Democrats wary of Trump’s ‘erratic’ approach to Iran

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House Democrats are hammering President Trump for what they are characterizing as his “erratic” approach to escalating tensions with Iran.

Democratic lawmakers said they were relieved by Trump’s remarks on Friday that he called off a military strike on Iran, which he said he’d ordered in retaliation for Tehran’s downing of a U.S. surveillance drone earlier in the week.

But that’s where the praise ends.

{mosads}The president, Democrats charge, has no cohesive strategy for deescalating the conflict; has neglected the consultations to inform such a plan; and appears hell-bent on goading Iran into war. The confluence of factors has led many Democrats to begin calling for a resolution prohibiting military action against Iran without explicit congressional authorization.

“This administration has been going out of its way to try to provoke Iran to go to war,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee. “And I don’t have a lot of confidence in the national security team that surrounds this president, and I certainly don’t have any confidence in Donald Trump’s ability to keep us out of war.”

“His statements and his views are erratic on this, and I think … the American people want us to be able to make sure that he doesn’t start a war on an impulse,” McGovern added.
Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, used similar language: “It characterizes his decisionmaking to date: erratic, not always thoughtful.”

McGovern has pressed congressional leaders for years to pass a new authorization for use of military force, known as an AUMF, in order to update the 2001 resolution that’s been tapped by presidents of both parties to enable post-9/11 operations in hotspots across the globe.

That idea is gaining traction in the wake of Trump’s near-strikes on Iran.

{mossecondads}Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said securing a new AUMF “is beyond critical right now.” And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday amplified her earlier warning that Trump will have a fight on his hands if he tries to launch military operations against Iran without congressional approval.

“We think there are many options that are not what they call kinetic — that is to say, strikes on the country — that might be more useful,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.

The Speaker had been among the lawmakers to huddle with Trump at the White House on Thursday afternoon to discuss the appropriate response to Iran’s recent provocations, most urgently the downing this week of a U.S. military drone.

“The Democrats in the meeting, House and Senate Democrats, were very clear that Congress must act — [that Trump] must have the authority of Congress — before we initiate military hostilities in Iran,” Pelosi said.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was also in Thursday’s White House meeting. He portrayed Trump as genuinely torn over the appropriate response to the drone attack.

“He wasn’t sure what the right thing to do was, and he was asking his advisers to help,” Smith said. “It’s obvious: He wants to discourage Iran from doing this kind of thing. … He does not want this to escalate to the point where there is further conflict, loss of life and an acceleration of the conflict. So how do you do that? It’s a very difficult.”

But Smith also criticized the president for what he characterized as a lack of consultation and planning, arguing the White House should have anticipated that Tehran was spoiling for a fight.

“That has been concerning to me from the start,” Smith said. “You had to know that this was how Iran was going to react. Once they reacted, what were you planning on doing? And I think the answer is, they weren’t sure, and that’s problematic.”

Smith said there are no briefings on Iran planned with lawmakers before next week.

The tensions with Iran have been simmering for weeks, as Tehran has been linked to strikes against U.S. military facilities in Iraq and, more recently, attacks on a pair of oil tankers — one Japanese and one Scandinavian — in the Gulf of Oman.

The conflict intensified this week when Iran declared it had shot down a U.S. drone over Iranian airspace.

U.S. officials countered that the drone was flying in protected international airspace, and Trump tweeted Friday morning that he was minutes away from retaliating with missile strikes on several sites in Iran. 

“On Monday they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters,” he tweeted. “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”

Democrats have welcomed that decision, with Pelosi warning “that amount of collateral damage would be very provocative.”

“I’m glad the president did not take that,” Pelosi said.

But Democrats are also voicing plenty of concerns with Trump’s broader, long-term strategy for confronting Tehran. Smith, for one, chided Trump’s move to tweet about calling off the missile strikes, saying the public airing was a strategic blunder that could complicate efforts to cool the tensions between the two countries.

“He should not be staying stuff like that publicly, because it gives the impression of a level of indecision that I don’t think is helpful to us,” Smith said. “I wish he was more discreet about what he shares with everybody.”

Even some of Trump’s Republican allies said Friday that they support a new AUMF, although they were quick to note that the president is authorized to respond with temporary military force to acts of foreign aggression.

“If you’re talking about responding to a series of Iranian attacks aimed at American assets and facilities, … the War Powers Act gives him the ability to do that,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “If we were planning to go into something sustained, long-term, then I would expect he would need to come to Congress.”

Democrats acknowledged that any effort to put new limits on Trump’s war powers faces two hurdles that are likely insurmountable: opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate and Trump’s veto authority.

Still, many want to send the message that they’re acting as an aggressive check on an impetuous president — particularly when it comes to an issue as solemn as war. 

“There’s been a bipartisan call to do something, and I don’t know what else it’s going to take,” Quigley said. “Obviously, we’re not going to get it done anytime soon, and he’s going to veto it. But I think it makes sense to send him a message.”

Tags Adam Smith Donald Trump Iran Mike Quigley Military strike on Iran Nancy Pelosi Salud Carbajal surveillance drone Tehran Tom Cole War
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