President Donald Trump feted the killing of Iran’s Quds Force commander as “American justice” and said Democrats who wanted advance notice of the strike would have leaked it to the media, as he held his first campaign rally of 2020.
The rally in Toledo, Ohio, is Trump’s first since the fatal drone strike he ordered against Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani a week ago.
Trump said he took “bold and decisive action” to save American lives.
He claimed that Soleimani was looking very seriously at further attacks on US embassies beyond Baghdad, without specifying.
“If you dare to threaten our citizens, you do so at your grave peril,” he said.
“He was a bloodthirtsy terror and now he’s no longer a terror, he’s dead,” he added.
Both the US and Iran appeared to step back from the brink of all out conflict Wednesday, though the sides have continued to talk tough and issue threats.
Last week’s killing of Soleimani brought long, simmering tensions between the US and Iran to a boil. Iran, in retaliation, fired a barrage of missiles this week at two military bases in neighboring Iraq that house hundreds of US troops.
But with no casualties to US or Iraqi troops, Trump said he had no plans to take further military action against Iran and would instead enact more sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The rally came hours after the Democrat controlled House of Representatives voted to curb Trump’s abilities to lead the US into war with Iran without approval from Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have complained that the administration failed to inform them of the strike in Baghdad on January 3, but Trump claimed that there was no time to brief them.
“We got a call. We heard where he was. He knew the way he was getting there,” Trump told cheering supporters in Toledo. “We didn’t have time to call up Nancy, who isn’t operating with a full deck.”
He also mocked California Democrat Adam Schiff, claiming he would have been too busy trying to impeach him to be briefed on military plans.
“We got ’em lined up, you little pencil neck,” he said, imagining a conversation with Schiff and drawing loud cheers.
He alleged that Schiff would have leaked the news to CNN, tipping off the Iranian general and blowing the operation.
He accused Democrats of expressing “outrage over the killing of this horrible terrorist.”
The Iran crisis, which momentarily overshadowed Trump’s looming impeachment trial, has also opened a new front in the 2020 presidential campaign for Trump, who in 2016 campaigned on a promise to end American involvement in “endless wars.”
Trump’s campaign has been using the killing of Soleimani as a cudgel against the president’s Democratic political rivals and to divert attention from his impending impeachment trial in the Senate. The campaign has purchased Facebook ads highlighting the killing, among other measures.
Those around the president strongly dismiss any suggestion of political motive. But they have been happy to use the killing to contrast Trump with his Democratic rivals, painting him as a strong leader and accusing Democrats of appeasing Iran with a failed foreign policy approach.
Vice President Mike Pence, who joined Trump for the rally, said the president deserved credit for taking out a “dangerous terrorist” while managing to keep the engagement from escalating into an all-out war.
“And when American lives were threatened by the most dangerous terrorist in the world, President Donald Trump took action and Qassem Soleimani is gone,” Pence said. “And in the wake of that attack, Iran responded, but thanks to the professionalism of the military, we suffered no American casualties and Iran appears to be standing down. That’s what leadership looks like.”
Trump also sought to compare his response to the recent attack on the US embassy in Baghdad to the 2012 attack on US government facility in Benghazi.
A US ambassador to Libya, a foreign service officer and two CIA contractors were killed in the Benghazi attack, which led to a two-year Republican-led investigation into then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was not found to have committed wrongdoing.
No Americans were killed in the Baghdad assault. The protesters managed only to breach the edge of the sprawling embassy complex.
“This was the anti-Benghazi,” he said. “We got there very quickly. This is the exact opposite.”
Trump also turned to a topic that frequently rankles him: the fact that he has never won a Nobel Prize. Referencing the 2019 Nobel Prize winner, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Trump said that he himself deserved the honor instead.
“I made a deal. I saved a country, and I just heard that the head of that country is now getting the Nobel Peace Prize for saving the country,” Trump said. “I said, ‘What?’ Did I have something to do with it? Yeah. But, you know, that’s the way it is. As long as we know, it’s all that matters.”
Abiy was awarded the prize in October for his sweeping reforms and surprising embrace of a bitter rival.