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Editorial: While right to target Soleimani, Trump should have briefed congressional leaders

“We are better off. Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” is one of the most compelling and memorable quotes to come out of the Obama administration. Few Americans would dispute the truth of that statement.

President Donald Trump has said nothing nearly as succinct, but in similar fashion he can point to a roaring economy and taking two of the world’s deadliest terrorists – ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force – off the board.

So far, so good.

It’s worth noting that those attacks would likely not have been successful had the president first sought congressional approval, as some have insisted. However, Trump could and should have briefed leaders of both parties in Congress before authorizing the drone strike that took out Soleimani near the Baghdad Airport on Jan. 2.

That’s how a democracy like ours is supposed to work – and we should stay true to that principle, even in a toxic political environment in which there is virtually no trust between Trump and Democrats in Congress determined to remove him from office.

Both al-Baghdadi and Soleimani had American blood on their hands, and the world is better off for their demise. But there are differences – the primary one being that Soleimani was an Iranian government official – albeit one specifically in charge of a terror organization.

The brutality of ISIS is well-established, but the movement had been decimated by efforts of the U.S. and others. Baghdadi, who once proclaimed he would rule a caliphate, blew himself up in October when surrounded by U.S. special forces.

Soleimani was a much bigger threat. By accounts a smart, articulate and charming man, he helped direct wars in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. He armed and funded militias that were dedicated to overthrowing governments, propping up Syrian henchman/dicatator Bashsar al Assad and destroying Israel. He was also accused of orchestrating the recent violent demonstration at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Even most Democrat critics of Trump and his decision – excluding the wing of the party that denounced this as a war crime – concede Soleimani was a terrible man responsible for atrocities – even if they didn’t have any idea what to do about it.

It was a rocket attack on an Iraqi base that killed an American civilian contractor on Dec. 27 that helped seal Soleimani’s fate. Trump had avoided escalating after other Iranian provocations but had drawn a clear, red line. If you kill Americans, there will be consequences.

The administration also says Soleimani was planning another major attack aimed at Americans, and that its decision to launch the fatal drone strike was “defensive.”

Meanwhile, the feared escalation of confrontation with Iran after the drone strike on Soleimani has tamped down for now. Iran fired some missiles at remote bases that had American troops in Iraq, but there were no casualties – a move seemingly aimed at face-saving domestic Iranian politics. The Iranians then indicated the country had “concluded proportionate measures” to avenge the killing of Soleimani. Could Iranian-backed militias elsewhere still carry out attacks? Sure.

Trump, who comes across as irresponsible and impulsive in his Twitter blasts, struck the right tone in an address to the nation on Wednesday. He made clear his policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and that he was ramping up sanctions even further, but also invited Iranians to return to talks that would lead to peace and prosperity for that country as well as ours. He correctly noted that we have energy independence now, a strategic game changer in which we are no longer dependent on the Middle East.

As for Iran, we have been in a state of conflict since 1979 when radical Islamists seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 hostages for 444 days. The Obama Administration tried to change the relationship with the Iran nuclear deal (which it never submitted to the Senate) that involved lifting sanctions and returning billions of dollars in seized assets, money Trump says has helped fuel the export of Iranian terror throughout the Middle East – in return for putting its nuclear weapons work on hold.

Trump pulled out of that deal because at some point it allows the Iranians to push ahead full steam on nuclear weapons. Restrictions on the Iranians are phased out over time, with the U.N. ban on Iranian arms exports and imports due to expire this year.

In the wake of all this, Congress will consider the authority of the commander in chief under the War Powers Act, debating a new Authorization of Military Force or AUMF. It should. It is the power of Congress to declare war. But the notion that Congress should need to pre-approve anything like a strike on Soleimani or any action that ultimately could lead to serious conflict is logistically ridiculous.

What Americans would like to see is our elected leaders put some of the partisanship aside and come up with a reasonable framework that allows for checks and balances but gives the commander in chief the flexibility to protect American lives and security.

In today’s world, we simply can’t afford to wait for the next Pearl Harbor. Or 9/11.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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