Juan Williams: Trump replays past mistakes in Iranian crisis

The Hill | Juan Williams: I’ve seen this movie before — and so have you.

A Republican administration makes vague claims of an “imminent threat” from a Middle Eastern country to justify the use of military force.

Seventeen years ago, any American who questioned the reliability of U.S. intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War was trashed as unpatriotic.

Now President Trump is selling tickets to Part Two of the same cynical story by hiding behind the flag without explaining why he risked all-out war to kill an Iranian general.

But wait — this is actually worse than starting a war in Iraq and later finding out there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was a murderous man, but this time there has been nothing like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the United States.

And Trump does not have the credibility of then-President George W. Bush.

According to The Washington Post’s fact checker, President Trump is culpable for more than 15,413 lies or misleading statements.

A man undeserving of trust is asking the American people to believe the intelligence from the same agencies that he spent the last four years denigrating as the “Deep State” — scheming bureaucrats conspiring to undermine him.

Keep in mind that Trump campaigned for office as an opponent of the Iraq War. He promised to get the U.S. out of never-ending military conflict in the Middle East.

Yet, somehow, the same Trump supporters who cheered his verbal attacks on the CIA and FBI are now giving glassy-eyed nods of approval as Trump claims there was solid information about an imminent attack on Americans.

One constant in both the original movie and this sequel is the lack of heart on Capitol Hill.

Congress finds itself in the audience, watching the same movie over and over because it is too cowardly to assert itself as the branch of government with the sole constitutional responsibility to declare war.

Congress has not declared war since the Second World War. President Bush got an Authorization for the Use of Military Force from Congress after 9/11 — but not a declaration of war.

This sheepish behavior goes across party lines.

House and Senate members of all stripes are afraid that if Congress declares war then the voters will hold them responsible if the war goes badly.

They’d also be responsible if — as is the current case in Afghanistan — the war goes on and on and on for almost 19 years.

Meanwhile, Trump is citing Congress’s 19-year-old authorization for the use of military force after 9/11 to justify killing Soleimani. Last week, Vice President Pence even tried to link the general to 9/11 in a desperate effort to shut up congressional critics.

As they say in the entertainment business, that claim ‘jumped the shark.’ It is so crazy that it is hard for anyone to believe it.

Last week, for the first time in modern congressional history, the House took the risk of passing a war powers resolution calling for Trump to end military conflict with Iran unless there is clear evidence of “an imminent armed attack.”

“The Trump administration…action endangered our service members, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

One of Trump’s biggest fans in Congress, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) voted for the resolution and told The Hill: “I don’t think that our country needs to get pulled into another forever Middle East war in the absence of congressional approval.”

But Gaetz was one of the few Republicans to take a stand.

Instead, most Republicans nodded along while lip-synching the administration’s talking point that by asking for information, Congress is giving America’s enemies reason to question “America’s resolve and makes war more, not less, likely,” to quote Rep. Liz Cheney (R- Wyo.) the third-ranking Republican in the House.

That stale argument led Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to buck the president. Lee said all he hears from the administration is that Congress needs to “be good little boys and girls and not debate this in public.”

The senator concluded: “I find that to be absolutely insane.”

As a matter of defending America, it is also a loser. Here is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.):

“I think you have to ask yourself…are attacks more or less likely now that Soleimani is gone?” Paul asked on Fox News last week. “The person who has replaced him…is a hardliner, and now the whole country of Iran is consumed with revenge.”

Paul added that the killing has “taken diplomacy off the table” and praised the previous administration’s nuclear deal with Iran — the one that Trump gleefully scrapped in his first year.

Lee and Paul are now saying they will support a Senate resolution being proposed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) to limit Trump’s ability to take action against Iran by establishing a 30-day limit for the president to come to Congress for approval of military action.

One wonders when the Republican senators and congressman who lambasted President Obama for not seeking Congressional approval for US action in Syria and Libya will be joining on to Kaine’s resolution?

Or will there be an even more tragic Part Three to this movie?

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.