Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing evaluating the Administration's Iran policy:
"Under the Trump Administration, we’ve seen tensions with Iran ratchet up, bit by bit, to a point earlier this month when it seemed we were on the brink of war.
"Iran bears much of the blame for this escalation. The regime is the world’s most prolific state-sponsor of terrorism and believes that provocative and destabilizing behavior strengthens its hand. It’s what we expect from Iran.
"What’s helped stave off calamity for four decades is that the United States doesn’t behave that way. We don’t play on Iran’s turf. Being a world leader means you don’t emulate your adversaries. You use your power judiciously by trying to change behavior while seeking to defuse conflict and prevent bloodshed.
"That’s why the killing of Qassem Soleimani was such a shock. Not because Soleimani was a good guy. Just the opposite. He had the blood of many Americans on his hands. He was a hardened terrorist. Democrats and Republicans, alike, know that the world is better off without him. But killing him was a massive escalation.
"Those who wrongly view him as a martyr have already used his death as a pretext for violence and retribution. Americans have been warned to leave Iraq and have been threatened with kidnapping. Iranian missiles have struck bases where Americans are stationed. Thousands more men and women in uniform have been deployed to the region. The Iraqi parliament has asked our troops to leave the country, even though we rely on that partnership in the fight against ISIS.
"Fortunately, for the moment, both the Administration and the Iranians have taken a step back. But we have to ask: why was it worth turning the simmer up to a boil?
"That’s where things start to get confusing.
"At first, the Administration said there was an imminent threat. Why is that important? Because in the case of an imminent threat, the President has authority under Article 2 of the Constitution to protect Americans. No one doubts that.
"But then, we heard the strike went forward because Soleimani did so many bad things in the past and was plotting for the future. Then, when that didn’t work, they went back to an imminent threat, but we didn’t know where or when it would take place. In fact, we didn’t even know if it was imminent—which makes you wonder if the word “imminent” still has any meaning. Next, an embassy was going to be attacked. Then four embassies were going to be attacked. Then maybe it wasn’t four embassies. Then it’s widely reported that there was another failed strike on a different Iranian Quds Force official in Yemen.
"So what was the justification for the strike which killed General Soleimani? Surely neither of the existing war authorizations—the post-9/11 authorization or the 2002 Iraq war authorization—could possibly be contorted into an explanation for attacking Iran in Yemen. Finally, the Administration’s rather heavy reliance on the 2002 law, which authorized the war against Sadaam Hussein, is especially dubious. Was there any legal basis whatsoever for this strike that took us to the brink of open hostilities with Iran?
"We’re not asking these questions because we mourn the death of Soleimani or sympathize with terrorists—and let me say right now that I won’t tolerate any member of this committee making that sort of accusation against other members of this body, even in a general sense. We are all patriotic Americans, Democrats and Republicans, alike.
"We’re asking these questions because the American people don’t want to go to war with Iran. We’re asking these questions because Congress has not authorized war with Iran—as we reaffirmed on the House floor last week. We’re asking these questions because war powers are vested in the Congress, and if we allow any administration to carry out strikes like these—to risk plunging us into war—without scrutiny, then we might as well cross out Article 1, Section 8.
"I wanted Secretary Pompeo here today because I think the administration is not being straight with the country or the Congress. And whether you thought the Soleimani strike was a good idea or not, if you believe that Congress is a coequal branch of government and that we need to take back the constitutional powers we’ve given away to successive administrations, then I hope you’ll join me in saying, 'We need answers. On the record. In an open setting. So the American people can know the truth.'
"We will not be deterred from our oversight efforts. Since Secretary Pompeo isn’t here, I’m sending him a letter today, as well as to Secretary Esper, demanding that they produce information on the legal basis for the strike that took out Soleimani and on a range of other topics. I will make those letters part of the record of this hearing.
"I hope our witnesses can shed some light on these topics as well. I will recognize each of you to make an opening statement, and let me just say that if Secretary Pompeo is not going to cooperate with the committee, then we will consider very strongly taking other actions in the future including subpoenas."