Republican senators can read the polls. They know a sizable majority of Americans do not want war with Iran. They know that most voters think President Trump’s killing of terrorist leader and Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani made them less safe. The announcement that a majority of senators would sign onto a war powers resolution seeking to clip Trump’s wings therefore was not altogether surprising.

Nevertheless, when at least four Senate Republicans join all 47 Democrats on a war powers resolution, it is a stunning rebuke of a commander in chief struggling to gain credibility at home and abroad. The Post reports:

“Congress cannot be sidelined on these important decisions,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who on Tuesday declared her support for the measure, joining Sens. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and all 47 Democrats. A vote could come as soon as next week. …
[Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the author of the resolution,] has been working with Republicans to amend the measure so they would support it. As a result, the updated, bipartisan version removes all references to Trump and his administration’s statements and policies regarding Iran.

Several aspects of this development deserve emphasis.

First, it is entirely possible this never would have occurred had the administration been honest and transparent with Congress. In lying to the public about an “imminent” threat and in holding an insulting and perfunctory briefing for lawmakers, the administration unleashed a fierce backlash. The hubris and poor judgment of the president and his top advisers, especially Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are remarkable. They have sabotaged themselves and now lack complete support even within Trump’s own party. This sets him up as a weak incumbent going into the 2020 election.

Second, Trump’s overreach and disdain for the rule of law may leave him and future presidents with much less discretion in foreign affairs. This may be a long overdue correction, but the possibility that foreign enemies will see the United States as less able and willing to respond swiftly to threats will be to our national security detriment. To be certain, Trump has given Congress no choice but to reel him in. In a blow to Article II imperialists, however, the presidency may be weakened by an unfit, erratic and ignorant president.

Third, the bigger problem remains: We lack a realistic — really, any — Iran policy that could reasonably be expected to force Iran back within the four corners of the nuclear deal, de-escalate violence in the region and constrain Iran’s aggressive conduct. Had Trump left the Iran deal alone and worked cooperatively with allies to restrain Iran’s nonnuclear conduct, we would be in a far stronger and safer position. Now we lack both the restraint (flawed as it might be) on Iran’s nuclear program and a feasible strategy for curbing Iran’s hegemonic behavior. To make matters worse, our credibility with allies and with foes may be lower than at any time since the end of the Vietnam War.

Fourth, the defection of Republican senators on the war powers resolution and reporting — suggesting some Republican senators may abandon Trump on the issues of the impeachment trial next week — raise the possibility of serious fissures in what has been a solid wall of support for Trump. Will Trump begin to attack his own party’s lawmakers or even support challengers? Will Republicans figure out Trump is a paper tiger and seek ways to strike a more independent stance, thereby depriving him of cover for his grotesque rhetoric and unconstitutional power grabs? Trump is preparing to snatch $7.2 billion from the military to pay for his wall. The last time Trump made such a move he was able to withstand a veto-override vote on an effort to deny him “emergency” powers. This time, the result might be different.

Republicans who have been living in the fantasy that a confused, erratic and willfully ignorant president could be molded to suit their foreign policy needs and constitutional renovation is crumbling before their eyes. A narcissistic president who insists on putting his personal need for gratification and his resentment toward his predecessor above the needs of the country is of little use to the country and to those pursuing grand policy designs. Some of us figured this out three-plus years ago.

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