“The danger of not acting was greater than the danger posed by acting,” Mike Pence tells George Stephanopoulos about the strike on Qassem Soleimani, but Stephanopoulos isn’t his intended audience. Neither are Good Morning America‘s viewers, at least not primarily. The vice president aimed his remarks today at Congress, where efforts began today to put a leash on the administration’s ability to react to Iran and its provocations.
And while Trump wants to end the “endless wars,” Pence insists, he’s not going to withdraw troops in the face of Iranian aggression either:
Vice President Mike Pence says the threat from Iran “continues to be very real,” but so far the regime appears to be standing down.
“We’re ready. We’re making it very clear we’re not going to tolerate violence,” Pence said in an interview Thursday with ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America.” …
Pence argued that Trump’s directive not only “took the world’s most dangerous terrorist off the battlefield,” but also “sent a very clear message that the United States will defend our people, will defend our interests.”
“He was right to act, he had a duty to act,” the vice president said, noting that the Trump administration had “compelling” intelligence that Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on U.S. forces and personnel in the region. The administration, however, has provided no evidence of those plans.
“The danger of not acting was greater than the danger posed by acting,” Pence added.
Oddly, the ABC News report on this interview ignores the biggest issue in it, which is the debate over the briefing yesterday and the War Powers resolutions coming up for votes in both chambers. Stephanopoulos drilled down directly into it, questioning Pence about the quality of the briefing and the complaints from Republican senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul about it. Pence argues that they have a difference of opinion, but then also argues that the administration couldn’t share all of its intelligence in the briefing because it had to protect “sources and methods.” This may be true, but the briefing took place in the SCIF, and the senators expected something more substantial than just the same information being leaked out to the Washington Post and New York Times.
In fact, Pence might end up making the White House’s political problem worse in this interview. “Those of us who have seen all the evidence,” Pence says, “know that there was a compelling case of an imminent threat against American personnel.” If that’s the case, then they should be able to make that case to Congress — or at least enough of Congress to credibly establish the case for the Soleimani strike. Trust the Deep State and keep your mouth shut doesn’t sound very libertarian, or very conservative, or even very Trumpian these days.
Pence trotted out the same argument on NBC’s Today show this morning:
On NBC’s “TODAY,” Pence told Savannah Guthrie that the administration could not provide Congress with some of the “most compelling” intelligence behind the administration’s decision to kill Soleimani because doing so “could compromise sources and methods.”
Pence added that “those of us” who were made aware of the intelligence “in real time know President Trump made the right decision.” He added that Soleimani “was planning imminent attacks against American forces.”
In killing Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Trump administration said it launched the attack because of intelligence that showed Soleimani was planning “imminent” attacks on U.S. personnel. But the administration has yet to make public the evidence behind that assertion and, according to Democratic and two Republican senators, it did not detail that intelligence in a classified setting on Wednesday.
Frankly, the fact that Soleimani arrived illegally in Baghdad while forces under his control attacked the US embassy is sufficient justification for the attack. The US has a very great need in establishing a deterrent against any further action against any of our sovereign territory, especially our diplomatic outposts. However, that’s not the case the White House is making, and thus far they’re apparently not ponying up the kind of evidence needed to support the case they are making.
It’s therefore appropriate, in the constitutional sense, for Congress to intervene. If the US needs to conduct a war against Iran, it is Congress’ duty to make that decision. The executive branch can deal with truly imminent threats against the US without Congress in the extremely short term, but the legislature has the sole power to declare war and to allocate the proper resources for it. It’s too bad that we have a Congress that’s obsessed with ridding itself of the “turbulent priest” at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and which makes a mockery of its constitutional obligations in other areas, but there’s no way around it — it’s the only check we have on the executive branch when it comes to initiating military conflict.
Today’s vote, however, is likely to be less than meaningful. The House won’t carefully consider the fact that Iran has made war on the US by various means for 40 years or the threat posed by the IRGC now, but will operate mainly on the Orange Man Bad principle. Republicans in the Senate will likewise mainly operate on the Orange Man Ours principle, and Trump will veto anything that comes through with less than two-thirds in either chamber. It’s almost certain to be little more than Kabuki theater which will do nothing to restrain Trump nor to reestablish proper constitutional control over warmaking, which has eroded for decades but got especially trashed in Barack Obama’s Libya campaign, when he didn’t even bother to ask Congress at all for permission.
Passage of the resolution would mark at least some public disapproval, but I wonder whether it will truly get that far. After all, Iran might conduct a major act of war against the United States that got through because Congress slapped velvet handcuffs on Trump, or simply that the debate turned out discourage any further operations to deflect imminent operations. The War Powers Act exists because Congress wanted to wash its hands of such imminent responsibilities, and one way to do that is to, er, trust the Deep State and keep your mouth shut. It’s tough to credit complaints about that now when it suits the political needs of Congress so well.