Sen. Thom Tillis, the Republican senator seeking re-election in North Carolina, issued a bellicose endorsement of President Trump’s lethal strike against Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in appearances on Fox News and former Gov. Pat McCrory’s radio show on Friday.
Tillis’ Democratic opponents for the US Senate seat have issued statements expressing concern, while largely withholding judgment.
Reactions from Democratic candidates for the open 6th Congressional District seat in the Triad ranged from condemnation to concern, with varying degrees of emphasis in also denouncing the Iranian general and intelligence chief.
“The Iranian government needs to understand at some point we have to say, ‘Enough is enough,’” Tillis said on Fox News on Friday, commenting on a targeted killing that is widely viewed around the world as an escalation of the United States’ conflict with Iran.
“We have seen a number of attacks that America has had a very measured response to,” said Tillis, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “But when you send your top terrorist for your country — I mean, basically the deputy foreign minister into Iraq — and think that that’s going to stand, I think the president proved that it’s not going to.”
Since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq based on false intelligence and the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein, the security forces of Iran have played an increasingly significant role in the affairs of its destabilized neighbor.
In an episode of “The Intercept” podcast posted in late November, New York Times reporter Farnaz Fassihi described Soleimani was “one of the most influential and powerful men in both Iraq and the rest of the region in Syria and Lebanon,” adding that “he was often called on to go help Iraq do crisis management, from how to maneuver the American occupation, to how to overcome a Sunni insurgency, how to defeat ISIS.” At the time, she said, Soleimani was helping to manage massive protests against Iraq’s Iranian-influenced government.
Tillis’ comments on “The Pat McCrory Show w/ Bo Thompson” on Friday, expressed irritation with Iran’s presence in Iraq, while taking the United States’ legitimacy there for granted.
“The Iranians remind me — remember the velociraptors in Jurassic Park?” he asked McCrory. “They’re constantly probing the perimeter trying to get in. If we allow them — their aggression to go unchecked, Americans’ interests are at risk, and really the interests of the Middle East, especially our partner Israel.”
Tillis echoed Trump’s claim that his decision to kill Soleimani was “to stop a war” as opposed to starting a war, telling Fox News, “We’re trying to de-escalate the tensions in the region, but at some point when Iran continues to poke around the perimeter to test our resolve, there has to be a consequence for it, and that’s what we saw last night.”
He told McCrory: “For anybody in the United States to do anything but thank the president for standing firm and standing up to Iran I think is reckless.”
Cal Cunningham, Tillis’ leading Democratic opponent in the Senate race, issued a statement on Friday that first denounced Soleimani a “terrorist and murderer of US troops.” Cunningham, a military veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, has won the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the upcoming primary scheduled for March 3.
“The challenge we’ve grappled with for years in Iraq and across the Middle East is how to pursue our national security without strengthening enemy hardliners, drawing our country deeper into war and putting US troops and diplomats in danger,” Cunningham said.
But the Democratic candidate stopped short of condemning Trump’s action.
“In striking the balance, it has been important to exercise restraint, even against clear enemies,” he said. “Since this targeted killing was carried out without Congressional authorization, we need to see the facts and hear the justification for why the action was taken now and how we mitigate the very high risk that we are precipitating a serious regional conflict. In short, what is the national security strategy this strike is advancing and how will we keep Americans at home and abroad safe?”
Erica D. Smith, a state senator who is vying with Cunningham in the Democratic primary, told TCB in a statement provided by email on Sunday: “President Trump’s actions once again lack the foundation of transparency, making it difficult for Americans, our allies, and a concerned world to know whether the action against Gen. Soleimani was a legitimate and carefully considered national security response, or, rather, a political gambit to secure Trump’s waning support in the run-up to the 2020 election. American lives are always placed in harm’s way when a president orders the use of force; that’s why congressional advice and consent are required when a president seeks to go to war. I call on Congress to hold emergency hearings into the president’s intentions in this attack and any further contemplated use of force against Iran or any other country.”
The three other Democratic candidates for the US Senate seat, including Trevor M. Fuller, Steve Swanson and Atul Goel, could not be reached for this story.
Larry Holmquist, who is challenging Tillis for the US Senate seat in the Republican primary, told Triad City Beat he backs President Trump.
“He has information that very few people have,” Holmquist said. “There’s always a question. I just happen to think when it’s known — you could almost say we’re in a war with these people. When you know your enemy is planning an attack — I thank God for every man and woman who puts on a uniform. I want them protected as best as possible. If the president feels that a proactive strike is the best way to protect people, I trust him.”
Sharon Hudson, also a Republican candidate for US Senate, is standing with Tillis and Holmquist in backing the president. “Once again, President Trump has taken a stand for the safety and security of Americans, our interests, and our allies,” Hudson said in a statement emailed to TCB. “We are grateful for his continued vigilance in identifying threats and his willingness to take action to make our world a safer place. I sincerely hope Iran does not retaliate. It would be unwise.”
Paul M. Wright, also a Republican primary challenger to Tills, said in an email to TCB that he takes a cautious view of the president’s lethal action, adding that his position is aligned with those of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Fox News host Tucker Carlson. “Many seem to want yet another Mideast war; I am not one of them,” he elaborated. “And any war in the future in the Mideast must be constitutional, i.e. by vote of Congress.”
Concern and condemnation among Dems for 6th Congressional District
Kathy Manning, a candidate for the open 6th Congressional District seat in Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem, sounded many of the same themes as Cunningham in a statement on the military strike on Friday.
Manning, who received backing from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in a past campaign, couched her concern about President Trump’s action in a denunciation of Soleimani. Manning wrote that Soleimani was “the mastermind of Iranian terrorist activities” and someone “responsible for the death[s] of countless US citizens.”
“Nevertheless,” she continued, “his assassination raises great concerns about the consequences to follow. Americans do not want a war with Iran. The Trump administration must present a strategic plan that coordinates with Congress to protect our people, interests, and allies abroad.”
Other Democratic candidates for the 6th Congressional District seat, responded more harshly.
Rhonda Foxx shared a 2012 tweet by Trump predicting that President Obama would launch a military strike against Libya or Iran to bolster his poll numbers, writing, “He literally took a chapter out of his own playbook. This is a travesty — people’s parents, children, and spouses lives are on the line for @realDonaldTrump’s political grandstanding. Trump is irrational and dangerous.”
Derwin Montgomery, another candidate, wrote on Facebook: “No strategy. No Congressional authorization. Yet, Trump approved the drone strike assassination of Iran’s second in command, bringing America and Iran to the verge of war. While General Soleimani was certainly no friend of America, this was the wrong approach.”
Bruce Davis, who served in the Marines from 1975 to 1995, told TCB in a phone interview on Saturday evening: “It’s an unfortunate decision and diplomacy certainly was missing, from what I can see, because our Congress was not aware that this was happening. I do understand that some things have to take place covertly, but there should have been more of the leadership involved.”
“It destabilizes the region,” Davis added. “Here’s a man who ran on a promise to end endless wars. This puts our men and women in harm’s way. I want to be optimistic, however I have deep concerns.”
Ed Hanes Jr. said of Soleimani in a phone interview on Saturday: “This guy, this thug and hoodlum has killed hundreds upon hundreds of Americans. The world is a better place without him.” (A senior State Department official said on Friday that Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of 608 Americans in Iraq.)
But Hanes noted that previous presidents have had the opportunity to kill Soleimani and did not do so, adding, “The biggest reason is the destabilization that we’re looking at.
“Bottom line is our troops are now heading into harm’s way,” Hanes continued. “We have to acknowledge we have a president who cannot be trusted on candor. Especially with issues that involve global warfare like this, he’s been knee-jerk since the day he took office.”
Hanes said he came to his position after consulting with his national security advisors, John Morgan, a retired Navy admiral, and Joann Morgan, a retired Pentagon employee.
The matter of how much emphasis to put Soleimani’s misdeeds has revealed a tension within the Democratic Party.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who introduced legislation on Friday that would block funding for military action “in or against Iran,” came under fire from former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a rival in the Democratic primary for president, for describing Soleimani’s killing as an “assassination.”
Campaigning in Fayetteville on Friday, Bloomberg said, “This is a guy who had an awful lot of American blood on his hands. I think that’s an outrageous thing to say. Nobody that I know of would think that we did something wrong in getting the general. The question is what do we do afterwards, but not that this guy was an enemy of America who killed Americans, and we have a right and an obligation I think to go after him. And we did.”
Bloomberg’s policing of language echoed a vigorous protest against a reporter’s use of the term by a senior State Department official during a press briefing on Friday.
“Assassinations are not allowed under law,” said a person identified in an official transcript only as “Senior State Department Official Three.” “Revenge killings, non-judicial executions are not. The criteria is, do you have overwhelming evidence that someone is going to launch a military or terrorist attack against you? Check that box. The second one is do you have some legal means to, like, have this guy arrested by the Belgian authorities or something? Check that box because there’s no way anybody was going to stop Qasem Soleimani in the places he was running around — Damascus, Beirut. And so, you take lethal action against him.”
Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official, contradicted the unidentified official’s claim.
“Assassination is the murder of a prominent person for political objectives,” tweeted Goldenberg in a response to Bloomberg’s attack on Sanders. “Killing Qasem Soleimani is the textbook definition of assassination even if he was a terrible person and an enemy of the United States.”
Currently a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, Goldenberg served as chief of staff to the special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at the State Department under President Obama.
Asked by a reporter if the American people will ever have the opportunity to examine the evidence supporting the US government’s assertion that Soleimani posed an “imminent attack,” “Senior State Department Official Three” said, “That’s a political decision by — above my paygrade. What I can say is: Whether you’re going to be able to release it to the American people or not is not a criteria in that checklist. The checklist is: are you likely to see American blood if you don’t act. And that checklist was met.”