Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) was in Washington Wednesday just as President Trump announced that his administration would pursue sanctions against Iran after a missile strike on bases in Iraq used by U.S. personnel. While some have seen the last week as an escalation of hostilities, Rep. Green, himself a veteran of middle east wars, says that the administration's approach is the right one, including the fatal attack on Quds general Qasem Soleimani.
Let’s go back to last week when it was first learned the U.S. had struck a fatal blow against Iran in the form of Quds general Qasem Soleimani, how did you first hear about it?
I first heard about it on open source information, the news. Then our leadership reached out to us.
Do you consider that to be an issue in which Congress should have been briefed before the attack?
Not at all. There are several reasons. The United States Constitution clearly gives the President, in Article II, the authority to act without notifying us. This in accordance with the War Powers Act, when the lives or the property of the United States is at risk. Based on what we’ve found since the attack that there were specific attacks were being planned (by Iran). The President had every right in accordance with Article II of the Constitution to take this guy out.
There’s also the Authorization of Use of Military Force from 2001 and a second authorization in 2002. The one in 2002 basically allows U.S. forces to engage and then, of course, to protect themselves when they’re there. This is the same authority President Obama used to launch well over 500 missile attacks himself killing 3000+ people. That’s the authority the president had to operate on inside Iraq.
Were you at all surprised to learn of the attack since President Trump has been mostly unwilling, by rhetoric if not by action, to engage in conflict in the Middle East?
He has been very measured. His generals wanted to him to destroy the missile launchers with kinetic force. He chose not to do that after the drone shoot down (in response to the June 2019 attack by Iran on a U.S. drone). They did not kill a human so he did not want to kill a human.
I was not surprised once I learned that it was the Quds force that had done those things. Once I heard of the imminent attack that was being planned I would expect the President to take a guy like Soleimani out. Honestly, Soleimani should have been taken out years ago. Our last president just didn’t have the fortitude to do it. He drew a red line in Syria on chemical weapons and they of course used them and he did nothing. This president says if you hurt or kill an American we’re going to respond. They did. He did.
Fast forward to Tuesday’s attacks by Iran on Iraqi bases – what was your reaction, both as a veteran and as a member of Congress?
Obviously as a veteran I remember those sirens and running to protection areas so I can imagine what those soldiers were feeling and thinking. You think about your kids you think about your family at home. All of those things flash through your mind.
As a member of Congress and as a military veteran, I think ... I feel those missiles shouldn’t have missed. When you look at how they attacked Saudi Arabia, those attacks were very specific and very accurate. Suddenly they launch 15 missiles and every one of them fails to hit a target? That makes me say “Okay. Is this a face-saving measure for back home?” And is it an open window for taking this discussion at least to a better level. We won’t know the answer to that until a few days from now maybe a few weeks from now. But it gives me pause that maybe there’s hope here from a strategic standpoint. Clearly they had been escalating and suddenly they turn around and immediately announce, the foreign minister says “we’re finished. We swiftly responded and now we’re done. “ I was like "Oh! Okay!"
From my conversations with colleagues, we’re hopeful that the Presiden’ts strength has done what it was expected to do.
I understand you just received a classified briefing on the situation. Without compromising U.S. interests, can you tell your constituents what you learned that may impact your opinion or any votes that may come before you in the House?
The unfortunate thing about getting a classified briefing is that you can’t disclose the contents and you can’t confirm open source information. So if the news media says X, I can’t walk out of that briefing and say “oh yeah, X is true.”
I will just give you the general sense, I am very comfortable that taking this guy down was the right thing to do. I am very comfortable saying that it is awfully suspicious that all of these missiles missed their target. And perhaps this gives us an opportunity to reach out to Iran or hopefully they’ll reach out to us. Our President and Secretary of State have said many times that they are open to conversation anywhere and without condition. I am more optimistic today and it reinforces the belief that I’ve always had that in this particular culture strength is what gets you where you need to go. Not loads of cash on the back of an airplane (a reference to the 2016 nuclear deal in which the Obama administration exchanged $400 million for four Americans held prisoner).
Wednesday we learned that the President is shifting away from a potential escalation to sanctions. Do you support this move?
The strategy has always been maximum pressure. The strategy itself hasn’t changed it’s just increasing pressure. Already they are having to make significant decisions on resource allocation. Before they were giving millions of dollars to Hezbollah in Lebanon and giving millions of dollars to Shia militia groups in Iraq and in Syria. They don’t have the money now. They don’t have the capacity to continue to fund those operations. They’re making hard decisions because of this. Their recent strategy of striking out, escalating, hoping that Europe would pressure America back into the JCOA (The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal), that hasn’t worked. That strategy has failed.
For constituents who are concerned about where this conflict is going, how would you address those concerns directly?
In terms of escalation, I think Iran has hit the pause button. What we’ve got to do now is continue to maintain the pressure, continue to keep forces in the region. We can’t run away right after this missile attack. That would look terrible. That would look weak. If you look at what happened in Beirut, at what happened in Mogadishu when Bill Clinton pulled us out after the Blackhawk Down incident, we got a black eye. That emboldens these guys. I think we continue the current strategy of maximum pressure. We keep forces there and we don’t run away. We just remain as open as possible that we are open to negotiating.
Today is a good day. It could have been a lot worse.