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Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani attends an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution in Tehran, Iran, on February 11, 2016.
Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

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Democrats warn of the dangers of war while Republicans fall in line after the killing of Iran’s Qassem Soleimani

A stick of dynamite into a tinderbox”: How US politicians are responding to the Iran strike.

Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

A United States airstrike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian military official, has sent shockwaves around the globe and marks a major escalation of tensions between the US and Iran. After news of the strike broke on Thursday evening, lawmakers in the US and the candidates looking to unseat President Donald Trump, who according to the Pentagon ordered the attack, were quick to react.

News of Soleimani’s killing came as a surprise. It was first reported by Iraqi state television and later confirmed in a statement from the Pentagon, which said the general was “actively developing plans to attack diplomats and service members and Iraq throughout the region” prior to his death. The Pentagon said the strike was meant to deter future attacks from Iran. Neither provided details about those planned attacks.

Mourners gather during a demonstration over the US airstrike in Iraq that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, in Tehran, Iran, on January 3, 2020. Iran has vowed “harsh retaliation” for the strike.
Vahid Salemi/AP

As Vox’s Libby Nelson and Caroline Houck explained, aggressions between the US and Iran had been on the uptick in recent days — an American contractor was killed and four military members were injured in Iraq last week, and a US strike killed 25 members of an Iranian-backed militia and injured more than 50 people. On New Year’s Eve, members of the militia violently protested outside the US Embassy in Baghdad.

It’s unclear what comes next — the White House has offered little information on its strategy moving forward and apparently did not notify Congress before it took action — but this marks a major escalation, and more aggressions are likely to come. Reactions among US politicians largely fell along party lines.

How 2020 candidates are reacting

Many Democratic presidential candidates noted that while Soleimani was indeed a nefarious figure, his killing marked a dangerous development and threatened war throughout the Middle East.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is currently leading the 2020 Democratic field and is one of the only candidates in the field to have cast a vote on the Iraq War (and the only one to vote for it), warned in a statement that President Trump “just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox” and owes the American people an explanation of his strategy to keep American troops, embassy personnel, and American interests in the US and abroad safe, as well as US allies.

“I’m not privy to the intelligence and much remains unknown, but Iran will surely respond. We could be on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East. I hope the Administration has thought through the second- and third-order consequences of the path they have chosen,” Biden said. “But I fear this Administration has not demonstrated at any turn the discipline or long-term vision necessary — and the stakes could not be higher.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is running second to Biden in national polls, drew parallels to the start of the Iraq War — which he voted against as a Congress member at the turn of the century. “Trump’s dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars,” he wrote. “Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts is on a path to another one.”

Sanders also released a video noting his history of opposition to the wars in Iraq and Vietnam and pledged to do everything in his power to prevent war with Iran.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said the United States’s priority “must be to avoid another costly war” and called the strike “reckless.”

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running fourth in national polls behind Biden, Sanders, and Warren, said that while there is no doubt that Soleimani was a threat to safety and security, “there are serious questions” about how the decision to strike was made. “Before engaging in military action that could destabilize an entire region, we must take a strategic, deliberate approach that includes consultation with Congress, our allies, and stakeholders in the Middle East,” he said. “The lawful, constitutional role of Congress in matters of war and peace must be respected.”

Many other candidates, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), have commented as well.

Many Democrats in Congress were quick to warn of the dangers of the strike, while many Republicans fell in line

President Trump conducted the strikes in Iraq without consulting Congress and without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran from Congress. In other words, US lawmakers were just as surprised by the attack as the American public.

In a statement on Thursday evening, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that while American leaders’ “highest priority” is to protect American interests and lives, “we cannot put the lives of American servicemembers, diplomats, and others further at risk by engaging in provocative actions.” She continued, “Tonight’s airstrike risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence. America – and the world – cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return.”

Pelosi noted the lack of an AUMF and called for the White House to brief Congress on the situation immediately.

Many Democrats in the House and Senate offered a similar sentiment, noting concerns about the level of escalation and what happens next.

Many Republicans, on the other hand, were quick to fall in line behind the president and support the move.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a longtime Iran hawk and critic of the Iran deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama that President Trump has since pulled out of, put out a long list on Twitter of his version of a fact versus fiction of the situation.

Others took a similar path.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) praised the president for taking “decisive, preemptive action.” He also claimed he was briefed on the plot before it took place.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said that Soleimani was “a depraved terrorist who had the blood of hundreds of American servicemen and women on his hands, and who was doubtlessly planning operations” to do further harm, but it is “imperative” that the US and its allies “articulate [and] pursue a coherent strategy for protecting our security interests in the region.” He said he would press the administration for more information.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-TX) in a tweet said that Soleimani was a “terrorist” and that the president and American servicemembers “just reminded Iran — and the world — that we will not let attacks against Americans go unpunished.” He also posted pictures of himself with Trump at the president’s Florida Mar-a-Lago resort on Thursday evening.

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