Conservative attorney explains why Trump and Pompeo’s justification for Soleimani killing should ‘concern every American’

Conservative attorney explains why Trump and Pompeo’s justification for Soleimani killing should ‘concern every American’
Mike Pompeo Fox News Screengrab

Although Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani was by no means the first adversary of the U.S. killed during a military operation, his death is inspiring a great deal of debate — even among blistering critics of the Iranian government. Conservative attorney/journalist Philip Rotner considers Soleimani’s death a troubling development in U.S. foreign policy, and he explains in a January 8 article for The Bulwark why the justification being offered by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should “concern every American.”


Founded by two anti-Trump conservatives, Charles Sykes and neocon Bill Kristol, in December 2018, The Bulwark is hardly a journal of pacifists and has a generally more hawkish perspective than, say, Antiwar.com (a decidedly isolationist/paleoconservative right-wing website known for its contributions from Patrick Buchanan, former Rep. Ron Paul and others). But Soleimani’s killing, Rotner stresses, is problematic in many respects.

“President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are justifying the targeted killing of the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, in terms that should concern every American,” Rotner explains.

The attorney/journalist goes on to say, “There are circumstances in which a president is justified in ordering military action to protect the nation from an imminent threat of attack, and targeted killings of military officers who pose that kind of threat have been part of America’s deadly arsenal for decades — although not without controversy. But a president’s use of military force in the absence of a declaration of war or specific congressional authorization is limited by both the Constitution and statutory law.”

For all the hostility between the U.S. and Iran, the two countries are not technically at war — not yet, anyway.

“Any analysis of Trump’s use of military force to kill Soleimani necessarily begins with the question of whether the strike was authorized by Congress,” Rotner observes. “It wasn’t. Congress hasn’t declared war against Iran, and Trump neither sought nor obtained specific congressional authorization for the act.”

Rotner explains that there is a crucial difference between a “preventative” military strike and a “preemptive” military strike.

“What Trump and Pompeo seem to be describing is a preventive military strike, not a preemptive strike,” Rotner explains. “The distinction between the two is crucial. Under international law, a ‘preemptive’ military action to thwart an imminent threat is generally viewed as an acceptable act of self-defense. ‘Preventive’ military action, taken in response to less immediate threats, is not.”

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