Republican officials openly cheered President Donald Trump’s targeted killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Thursday night, celebrating an assassination that represents a major escalation in hostilities between the United States and Iran.
Soleimani’s death in an airstrike near Baghdad’s international airport is set to have volatile and potentially destabilizing consequences for the Middle East, where he was the leading figure in Iran’s foreign military actions and clandestine operations. But the response from many top Republican lawmakers mostly ignored the implications of the killing in favor of unfettered praise for Trump.
“Thank you, Mr. President, for standing up for America,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a series of tweets. “I appreciate President @realDonaldTrump’s bold action against Iranian aggression. To the Iranian government: if you want more, you will get more.”
“Congratulations to President Trump on the decisive action and successful outcome,” said Sen. Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, using an alternate spelling of Soleimani’s name. “Qassem Suleimani was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and his death represents an opportunity for Iraq to determine its own future free from Iranian control.”
Many Republicans emphasized in their statements that Soleimani’s role in supporting pro-Iranian militias and countering U.S. influence resulted in attacks on Americans, calling him a “terrorist” and otherwise claiming that he was a legitimate target for assassination.
“This is very simple: General Soleimani is dead because he was an evil bastard who murdered Americans,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said. “The President made the brave and right call, and Americans should be proud of our service members who got the job done.”
“I commend the Administration for taking this decisive action today in Baghdad against Tehran-backed terrorists. The world should not mourn Qassem Soleimani, a man whose name is synonymous with murder in the Middle East and who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American service members,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said.
Some Republicans also began to reflexively defend Trump’s authority to order the strikes in the first place. Trump did not seek congressional approval or give advance notice to key congressional leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), about the attack, and the White House has not released a legal justification for the strike. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blamed Iran for the assassination and claimed Trump didn’t need to consult Congress before the killing.
Sasse also accused Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) of “drunk partisanship” for asking why Trump didn’t seek congressional authorization for an assassination with the potential to start open military conflict with Iran.
Although few Republicans discussed the legal justification for the killing or what it means for the U.S. role in the region, some did call for American military forces and interests to be ready for backlash and retaliation.
“It is imperative that the U.S. and our allies articulate & pursue a coherent strategy for protecting our security interests in the region,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said. “I will be pressing the Administration for additional details in the days ahead.”
“We need to get ready for a major pushback. Our people in Iraq and the Middle East are going to be targeted,” Graham told The Daily Beast. “We need to be ready to defend our people in the Middle East. I think we need to be ready for a big counterpunch.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo painted a rosier picture of the response, tweeting a video that he claimed to be Iraqis “dancing in the street” in celebration of Soleimani’s death. Meanwhile, Trump has not issued any statement on the attacks apart from tweeting an image of the American flag.