On Jan. 2, 2020, the Pentagon announced that it had carried out a military strike in Iraq that had killed the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. The targeting of one of Iran’s most senior officials was seen as a major escalation in the increasingly hostile relationship between the U.S. and Iran, and President Donald Trump’s bellicose threats on Twitter — including threats to target sites “important to Iran & the Iranian culture” — suggested that de-escalation was not a White House priority.
Alarm over the prospect of armed conflict has flared frequently since Trump’s election. In April 2019, less than a year after Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, his administration designated a branch of Iran’s military as a foreign terrorist organization. The designation elicited concerns that the move was laying the legal groundwork for initiating military action under the authority of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which would allow the administration to avoid having to ask Congress to declare war or otherwise authorize military action.
In the days after the strike against Soleimani, administration officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper defended the action by claiming Soleimani represented an “imminent” threat to American lives. But questions continued to mount about the evidence of such a threat and about the administration’s notification to Congress about the strike. American Oversight is looking into the administration’s decision to carry out such a consequential action, as well as any past legal considerations of the use of military force against Iran.