WASHINGTON — Responding to a dramatic airstrike that killed a top Iranian military commander, Republicans from the Philadelphia region on Friday praised the action as decisive and necessary, while Democrats cautioned that the attack could lead to spiraling escalation in an already volatile region.
Many Democrats worried that President Donald Trump could be careening toward another armed conflict in an area where the United States has a painful history of costly, bloody entanglements.
“This is really a seismic event,” said U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, the South Jersey Democrat and former Iraq director in the Obama administration’s National Security Council. Kim said he spent years focused on tracking the slain general, Qassem Soleimani, and his leadership of violent forces throughout the region. “Up until his death, he was the most dangerous person in the Middle East.”
But while Kim said Soleimani, who was killed Thursday night in a drone strike in Iraq, “has a lot of American blood on his hands,” he questioned whether his death will make the U.S. safer — or lead to a more open and deadly clash that could ripple throughout the Middle East.
“Are we safer now because he has been killed? We know full well that Iran will retaliate. We know that Iran will attack us,” said Kim, of Burlington County. “There is a great potential for escalation here, especially if there are any American casualties.”
Kim said Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both had opportunities to kill Soleimani, but resisted “because they feared for the level of violence that would occur after his death.”
Republicans, by contrast, praised the attack, pointing to the Trump administration’s statement that Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was planning new attacks targeting American service members and diplomats.
“Qassem Soleimani was responsible for the murder of hundreds of Americans. The world is a better place now that he is dead,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.). “Every American should be grateful to our armed forces who carried out this strike with incredible skill and precision. The Trump administration was right to restore deterrence against Iran.”
Democrats said they needed to see more evidence of the threat, and asked whether Trump had prepared for what comes next after killing one of Iran’s most powerful people.
“I fear that this administration used tactics but has no strategy in the long term, and what we cannot accept is a march to an unauthorized war,” Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said on MSNBC.
Menendez added that he and other top lawmakers had not been briefed and needed to see the intelligence that led to the strike, noting that flawed information led to the second Iraq War.
Kim said that while one attack may now have been averted, others are surely coming. Iran controls forces throughout the Middle East that could retaliate in any number of ways or countries, he said.
“The sheer scope and the range of what we need to defend is enormous, and that’s certainly something that I’m demanding of the administration, [which] is to know exactly just how prepared they are for all these different scenarios,” Kim said. He noted that Army personnel at the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst joint base in his South Jersey district recently deployed to the Middle East. The Pentagon announced Friday that it’s sending an additional 3,500 troops to the region.
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.) said that Trump’s approach to foreign policy threatens more war.
“The American people will not be well-served by cowboy behavior in the Middle East,” the Philadelphian tweeted.
But Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Bucks County, cited the warnings of a coming attack. “Therefore, the airstrike was needed to protect our American soldiers, diplomats, and civilians serving in critical missions in the region,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement that largely echoed the explanations provided by the Department of Defense.
“The decades of ignoring acts of terror, or addressing it with harsh language, are over," said U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, a York County Republican who spent almost 40 years in the Army and served in Iraq from 2009 to 2010. “These airstrikes were wholly appropriate. We continue to show the strength and resolve of our nation.”
Democrats said they shed no tears for Soleimani, but worried about the next steps.
“I will waste no time mourning his death,” said U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, a Democrat from the Lehigh Valley. But she warned that the attack brings the U.S. closer to a direct military confrontation. “Nearly two decades of war in the Middle East have shown us the untold consequences of entering open-ended military conflicts with no plan or strategy for success.”
“The world is safer with him gone,” Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey said in a statement. But he demanded a briefing on the intelligence used to authorize the strike, details of the threat the Pentagon cited, and planning for the response.
“Our president ordered this strike before appropriately consulting Congress and without making clear how this escalatory action aligns with a larger strategy," said U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D., Pa.), an Air Force veteran who serves on the House Armed Forces and Foreign Affairs Committees. “This is a perilous moment, and our nation must prepare for what the Iranian regime has already threatened will be a violent retaliation.”
The U.S. blamed Soleimani for the deaths of hundreds of American service members and their allies in the region, including the death of a military contractor during a Dec. 27 rocket attack on an American base in Iraq.
“Gen. Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” a Pentagon statement said, adding: “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised retaliation.