Trump Vetoed the Iran War Powers Resolution, but America's No-War Message Is Clear | Opinion

To no one's great surprise, President Donald Trump vetoed a bipartisan resolution last week passed by the Senate and the House to prevent him from starting an unauthorized war with Iran. Though the Senate was unable to override Trump's veto, Congress sent a clear message challenging the Trump administration's Iran policy and reasserting a core principle of the Constitution. The bipartisan majority also echoes the sentiment of an American populace weary of fruitless wars and hurting from a pandemic that is still just taking shape with unpredictable consequences.

The basis of the resolution reflects this administration's ongoing manufactured crisis with Iran and has historical roots in the Constitution of the United States. Like the document itself, the congressional power to declare wars was revolutionary. Fitting with the overall scheme of checks and balances that are central to the constitution, the framers understood that war was an undertaking that necessitated careful deliberation. Before hurling a nation and its men and women in uniform into harm's way, the voices that represent the will of the people must cautiously weigh its costs and benefits. No one individual could be tasked with this momentous decision, which would cost countless lives and drain vital resources.

But more than a constitutional debate, the resolution is a repudiation of Trump's handling of U.S. foreign policy. After inheriting a historical détente with Iran and a nuclear agreement that curbed Iran's ability to build nuclear weapons, Trump—at the assistance of his advisers—abandoned the nuclear deal in 2018, imposed brutal sanctions on Iran and put us on a path to further hostility. Since abrogating the deal, the U.S. has lost credibility with its allies and become a pariah in the international community by undermining the very world order it helped to create. All the while, Iran has reduced its compliance with the nuclear agreement, as it failed to receive the benefits promised in the deal; hard-liners have become emboldened toward escalation; and Iranian people have suffered at the hands of their own government and the United States.

In the face of a pandemic, as a chorus of international voices have called on the U.S. to lift sanctions on Iran on humanitarian grounds, the Trump administration has chosen to double down on its failed policies of economic sanctions and military deterrence. Now, as a nation, we face an unprecedented crisis. We have far outpaced other nations in coronavirus cases and deaths, our economy is plummeting, unemployment is surging, and an uncertain future is fueling a massive mental health crisis. With this daunting backdrop, an election is looming, one Noam Chomsky is calling "the most important election in human history."

Even before our current crisis, Trump ran and won on a platform that vowed to end endless wars, especially wars in the Middle East that have come to be considered wasteful and senseless to the majority of Americans. That majority is bipartisan; neither Republicans nor Democrats have an interest in more conflict. The success of the war powers resolution, in a Congress that has been starkly divided among party lines, is a testament to that fact.

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a press briefing about coronavirus testing in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 11 in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty

Now, as the United States, for all our power and supremacy, is confronting a disaster, the systemic cracks are fracturing before our eyes. With a presidential election and the future unknown, the coronavirus pandemic may become a watershed moment in U.S. history. How we tackle this crisis and its fallout can have ramifications for years to come. An untimely war or continuing escalation with Iran is not only outside the interest of the United States, but as this global pandemic has demonstrated, it is a threat to the larger international community and order.

Trump may have vetoed the resolution, which embodied not only a chance at de-escalation and diplomacy but also the rule of law in one of the most tenuous times the United States has seen. But Americans have no appetite for war, especially as we navigate the pandemic that will forever change the trajectory of the country, and the world. As commander-in-chief, Trump has great power. He can use it in the interest of his citizens or be remembered as the man who played with fire as the world burned.

Assal Rad is a research fellow at the National Iranian American Council. She received her Ph.D. in history at the University of California, Irvine. Follow her on Twitter @assalrad.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.