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.
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.”
Trump's dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 3, 2020
Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the 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.
I was right about Vietnam.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 3, 2020
I was right about Iraq.
I will do everything in my power to prevent a war with Iran.
I apologize to no one. pic.twitter.com/Lna3oBZMKB
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said the United States’s priority “must be to avoid another costly war” and called the strike “reckless.”
Soleimani was a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans. But this reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict. Our priority must be to avoid another costly war.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) January 3, 2020
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.
War with Iran is the last thing we need and is not the will of the American people. We should be acting to deescalate tensions and protect our people in the region.— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) January 3, 2020
We have a president who has no strategic plan when it comes to Iran and has only made that region less stable and less safe. More thoughts: pic.twitter.com/Cn25X4kOhQ— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) January 3, 2020
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.
Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 3, 2020
The question is this - as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?
No one can claim to know with certainty what happens next.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 3, 2020
But the neocons thumping their chest tonight should recall that the worst mistakes global powers make are when they strike militarily in complicated places with few friends, with no consideration of the consequences.
Trump’s decision to tear up a diplomatic deal that was working and resume escalating aggressions with Iran has brought us to the brink of another war in the Middle East.— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) January 3, 2020
My immediate concern is for our brave Americans serving in harm’s way.— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) January 3, 2020
The President has spent years telling Americans not to believe the Intelligence community.— Hakeem Jeffries (@RepJeffries) January 3, 2020
He just lit a stick of dynamite in a volatile region based on information he claims to have received from that same Intelligence community.
You can’t have it both ways Donald.
Lets be clear.— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) January 3, 2020
In 2002, Congress voted to give President Bush the power to go to war in Iraq.
Three weeks ago, our Congress let our nation down again by failing to stand up against a war in Iran. /2 https://t.co/k0V5bninkr
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.
#Soleimani is directly responsible for previous & future plans to KILL U.S diplomats & American service members in #Iraq & throughout the region.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 3, 2020
But some are so blinded by hatred of Trump that they argue he has done something sinister. Its crazy. Total derangement.
FICTION: Trump has taken reckless & impulsive action with no planning or forethought for what comes next— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 3, 2020
FACT: Trump acted on previously expressed red lines that were crossed,after exhausting all other options & fully aware that Iran will now respond,if only to save face
Others took a similar path.
Qassem Soleimani masterminded Iran’s reign of terror for decades, including the deaths of hundreds of Americans. Tonight, he got what he richly deserved, and all those American soldiers who died by his hand also got what they deserved: justice. https://t.co/1wkjtvj2QA— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) January 3, 2020
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.
President @realDonaldTrump took decisive, preemptive action to foil a plot directed at American personnel.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 3, 2020
As to what happens next: It should be clear to Iran that President Trump will not sit idly by if our people and interests are threatened.
Qasem Soleimani was a terrorist who targeted and murdered American troops. The Iranian government should understand that their acts of aggression and terror against American civilians and servicemembers will have consequences. https://t.co/Hzo1j5zhfM— Senator Thom Tillis (@SenThomTillis) January 3, 2020
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.