In early July, the House voted to require congressional approval for military strike against Iran in a 251-170 vote with more than two dozen Republicans in support. The National Defense Authorization Act amendment’s adoption by the House follows Trump’s statement in June that the United States had been “cocked and loaded” to strike Iranian targets in retaliation for Iran shooting down an unmanned drone.
Two weeks later, the Trump sycophant GOP Senate failed to muster 60 votes for an Iran war powers amendment to its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, but nevertheless, supporters produced 50 votes, with 40 senators voting against the amendment. “A majority of the Senate is saying to the president: ‘Don’t do this on your own,’” Kaine said. “President Trump is probably the kind of guy who is going to do whatever he wants, it’s not that if Congress says ‘no,’ that would stop him. But Congress saying ‘no’ is a reflection of what voters are saying and he’s hearing that too.”
A majority of Congress is on record having voted that the president does not have the authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) adopted after 9/11 to engage in military action against Iran without first seeking congressional authorization.
Article I of the Constitution delegates the power to “declare war” to Congress. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 imposes important limitations on the president’s ability to conduct military operations in the absence of explicit congressional authorization.
These guardrails have failed us because of the Trump sycophant GOP Senate that puts loyalty to their “Dear Leader” over their duty to defend the Constitution. Four of the five Trump vetoes this year relate to Congress voting to end U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen, currently the greatest humanitarian disaster on the globe, and ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia as a result of the state-sponsored brutal murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
Donald Trump has been entirely submissive and deferential to the Saudi kingdom. The top 11 favors the Trump administration has done for Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Kingdom is supposed to be the client state of the U.S. But under Donald Trump, that role has been reversed, and Trump is doing the bidding of the crown prince, like a loyal lap dog. All that money the Saudis have spent at Trump properties have bought them access and favors (see, Emoluments Clause).
Over the weekend, there was a missile strike on one of Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facilities that caused substantial damage. Houti rebels in Yemen, backed by Iran, initially claimed responsibility for the retaliatory attack, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quick to assert, without evidence, that Iran was directly responsible.
(Didn’t Trump just fire Iran war hawk John Bolton? Oh, that’s right, Iran war hawk Mike Pompeo still has the president’s ear, as does the Saudi crown prince and his “useful idiot,” Jerrod Kushner).
After the oil installations were blown up in Saudi Arabia over the weekend, President Trump declared that the United States was “locked and loaded” — correcting his previous threat of “cocked and loaded” — a phrase that seemed to suggest he was ready to strike back. But then he promised to wait for Saudi Arabia to tell him “under what terms we would proceed.” With Oil Under Attack, Trump’s Deference to Saudis Returns:
Trump’s message on Twitter offered a remarkable insight into the deference Mr. Trump gives to the Saudi royal family and touched off a torrent of criticism from those who have long accused him of doing Riyadh’s bidding while sweeping Saudi violations of human rights and international norms under the rug.
It was hard to imagine him allowing NATO, or a European ally, such latitude to determine how the United States should respond. But for Mr. Trump, the Saudis have always been a special case, their economic import having often overwhelmed other considerations in his mind.
Whether, and how, to commit forces is one of the most critical decisions any American president can make, but Mr. Trump’s comment gave the impression that he was outsourcing the decision (to Riyadh).
The fact that the other country was Saudi Arabia — a difficult ally that came under intense criticism for the killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident and Washington Post columnist — reinforced the longstanding criticism that the energy-rich kingdom buys American support.
“What struck me about that tweet was not just that it’s obviously wrong to allow Saudi Arabia to dictate our foreign policy, but that the president doesn’t seem to be aware of how submissive it makes him look to say that,” said Representative Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey and a former assistant secretary of state.
“It is a big deal to attack oil fields,” Mr. Malinowski added. “It does affect more than just Saudi Arabia’s interests. But whatever we do, we have to do what’s best for us and we have to recognize that the Saudis have a profound bias.”
All In with Chris Hayes delivered a succinct editorial on Trump outsourcing the U.S. military to Saudi Arabia — sacrificing American blood and treasure for yet another misguided war in the Middle East — because Trump is financially beholden to the Saudi kingdom. His personal finances should never be determinative of issues of war and peace.
After Trump’s bellicose threats of being ready to go to war, he appeared to back down.
Mr. Trump told reporters on Monday that he had not “promised” to protect the Saudis and that he would “sit down with the Saudis and work something out.” But he expressed caution, suggesting that for all of his bellicose language, he was not rushing toward a military conflict.
Asked whether Iran was behind the attack, Mr. Trump said, “It is looking that way.” But he stopped short of definitive confirmation. “That is being checked out right now,” he added.
Mr. Trump warned that the United States had fearsome military abilities and was prepared for war if necessary.
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[T]he seeming abdication of fact-finding and decision-making to the Saudis gave Democrats a moment to argue that the president was willing to let the Saudi monarchy make decisions for the United States.
“If the President wants to use military force, he needs Congress, not the Saudi royal family, to authorize it,” Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, the chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, wrote on Twitter.
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In his comments to reporters on Monday, Mr. Trump seemed intent on avoiding the perception that he was taking direction from the Saudis. If there is any response to the strikes on the oil facilities, he said, then the Saudis would play a part themselves — if nothing else, by financing it.
Which, of course, made it sound as if the United States was willing to be, in effect, a mercenary force for the Saudis.
“The fact is the Saudis are going to have a lot of involvement in this if we decide to do something,” he said. “They’ll be very much involved. And that includes payment. And they understand that fully.”
CNN first tweeted that Brian Hook, the Trump administration’s special representative for Iran, told congressional staffers that the Saudis view this as “their 9/11.” Team Trump: Saudis See This Attack as Their 9/11:
The 9/11 reference, made less than a week after the 18th anniversary of the attack which killed over 3,000 Americans, came despite the uncomfortable fact that 13 of the 19 hijackers who attacked the U.S. on that day were Saudi citizens. Last week, the Trump administration pledged to reveal the name of a Saudi official investigated by the FBI for a possible role in the 9/11 attacks.
“From an American perspective, it seems like a trivialization of the tragedy of 9/11, and perhaps offensively so, but from a Saudi point of view it is a way of explaining their shock to Americans,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute.
The White House did not provide comment for this story. However, a source with direct knowledge says that Trump was briefed on the situation in Saudi Arabia with an official using the same 9/11 comparison. Trump appeared “unmoved” by the analogy, the source noted.
The National Security Council declined to comment when reached by The Daily Beast.
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Despite the 9/11 rhetoric, the kingdom isn’t matching the apparent behind-the-scenes alarm with a similar tone in public. On Monday, the Saudi foreign ministry said it would invite experts from the United Nations to investigate the site of the attack.
“I think there is a clear argument to be made that Iran’s attack was an act of war. But, at least in public, Saudi Arabia has been very cautious, going out of their way to involve the international community and buy time,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told The Daily Beast. “I can imagine there are many war decision-makers in the kingdom concerned the air strikes won’t solve their problem and just escalate things further.”
The light touch in public appears to be a stalling move, according to Dr. Afshon Ostovar, a scholar at the Naval Postgraduate School. “Riyadh’s somewhat muted statements so far seem designed to to give it time and space to think through its options, both military and diplomatic,” Ostovar said. “A military engagement with Iran would inexorably lead to more insecurity, a weak response would embolden the culprits. That’s the heart of the Saudi’s dilemma. In some sense, that’s also the dilemma for Washington.”
[T]here is no appetite in the United States for another Middle Eastern war. Americans have understood the high costs of war and have been demanding their leaders end the ones they already started. Besides the occasional Lindsey Graham and Fox and Friends comments, the overwhelming voice out of Washington today is against a new war.
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But as long as Trump is not willing to abandon his maximum pressure campaign of crippling sanctions on Iran, he may not be able to start real diplomacy with Tehran. Trump may have dug himself into a hole without any real way out of it. And the great deal-maker persona that he has been trying to maintain is more and more turning into a war hawk.
As Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates once told the French foreign minister at the time, the Saudis always want to “fight the Iranians to the last American.” This is also true of Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud government in Israel.
The U.S. has been fighting proxy wars in the Middle East on behalf of these countries for far too long. It has to be in our strategic national interests to commit the American military to war, and it has to be debated and authorized by a vote of our representatives in Congress. A submissive president financially compromised by a foreign government should not have the power to act alone in outsourcing the U.S. military as a mercenary force for Saudi Arabia.