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This Will Be Pompeo’s War. Congress Won’t Have a Say

The Secretary of State becomes Secretary of War

The Trump administration is setting the stage to begin a war with Iran without the bother of obtaining the authorization of Congress, as the Constitution prescribes. Nothing else can explain the outlandish claims in briefings to members of Congress by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Pentagon that Iran is linked to al Qaeda.

What is that about? Just three days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress authorized the president to use military force “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks…or harbored such organizations or persons”. That organization was quickly determined to be al Qaeda, and the AUMF, as the Authorization for Use of Military Force is commonly referred to, has been used since as justification for our wars-without-end throughout the Middle East.

Pompeo is now making the case in advance that war against Iran would be yet another extension of the fight against al Qaeda. Iran “harbored such organizations or persons”, Pompeo and his minions at State are made to say. The White House is free to make a move on its own because, while only Congress, in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, has the power “To declare War”, they have already done so by that clause in the AUMF.

sunni, Shia, same thing, right?

Pompeo’s assertion goes beyond even the Dick Cheney playbook. The former vice president will tell you to this day as justification for the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al Qaeda, absent evidence. At least both al Qaeda and Hussein were Sunnis.

But Pompeo is claiming that the Shiite nation of Iran — deadly enemies of the Sunni faction of Islam for thirteen centuries since the schism split Islam — and Sunni al Qaeda have suddenly patched up their differences and become allies. Even though Shiite Iran battled Sunni ISIS, an outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq, two years ago to retake Mosul in Iraq; even though Shiite Iran did the same in Syria; even though Iran is engaged in a proxy war against Saudi-backed Sunnis in Yemen. To justify beginning another war — this time against a nation of almost 80 million, twice the population of Iraq — Pompeo wants us somehow to think of Iran and al Qaeda as allies.

the taliban too

This is not the first instance of the administration trying to link Iran with all things hostile. In a June 13th news conference, Pompeo said that a suicide car bombing in Kabul that killed four civilians and injured four American troops among a host of bystanders was "one of a series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran". Except, the Taliban claimed the attack as their own. No matter. The Pentagon recently gave classified briefings to legislative aides anyway, saying that the Taliban is linked to Iran, too, telling them, according to a Pentagon spokesperson, that “these ties are widely and publicly known and referenced in articles and books.”

Juan Cole is a professor at the University of Michigan and a Middle East expert. In this piece he lays out the many tribal factions in Afghanistan, with emphasis on the Sunni Pashtuns, who make up the Taliban, and the Hazaras, who are Shiites. As Cole tells us…

Now here’s the thing. Pushtuns generally have a certain amount of prejudice against Hazara Shiites…The Taliban, as an extremist group with cult-like beliefs, absolutely hate, abhor and despise Shiites.

Cole is stunned by how wrong Pompeo gets it by trying to link Shiite Iran with the Shiite hating Taliban, calling his statement about Iran supporting the Taliban attack in Kabul "so embarrassing as to be cringe-worthy" — "a display of bottomless ignorance" unless it is "a lie in the service of war propaganda".

How about both?

Pompeo’s basis for the al Qaeda-Iran link? It seems to be that Iran once provided safe haven to a group from al Qaeda seemingly on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, given that both wished death to America and al Qaeda had made good on that spectacularly. But only three months after 9/11, Kandahar was about to fall to the Americans, and al Qaeda was on the run, fleeing into Pakistan. But they didn’t trust the Pakistanis, finding them “duplicitous”, so the group’s leader went into Iran with “a suitcase full of cash” and made a deal with the Revolutionary Guard for the others to come in.

The quote comes from an April article in The New Yorker about the contacts of a detainee at Guantanamo, that group’s leader being one of them. It goes on to describe what Pompeo is palming off as an Iranian alliance with al Qaeda, but which the article makes clear is very different, showing a wariness by Iranians of Arabs from Sunni North Africa:

“…they would live with their wives and children under a form of house arrest, sometimes in prisons, sometimes in lavish compounds and hotels, always in the company of the Revolutionary Guard. The decision to simultaneously protect and detain Al Qaeda members was apparently made by Iran’s spy chief, Qassem Suleimani. Within a few months, dozens of Al Qaeda members were living in Tehran, undergoing occasional interrogations, aware that their Iranian hosts could betray them at any moment”.

Take note: Pompeo is using an episode from eighteen years ago as a ruse to free President Trump to start a war in 2019 without the consultation of anyone else, much less the querulous Congress and that pesky Constitution. Pompeo won’t admit that the AUMF is the reason for his working up the spurious Iran-al Qaeda linkage. He refuses to answer whether the administration thinks it has the legal authority from the AUMF to decide on war on its own, both in a Senate hearing and when asked three times on CBS News’ “Face the Nation”. He would “just leave that to lawyers”, he said. But as for the connection between al Qaeda and Iran? “There is no doubt there is a connection", says Pompeo. "Period. Full stop”.

2 Comments for “This Will Be Pompeo’s War. Congress Won’t Have a Say”

  1. Alan B. Lancaster

    Apparently, the author is hiding. Can’t blame him; he does not know of what he speaks! I do.
    Long story, but note Trump has said over and over he will not go to war. He has a very good reason…….he doesn’t need to!
    Well kept secret: he is proving he has the perfect way to end wars.

  2. An absolutely splendid analysis of a vitally important topic. Beautifully and very effectively done. It should be published on the front page of every newspaper in this country.

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