Becca Balint: Allow cooler heads to prevail

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What a week. The president ordered a drone strike on Iraq, killing Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani; Iran retaliated by targeting US military bases in Iraq for its own set of air strikes. A Ukrainian commercial airliner carrying over 170 civilians was shot down by a missile shortly after takeoff from Tehran; evidence points to Iran, although intelligence officials believe it was a horrible mistake and not an intentional strike. Although it was the first week of the Vermont legislative session, and we have a full plate of state policy initiatives, my resting moments were involuntarily filled with worries about a possible war with Iran.

President Trump's decision to kill Iran's top security commander several days ago was a major escalation of tensions with Iran — taken without informing Congress. Democrats in the House of Representatives pushed to impose another check on this impulsive president to prevent a full-scale war with Iran. Mainly along partisan lines, the House voted 224-194 on Thursday to curb the president's ability to wage war with Iran. The measure would force Trump to get authorization from Congress before taking any additional military action against Iran.

Predictably, the president accused Democrats of being soft on Iran and attacked them for questioning the commander in chief. Trump's team maintains that the threats from Suleimani were imminent. But an intelligence briefing to lawmakers midweek did not bore this out. Republican Senator Mike Lee from Utah even referred to it as "probably the worst briefing I've seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I've served in the US Senate."

Democratic colleagues concurred. One senior lawmaker told a Vox reporter, "It seemed like they didn't have a lot of information they could give us ... The information we got was no more detailed or revealing than what we've read in the news or seen on the TV." This lawmaker also stressed that there were no details or facts provided to indicate that Suleimani posed an imminent threat to our national security. Clearly, the president is hoping Americans will ignore the facts and get swept up in emotions. Trump's posturing with Iran reminds me of his brash electioneering and railing against "bad hombres!"

There's no question that Suleimani was responsible for the death of Americans, and as Colin Kahl, writing for Foreign Policy magazine, reminds us, "No American should shed a tear for Suleimani." He was the leader of Iran's elite paramilitary Quds Force and was behind attacks by Shiite Iraqi militias that have killed hundreds of American troops over the years. Suleimani's decisions and actions have also supported many terrorist groups in the region: Hezbollah in Lebanon, jihadists in Gaza, Houthi militants in Yemen, and the barbaric Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. But American intelligence does not appear to support the idea that Suleimani was planning an imminent attack on Americans.

Kahl asserts, "It was an overt act against perhaps the second-most-prominent official in Iran. From an Iranian perspective, the assassination is the equivalent of another country taking out the director of the CIA, secretary of defense, and shadow secretary of state all rolled into one." There's a real danger that, although the Trump administration sees this as a justified, targeted attack, Iranians will view this as a clear act of war. Needless to say, cooler heads must prevail in Congress.

As I prepare to head to the statehouse this morning, I'm deeply grateful for our entire congressional delegation. It's a huge relief to know that we in the Vermont Legislature can trust them to ask probing questions and make the right difficult decisions. This gives us all the headspace to focus our attention here.

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as Senate Majority Leader in the Vermont Legislature. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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