Trump Killing of Suleimani and Action Against Iran Legal—Despite Democratic Complaints


Trump Killing of Suleimani and Action Against Iran Legal—Despite Democratic Complaints

Jan 14, 2020 4 min read
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Election Law Reform Initiative Manager, Senior Legal Fellow

Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration.
President Trump speaks about the situation with Iran in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, DC, January 8, 2020. SAUL LOEB / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Suleimani was unquestionably a legitimate target.

The nonbinding resolution criticizes the president for not “consulting” or "receiving" Congress' “authorization” before ordering the killing of Qassem Suleimani.

Trump acted fully within his constitutional authority when he ordered the drone strike against Suleimani.

The War Powers Resolution passed Thursday by the House in an effort to restrict President Trump's ability to take military action to defend America against attack from Iran is a meaningless political document designed only to embarrass the president.

The nonbinding resolution criticizes the president for not “consulting” with Congress and receiving its “authorization” before ordering the killing of Iranian general and terrorist mastermind Qassem Suleimani. The resolution also orders Trump to stop using military force against Iran until he gets congressional approval.

Trump acted fully within his constitutional authority when he ordered the drone strike against Suleimani, a mass murderer responsible for thousands of deaths—including over 600 Americans—who was engaged in planning additional imminent and ongoing deadly attacks.

President Trump told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham in an exclusive interview Friday that Suleimani was planning attacks on four U.S. embassies.

Nine other terrorists traveling with Suleimani were also killed in the U.S. drone strike near the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq last week.

Imagine how much better off we would be if U.S. forces had been able to kill Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden and nine of his fellow terrorist leaders while they were planning the horrific Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that killed nearly than 3,000 people. Can anyone seriously argue that preventing those tragic deaths would not have been the right thing to do if a past president had the opportunity?

We’ll never know how many more people Suleimani would have murdered if he had lived longer, but it’s a safe bet that the number would be a big one, and that Americans would be among the dead. President Trump should be applauded for eliminating this very real threat.

The framers of the Constitution understood we needed a strong president to defend our country. One reason they replaced the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution was to create the office of president with the powers it currently possesses.

Article II of the Constitution makes the president the “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” He is also vested with all of “the executive Power” and the duty to execute the laws.

The text, structure, and history of the Constitution make it clear that this article gives the president broad constitutional authority to use military force to support our foreign policy and to respond to threats to our national security.  And that’s the way it has been interpreted by successive administrations and the courts since the very beginning of our nation

As the U.S. Justice Department said in a 2001 legal opinion issued after the 9/11 attacks, the “power of the President is at its zenith under the Constitution when the President is directing military operations of the armed forces, because the power of Commander in Chief is assigned solely to the President.”

No law and no congressional resolution—such as the one passed Thursday by the House—“can place any limits on the President’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the President alone to make,” according to the Justice Department legal opinion.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. Congress has done so five times in our nations’ history and also authorized the use of military force over 40 times. But the commander in chief is charged with defending the country. He—and he alone—has the authority to use the armed forces for our defense.

In cases such as the killing of Suleimani—a situation calling for self-defense based on a verifiable, ongoing and imminent threat—a president can clearly act based on his constitutional authority. Neither Trump—nor any other American president—need ask for a congressional declaration of war or even an authorization for the use of military force in cases like this. 

Trump acted wisely, quickly, and constitutionally to save American lives. That’s something we are entitled to expect all our presidents to do—regardless of their political party.

You can be sure that if Trump had done nothing and Suleimani had gone on to stage a nightmarish terrorist attack that claimed hundreds or even thousands of American lives, the president’s critics would be screaming at the top of their lungs that Trump was incompetent and derelict in his duty for failing to prevent the mass murder.

The simple fact is that the authority of Congress to declare war does not limit the ability—in fact, the responsibility—of the president to direct the armed forces to respond either defensively or offensively to terrorist threats.

If Congress wants to flex its constitutional muscles on this, it can cut off funding for the military. After all, Congress has the power of the purse. If it really wants to stop specific military actions, it can use its budget authority to withhold appropriations and to ban the use of any public funds for specific purposes.

The War Powers Resolution passed by the House Thursday does not do that. The fact that the House is not willing to use its actual authority in this matter strongly suggests that this resolution is just political theater meant to score points against the president.

In addition, the nonbinding resolution puts members of the House in the embarrassing position of seemingly defending a terrorist mass murderer. It may give the rest of the world – including our most dangerous enemies—the impression that our government is in disarray and doesn’t want to respond to attacks on our embassies, our citizens and our armed forces.

This, in turn, could invite further attacks. 

Suleimani was unquestionably a legitimate target—someone who could have and should have been taken out years ago by a past president in the interests of our national security. Had that happened, an untold number of innocent civilians and members of the U.S. armed forces whose deaths were caused by Suleimani would still be alive today.

Those condemning President Trump for taking out Suleimani should answer this question: How many American military personnel and others is a terrorist allowed to kill before you think he is a legitimate military target?

And Trump’s critics should be willing to sit down with the widows, widowers, orphans and parents who lost loved ones because of Suleimani’s barbarism and explain to them why it was a good thing than an earlier American president did not rid the world of this monstrous mass murderer.

This piece originally appeared in Fox News