resources or capabilities to fight the U.S. directly without incurring insurmountable costs.
The question for the U.S. is whether this bold act will prove to be justified in the long run. Given the general’s record of wreaking havoc for American interests around the world, and the recognition of his developed strategies for doing so, his assassination will likely turn out to be a force for good in a dangerous part of the globe. U.S.-Iranian tensions would have continued regardless of any action against the military leader, and the attack sends a message to Tehran that Washington is willing to respond strongly when American lives are threatened.
President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials were wise to carry out the strike, which required no use of American troops and was intended to save countless lives. Though history will record the outcome of this ongoing struggle, it is obvious that to leave Soleimani alive would have certainly endangered the lives of American and allied troops, officials and civilians. Such foresight on the part of the U.S. should be greatly applauded.
Noah Ente can be reached at email@example.com.