WASHINGTON — Some critics have characterized this week’s killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani as an unauthorized and reckless move by President Donald Trump that could push the nation into yet another Middle East conflict.
But members of Nebraska’s all-Republican congressional delegation say the president had little choice, given how the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force was ramping up his long-running terrorist campaigns against the U.S. and its allies.
“The intention of a move like this is to deescalate the war that Soleimani was already plotting on America,” Sen. Ben Sasse told The World-Herald. “I think this is a defensive move.”
Sasse is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, but because of the holiday recess, it’s been a couple of weeks since he has been able to receive classified briefings in the secure facilities of the U.S. Capitol.
But Sasse said that he talked to Trump after the strike and that the president laid out Soleimani’s recent movements leading up to it. Those movements support administration assertions that Soleimani was involved in planning the kind of attacks that U.S. officials have been worried about for months, Sasse said. He also said it was telling that Soleimani was in Iraq, where Iran’s proxy forces have engaged in terrorism.
Rep. Don Bacon said the president had to act and pointed to a hearing last month in which he pressed top U.S. military leaders on whether American restraint was being interpreted as weakness by Iran.
“We’ve shown ultimate restraint with this, and I think it actually incentivizes their behavior,” Bacon said in an interview. “I don’t think we had a choice.”
Bacon said Soleimani’s killing could lead to further escalation but stressed that Iran must understand that it will lose any conflict and that the U.S. could destroy Iran’s navy and air force in a day.
There has been a low-intensity war going on between Iran and America for some time, he said, but it’s been one-sided, with Iran as the aggressor. And Bacon suggested that American pushback probably should have come sooner.
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“To do nothing is not the right answer,” he said. “These guys have acted as our enemy for a long time, and we have not reciprocated. We have shown the restraint. The gloves came off last night, and Soleimani got what he deserved.”
Other delegation members issued statements supportive of the president’s actions.
“President Trump repeatedly demonstrated restraint, and Iran’s leaders were given the opportunity to turn from the path of violence and escalation,” Sen. Deb Fischer said. “They did not. Having seen the resolve of the United States to defend itself, I hope that Iran will end their destructive behavior and choose a more rational path.”
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry described the killing of Soleimani as a “defensive military response” to “the Iranian-inspired attack on our embassy in Baghdad,” and Rep. Adrian Smith said the U.S. takes security threats seriously.
“The president’s decisive action sends a message that while our goal must be peace, the United States will not tolerate Iranian provocations or further attacks on Americans,” Smith said.
Sasse has previously highlighted Soleimani’s nefarious activities around the globe. The senator supported Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and instead mount a campaign of maximum pressure on Iran that involved crippling sanctions, including ones that targeted Soleimani’s supply lines.
Soleimani responded to that approach by ramping up his activities — as evidenced by attacks on tankers and Saudi oil facilities, the downing of a U.S. drone and a string of attacks on bases housing U.S. military personnel.
“If anything, the administration has been showing borderline too much restraint the last 45 to 60 days in the face of increasing attacks by Soleimani,” Sasse said.
Sasse said there’s no clear “Soleimani junior” waiting to take the place of the dead general, who had proven to be an effective warrior.
Iran appeared to believe that there was no limit to what the U.S. would tolerate, he said.
“Now that they see that there’s a limit, I think they’re going to have to ask themselves what do they want to do next,” Sasse said.