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Senator Mike Lee of Utah recently got hot over a Trump administration briefing that he saw as disrespectful. According to Lee, when pressed about what exactly the Trump administration needed congressional approval for, the administration responded by saying there were almost no limits. As to legal justification, the administration officials responded, “I’m sure we could think of something.” Well, Senator Lee was mad, as he should be. The power that Congress has ceded to the executive in matters of foreign policy has exceeded the time horizon envisioned in its initial approval of the war on terror. It’s well past time to reign the executive back in.
I’m afraid, however, that Senator Lee in his anger has made an unforced blunder with his bluster. When to speak is as important as what is said, particularly in matters of foreign policy. Right now, Trump is in the middle of a standoff which requires that any threat he makes, either real or implied, be credible. If the Senate or, even worse, a handful of senators even give a hint that they won’t follow through with retaliatory action, mixed messages are sent to Iran. Mixed messages lead to miscalculation, and miscalculation in foreign policy leads to bloodshed.
The Trump administration attempted to deescalate the rising problem of Iranian aggression with deterrent action. Mike Lee out of personal pique is threatening to throw this clear strategy into disarray. It’s past time for the Congress to take back the control afforded to it by the Constitution, but prudence dictates patience.