Trump raises hackles with notion that military response to Iran hinges on Saudis

As hawkish Republicans urge the president to weigh an attack over oil facility assault, Democrats invoke need for Congressional authorization

US President Donald Trump walks from the Oval Office to speak with reporters before departing on Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House, September 16, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
US President Donald Trump walks from the Oval Office to speak with reporters before departing on Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House, September 16, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON —  After US President Donald Trump alleged Monday that Iran was behind an explosive attack over the weekend on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, political fault lines quickly emerged in the nation’s capital.

Republican Iran hawks almost immediately cited the alleged incident to urge the president to weigh an armed strike in retaliation. Democrats and liberal advocacy groups swiftly invoked the need for Congress to authorize the use of military force.

The president, for his part, said it “looks” like Iran carried out the attack, but would not yet commit to military action.

“It is now time for the US to put on the table an attack on Iranian oil refineries if they continue their provocations or increase nuclear enrichment,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“Iran will not stop their misbehavior until the consequences become more real, like attacking their refineries, which will break the regime’s back.”

The president’s particular assertion that seemed to indicate the US was waiting for Saudi instructions on how to proceed against Iran appeared to incense many of his foes.

“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” Trump tweeted Saturday.

“Hey @realDonaldTrump– FYI you need approval from Congress (not Saudi Arabia) if you want to go to war with Iran,” tweeted Mark Pocan, a Democratic representative from Wisconsin. “It’s time for the President to act in the interest of Americans – not Saudi Arabia’s government.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a leading 2020 presidential hopeful, retweeted Pocan.

Similarly, the liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street emphasized that the Constitution vested Congress, and not Riyadh, with war powers.

“President Trump needs a reminder that neither he nor Mohammed Bin Salman have the authority to take the United States into war with Iran,” said the group’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami in a statement, referring to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. “Only Congress can authorize such a response — and they have not done so.”

Ben-Ami noted that in July, the US House passed an amendment that sharply restricted Trump’s prerogative to attack Iran without congressional authorization.

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)

“Just months ago, bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress voted in support of amendments to the NDAA clearly stating that President Trump is not authorized to launch a disastrous new war of choice with Iran,” he said. “Congressional leaders must now include this provision — known as the Khanna-Gaetz amendment — in their final version of the legislation. They cannot allow this dangerous president to usurp their constitutional responsibility.”

The measure, which was sponsored by California Democrat Ro Khanna and Florida Republican Matthew Gaetz, prohibits the administration from spending money on any military action against Iran unless Congress has declared war or passed a resolution authorizing it to use force.

The bill included an exception for emergency situations that only allowed the Pentagon to circumvent these requirements if US armed forces were under attack.

It did not pass the Senate — it was blocked by Mitch McConnell — but it earned a majority of 50 votes in that chamber.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, said the alleged incident gave the US reason to escalate its already aggressive posture toward Tehran.

“We have a right & obligation to … punish units responsible for these attacks … destroy capacity to conduct such attacks in future … & keep our defense assurances to our allies in region,” he tweeted.

“Notion that #Iran regime was peaceful & cooperative until Trump ended #IranDeal is ridiculous,” he went on. “They used windfall from deal to finance rockets, drones, cyber & proxies. If this isn’t dealt with now in a few years they will attain irreversible leverage over the entire region.”

Ben-Ami, however, warned that a unilateral attack on Iran could result in unforeseen or calamitous consequences in the Middle East.

“While the precise nature and origin of Sunday’s very serious attacks have yet to be definitively established, they help make clear the complete failure of the administration’s hyper-aggressive ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran,” he said.

“By unilaterally violating a successful nuclear agreement and taking other reckless actions, the president has stoked tensions, undermined diplomacy and further destabilized the entire region.”

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