The United States has killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top military commander, the Department of Defense said in a statement released Thursday. The use of lethal force was authorized by President Trump to cripple Iran’s Quds Force, which Soleimani led. A Great Courses professor offers insight.
General Qassem Soleimani, one of the most powerful men in Iran, commanded the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force, a military outfit and U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. In its statement, the Department of Defense said that by performing the operation, the military took “decisive defensive action action to protect U.S. personnel abroad.” The statement also said that Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region” and that he had approved the attacks on a U.S. embassy in Baghdad on New Year’s Eve.
Since Soleimani’s’ death, tensions have worsened at home and abroad. Iran has vowed revenge against the United States for the operation while some in Washington are arguing that President Trump committed an act of war and therefore should have sought Congressional approval before authorizing the strike. Professor Paul Rosenzweig, Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School, spoke with The Great Courses Daily to shed light on the incident and what may happen next.
Giving the Order
The War Powers Act of 1973 outlines prior Congressional approval regarding the deployment of troops overseas as well as establishing a rule that in certain situations, a president can deploy troops without that approval so long as he or she notifies Congress within 48 hours of doing so. So where does the Soleimani strike lie?
“Prior Congressional approval is for going to war; the administration’s argument is that it’s a self-defense move that doesn’t require prior approval,” Professor Rosenzweig said. “You can either believe that or not, but it’s a plausible argument.”
President Trump also performed a possible protocol breach by not involving the so-called “Gang of Eight” in the decision. The Gang of Eight is made up of the top bipartisan Congresspeople in the country and the ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees and are intended to ensure all angles are considered in potentially explosive decisions such as this.
Rather than consult with the Gang of Eight, The Independent reported that the only Congressperson with advance knowledge of the strike was Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) of the Senate Judiciary Committee—a move that infuriated Democrats.
“There’s a separate set of rules that requires notification of the Gang of Eight for intelligence activities, so they’ve decided to treat it as a war act with a 48-hour notice after the fact instead of as an intelligence act with a pre-notification requirement,” Professor Rosenzweig said.
Potential Cyber Warfare
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a bulletin Saturday through the National Terrorism Advisory System regarding the strike and potential retaliatory acts by Iran against the United States. While pledging ongoing cooperation with “federal, local, state, and private sector partners to detect and defend against threats to the Homeland,” the DHS bulletin mentioned past cyber attacks by Iran on the American infrastructure and the possibility of future attacks.
“Iran maintains a robust cyber program and can execute cyber attacks against the United States,” the bulletin said. “Iran is capable, at a minimum, of carrying out attacks with temporary disruptive effects against critical infrastructure in the United States.”
Unfortunately, the “critical infrastructure” of any developed nation is so big and involves so many networks and assets—from nuclear power to transportation—that total security over all of them is impossible.
“Our vulnerabilities are much the same as they’ve been for a while; our critical infrastructure is not fully protected and a lot of our personal information is maintained in databases that are readily penetrated,” Professor Rosenzweig said. “Taken together, the two of those facts make it possible for Iran to do anything ranging from probing an electric grid for an attack to freezing all health care information in a hospital. Anything that’s connected is, at least in theory, at risk.”
“But … it’s risky to be alive.”
Professor Paul Rosenzweig was interviewed for this article. Professor Rosenzweig is a Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School. He earned his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and then served as a law clerk to the Honorable R. Lanier Anderson III of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.