CASPER — Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Sen. John Barrasso on Friday endorsed the assassination of a top Iranian military commander by U.S. forces — an action many anticipate will further destabilize an already chaotic geopolitical situation in the Middle East.
In the hours after the Pentagon announced the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani — a military leader popular among Iranians who has been accused of overseeing the deaths of hundreds of American troops in Iraq — Cheney quickly took to social media to lend her support for the fatal air strike.
“Qassem Soleimani was an evil and deadly terrorist with the blood of thousands, including hundreds of Americans, on his hands,” Cheney tweeted. “(President Donald Trump) was right to order decisive action to kill Soleimani to prevent further attacks and defend American lives and interests.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Mike Enzi said he would not have a statement on the killing.
Many experts anticipate the strike will result in violent retaliation by Iran and have a negative effect on the United States’ already strained relations with Iraq, where the strike occurred.
Barrasso has remained a steadfast supporter of Trump on his administration’s Iran policy, often taking to television to support the agenda.
He reaffirmed that position Friday afternoon, praising the killing of Soleimani in a pair of tweets calling the general responsible for hundreds of American deaths and claiming that “he would have killed more.”
“His 20-year span of terror is over,” Barrasso wrote. “His days of killing Americans are over.”
In an interview with the Star-Tribune on Friday, Barrasso — who returned to Washington on Monday — lauded the president for his “decisive decision” in taking out Soleimani ahead of what American officials described as imminent attacks on Americans abroad — an action simultaneously described by Pentagon officials as an effort to deter Iranian aggression.
“I think this was a preventative strike against a guy who was plotting and planning to do more damage to American citizens,” Barrasso said.
“The president’s actions send a strong message for those who are seeking to attack America that we’re not going to let attacks go unanswered,” he added. “We’re going to assure accountability.”
Friday’s statements appear to mark an evolved position for Barrasso. Wyoming’s junior senator stopped short of endorsing military action against Iran following a number of attacks on oil refineries in Saudi Arabia in September, telling CNN he believed sanctions were a more appropriate course of action.
“I think we need to continue with the sanctions,” he told the network. “They are biting. They are punishing. They’re making a difference.”
Thursday’s attack came after several weeks of violence in the region, which saw U.S. airstrikes on an Iran-backed militia accused of killing a U.S. military contractor, followed by violent protests by supporters of that militia at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.
According to a statement from the Department of Defense, the U.S. military took “decisive defensive action” following the attacks in order to take action against the killing of U.S. troops at the hand of Soleimani, who oversaw the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force — a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Escalating tensions Trump threatened military action against Iran as early as summer 2019, calling for — and then aborting — military strikes against the Middle Eastern country in June following the shooting of an American surveillance drone near the Strait of Hormuz. Several oil tankers were attacked at that same site earlier in 2019, marking a new escalation in tensions with the country.
Despite that, Wyoming’s delegation stressed at the time that military escalation with the country should be a “last resort,” with sanctions remaining at the center of American policy toward Iran.
“President Trump has the authority to act to protect the United States from Iranian terrorism,” Barrasso said at the time. “He will do what is needed to deter and counter Iranian attacks. Military action should be the last resort. Iran should be engaging in diplomacy instead of pursuing rockets, terrorism and threats of nuclear weapon production.”
Both Barrasso and Cheney have been supportive of the president’s ability to unilaterally declare military action against foreign adversaries, a responsibility that usually falls to Congress but has not been exercised since the last Authorization for Use of Military Force was passed in 2002 to declare war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.
Earlier this year, Cheney voted against a successful bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have prohibited military action against Iran without congressional approval.
The Republican-controlled Senate shot down a similar amendment to its version of the military spending bill in late June, with Barrasso and Enzi both voting against it.
“Congress always has a role in authorizing military force,” Barrasso said Friday. “But the president is the commander in chief, and I believe he acted appropriately and responsibly in the case of Soleimani.”
“This is about preventing war and not provoking war,” he added.
Thursday’s news comes on the heels of a series of troop deployments of Wyoming national guardsmen to the Middle East.
According to an armed services news site article about their deployment in May, the forward commander of a deploying artillery unit told his “120 soldiers” that they were “going to deliver rockets first class to the enemy.”
The Wyoming Military Department estimates approximately 200 Wyoming soldiers are currently deployed in various locations throughout the Middle East and, as of Friday morning, representatives for the department were not aware of any status changes based off of U.S. military actions in Iraq.
At this point, it is unclear whether any of those troops — many of whom are stationed in Kosovo, Kuwait and Afghanistan — are immediately in harm’s way.