I don’t know why. The resolution means virtually nothing. Pelosi’s not even offering it as a traditional bill, knowing that it would end up being nuked on Trump’s desk. She’s offering it as a concurrent resolution, which doesn’t have the force of law. It’s a minor embarrassment to the president if it passes both houses of Congress, which seems likely, but he’s been rebuked by Congress before on war powers in the context of Yemen.
He’s probably mad because, as usual, he’s using Obama as a yardstick against which to measure himself and remembers the hallelujahs that followed the killing of Bin Laden in 2011. Where are his hallelujahs now? Why does Obama get bouquets flung at him while Trump gets a disapproving resolution from Congress warning him not to go further without approval?
The ironic answer is that his operation against Soleimani was far more consequential potentially than O’s operation against Osama. Soleimani was an immensely powerful military and political figure within the government of a major Middle Eastern state. Bin Laden was largely an inspirational figure to Sunni jihadis by the time we got him. Plus, major escalation with Al Qaeda was a risk we had accepted long before Bin Laden was killed. When you knock down American skycrapers, the gloves come off and they stay off. The risk of killing Soleimani hadn’t been similarly weighed and accepted until Trump acted. Kill Osama and you’ve won a battle in an already raging war with thousands of Salafist terrorists scattered around the world; kill Soleimani and you’re potentially at war with a nation of 80 million people possessing a sophisticated arsenal and an extant nuclear program.
So, yeah, go figure that Congress is skittish. But the president is reportedly annoyed regardless. Via Raw Story, Times reporter Maggie Haberman told CNN this morning that Trump allegedly resents that the attack isn’t being seen as a “unifying event”:
“President Trump is reportedly furious over the House vote on the Iran War powers resolution,” host Camerota began. “This is according to multiple people who have spoken with him. The House voted last night to approve the measure to restrain the president’s ability to use military action against Iran without congressional approval. Maggie, the president we hear is angry. Was he surprised that the house took that vote?”
“He actually was surprised this was not more of a unifying event for the country which is what he expected it was going to be,” Haberman replied. “Something like what you saw around the Iraq war leadup. However, that leadup came after a massive attack on U.S. soil and it’s not remotely the same.”
“That speech from Matt Gaetz, the Republican who supports the president on the floor yesterday was very, very important,” Haberman explained, adding, “so that speech hit him where it hurts. Another thing here is that advisers say it’s not clear that the president understands that the fallout here will take weeks to fully understand.”
He’s also annoyed, I suspect, that three House Republicans joined Pelosi in supporting the resolution. Normally he might shrug that off but one of those Republicans was MAGA favorite Matt Gaetz, whose wariness of escalation with Iran trumped his usual duties to serve the president. Trump and other Republicans have been hammering the point this week ahead of next year’s election that Democrats are Iran sympathizers because of their skepticism towards last week’s missile strike. Gaetz’s support for the resolution momentarily complicates that message.
The theme echoed across conservative circles and airwaves over the last 24 hours, thanks to the talking points of Trump’s most ardent supporters. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, said on Fox News that “the only ones mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and Democrat Presidential candidates,” while White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said on the same channel that President Barack Obama designated Soleimani a terrorist but then did nothing…
Heading into the 2020 election, both the president’s moves in Iran and the impending impeachment trial are providing Trump an opportunity to pump himself up as a tough guy. In addition to fighting off the Democratic investigations and the two articles of impeachment, he is also now talking tough on Iran — which he has long viewed as a country that President Barack Obama and George W. Bush went too easy on.
Gaetz’s vote yesterday and Tucker Carlson’s nightly commentary over the past week were an attempt to remind Trump that he got elected preaching skepticism of Middle Eastern entanglements and that he shouldn’t abandon that skepticism for reasons as facile as “I need to look tough” or “Obama never would have had the stones to do this.” That’s another reason why he might be annoyed by yesterday’s vote, because Gaetz — and the Democrats — got to show Americans that they’re more reluctant to spend U.S. blood and treasure on another major war than Trump is.
But there’s a simpler reason too. On some level, I think, he hasn’t yet accepted that everything he does as president will necessarily be polarizing and there’s no way out of that. He has something like six percent approval among Democrats at a moment when the economy’s been roaring for three years, an almost unfathomable reality. You can sense him thinking, “What do I have to do to unify more people behind me? Is killing the world’s worst terrorist — two worst terrorists, actually, after al-Baghdadi — enough?” Nothing’s going to be enough.
Here’s Gaetz’s floor speech yesterday, for which he deserves credit. He was at pains here and later in an interview with Carlson to stress that there was nothing “anti-Trump” or “pro-Soleimani” about the resolution, that he supports the strike, but that he’s worried about escalation. I don’t think that’ll cut it for Trump. He just won’t understand, as a matter of civic principle, why any “friend” would attempt to limit his power for any reason.
I represent more troops than any other member of this body. I buried one of them earlier today at Arlington.
If our servicemembers have the courage to fight and die in these wars, Congress ought to have the courage to vote for or against them.
I’m voting for this resolution. pic.twitter.com/cSCBG7CmIm
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) January 9, 2020