Reigniting Old Controversy with Iran

Sophia Chau, Staffer

According to a June 2019 Hill-Harris poll, 19% of Americans supported a limited military strike on Iran due to increasing hostilities in the region. In early January of this year, those Americans got their wish.
On Jan. 3, 2020, President Donald Trump issued a drone strike on an armored vehicle carrying, among other officials, General Qasem Soleimani, a high-ranking official in Iran’s military. As a general, Soleimani headed the Quds force, an elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran that has been designated by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. In 1953, the U.S. orchestrated a coup that overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, the then democratically-elected Prime Minister of Iran. This coup sparked anti-American sentiment in Iran that is still alive today. The U.S. Department of Defense issued a statement about the strike, saying that “this strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”

Was the Attack Justified?

According to Ronny Risinger, a social studies teacher at LASA, the attack was justified because Soleimani had American blood on his hands. Additionally, Risinger said he sees the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979 as an event for which Iran has never paid a price.
“I think action against Iran has been justified for a long time,” Risinger said. “You have to wonder if they’re destabilizing the region as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, whether it’s in the Middle East or farther abroad. What will happen when they have nuclear weapons and can act with impunity?”
LASA social studies teacher Neil Loewenstern disagrees and says that while there is a case to be made that it was justified because of terrorism, the decisions behind the action remain questionable. Especially since, according to Loewenstern, the U.S. was fighting against ISIS alongside Soleimani very recently.
“I recognize that this is the equivalent of assassinating our General Petraeus,” Loewenstern said. “Someone who was at the highest levels of our government and would have been very well known, and it’s basically creating a martyr that people can rally around.”
Based on the fact that Soleimani was a top-ranking general, students like junior Jakob Nordstrom, believe that assassinating him was a poor decision because the United States was acting unilaterally. According to Nordstrom, the potential conflict that could ensue as a result of angering Iran was also a possible consequence.
“Although war was not exactly what I was thinking immediately, it definitely came to my understanding that this is possible, especially considering the American administration, Trump’s administration and how we’ve dealt with Iran, at least during these past three years,” Nordstrom said. “I thought that war was possible and that a conflict was going to happen.”

Congress Passed a Bill

In January, the House of Representatives voted to pass a bill that stated it sought to limit President Trump’s further interaction with Iran. According to the bill, the president cannot continue hostilities with Iran unless Congress allows it specifically, or there is an “imminent attack.” However, the bill was passed as a concurrent resolution, which is a bill that doesn’t have to be approved by the president but also doesn’t have the force of the law behind it.
“I would think that the way it worked out, the War Powers Act really wouldn’t apply because the president does have authority, based on what he believes is a national security interest, to take limited military action,” Risinger said. “It’s all posturing by the Congress and Democrats to continue undermining Trump.”
However, Loewenstern said he believes that questioning the president on this is something that needs to be done. According to Loewenstern, presidents have been gaining more and more power since WWII, and the fact that they have the sole power to drop a nuclear weapon is worrying.
“I think there’s just a lack of trust all around him. And I think that’s not only from Congress, I think that’s in the military, as well,” Loewenstern said. “I think with the resignation of General Petraeus, who was Secretary of Defense, that sent a strong message that Trump’s leader of the military is problematic.”
Nordstrom said he believes that it’s strange the president has this amount of militaristic power. He considers the bill a good move because of this, and also because the president shouldn’t be acting unilaterally.

Lawmakers React to “Insulting” Briefing

In a briefing to lawmakers, Donald Trump’s administration laid out the reasons behind the strike on Soleimani. Reactions to the briefing were negative, with some senators, such as Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R), describing it as “demeaning” and “insulting.” According to Risinger, part of the reason why people reacted negatively could be that lawmakers were feeling dismissed.
“Obviously, when you have senators that are very very conservative, like Mike Lee, saying that it was the worst briefing he’s ever had, that is concerning,” Risinger said. “I think Mike Lee’s upset is more about the separation of powers and Trump being dismissive of Congress, rather than whether the evidence was justifiable to make the strike on Soleimani.”
According to Nordstrom, the reactions to the briefing are justified, especially when taking into account the U.S. military’s history with the truth. Nordstrom said it isn’t far-fetched to think lying might happen again.
“I think that, in a large way, the U.S. military and the Pentagon have lied to the American public in many ways, and I think that includes members of Congress,” Nordstrom said. “Of course, you look at the Bush administration’s lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to members of Congress and the American public.”
Loewenstern said after hearing reactions from those involved, he believes the briefing was carried out poorly. According to Loewenstern, the Trump administration’s team didn’t do a good job of communicating why the strike was needed.
“It just didn’t seem to justify it,” Loewenstern said. “So, I question, again, the wisdom of this action.”