The death of a powerful Iranian military commander in a drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump sharply divided top Georgia politicians and triggered a new fight over the Republican’s most significant use of military force to date.
Many Republicans praised Trump’s authorization of an attack on Quassim Suleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force who engineered every major Iranian military operation over two decades.
And several prominent Georgia Democrats criticized Trump for carrying out the attack without first consulting Congress. They also raised concerns that the military strike could ignite a broader conflict in the Middle East.
Although the rift erupted along predictable party lines, it could have ripple effects that could reshape the 2020 race for president and competitive races for U.S. Senate and House seats in Georgia.
Many of Trump’s top allies in Georgia said the president was justified in ordering the strike and called it retribution for the deaths of U.S. soldiers in attacks orchestrated by Suleimani, who the Pentagon said was “actively developing” new plots.
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said Trump’s order sent an unmistakable message: “Don’t mess with America.” And U.S. Sen. David Perdue said Trump showed that when “American lives are threatened, he will not hesitate to act with strength.”
“For decades, Iranian General Suleimani and his terrorist Quds Force have ruthlessly orchestrated the deaths of countless Americans,” said Perdue, who is seeking a second term in November. “Now, justice has been served.”
Several top Democrats cast the drone strike as a reckless escalation that could trigger a wider war against Iran, whose supreme leader has promised to exact “severe revenge” on the U.S. and its allies.
“A trigger happy armchair strongman, lacking congressional authority, has recklessly brought our nation closer to war,” was how U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a DeKalb County Democrat and staunch Trump critic, characterized the decision.
Still, there were distinctions in how Georgia Democrats responded. State Rep. Scott Holcomb, a U.S. Army veteran who has been deployed to Iraq, called for more transparency from the White House.
“At this stage, much is unknown. What was the imminent threat and has it been eliminated? And what comes next?” he asked. “The administration needs a strategy beyond a drone strike that includes contingency planning for the region.”
The attack fast became a dividing line in Georgia’s most competitive races. In the crowded contest for a Gwinnett County-based U.S. House seat held by a retiring Republican, several Democrats warned the killing could have unforeseen consequences.
“Trump just assassinated, without the approval of Congress, the second most powerful person in Iran,” said Nabilah Islam, a liberal activist. “Knowing that this could set off a massive war. He is unfit to be president.”
State Sen. Renee Unterman, one of a half-dozen Republicans competing for the seat, shot back: “The president has every right to act against a serious threat to our national security.”
In the neighboring 6th Congressional District, which straddles Atlanta’s northern suburbs, former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel mocked ex-President Barack Obama for refusing to order a strike against Suleimani when he had the chance.
(Former President George W. Bush also did not approve a strike against the powerful Iranian commander, fearing it would lead to war.)
“President Trump - unlike President Obama - has shown that when a red line is drawn, there are consequences for crossing it,” said the Republican. “With Suleimani’s death, Iraq has the chance to set a course out from under Iran’s brutal control.”
Her opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, did not immediately comment.
In Georgia’s twin U.S. Senate races, the range of responses from Democrats hinted at a broader debate in the party over military intervention in foreign countries.
Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, who is seeking to outflank Democratic rivals to his left in a race to face Perdue, called Trump’s maneuvering a “wag the dog distraction” and retweeted a message from White House hopeful Bernie Sanders panning the nation’s “endless war.”
Another candidate, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, was critical of Trump’s “irresponsible and ill-considered” foreign policy decisions but also called for the administration to release more details about his Iranian strategy.
“The American people deserve an immediate explanation of the long-term strategy to end this present escalation, prevent war and establish regional and global stability,” she said.
A glimpse at some other reaction from Georgia politicians:
Carolyn Bourdeaux, a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s 7th District:
U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger:
Insurance Commissioner John King, a major general in the Georgia National Guard:
“Thanks to our Commander in Chief’s bold leadership and decisive action, a ruthless, evil terrorist with the blood of American soldiers on his hands is finally dead. It’s a great day in Georgia and throughout the United States. Our president should be applauded. The world is safer.”
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Savannah:
"There is no question about it, Soleimani was a terrorist with American blood on his hands. He was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops and innocent civilians in the region, and was planning to continue his attacks.
"While Iran chanted 'Death to America,' previous administrations cowered. Instead, President Trump is using a decisive, tactical and justified strategy against escalating Iranian aggression. I am glad that President Trump is making it very clear that the United States of America will not stand for attacks against Americans and our troops, and we will fight back."
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.