U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine warned Friday that President Donald Trump's decision to kill an Iranian general in Iraq has brought the United States to "the brink of another war in the Middle East."
The U.S. military killed Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, in an air strike on Thursday, which military leaders said was designed to deter future attacks by Iran against American troops and diplomats in the region.
The Defense Department said Suleimani orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in recent months, including one on Dec. 27 that resulted in the death of an American. He also approved the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.
The State Department said Suleimani and his Quds Force are also responsible for hundreds of other American deaths and the wounding of thousands more.
Iran's president vowed to retaliate.
"The great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime," Hassan Rouhani said in a tweet.
Kaine, a Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, has long been critical of the Trump administration's policies toward Iran. In June, Kaine's attempt to require Congressional authorization before going to war with Iran fell 10 votes short of the 60 necessary to pass in the Senate.
"Qassim Suleimani was a despicable killer, but this drastic escalation of hostilities -- waging a military attack on Iraqi soil over the objections of that country and without congressional authorization -- will increase the threat to American troops, diplomats, and families in the region," Kaine said in a statement. "Trump's 'maximum pressure' campaign has made the region less stable, divided us from key allies, and is driving our adversaries together."
"Congress must act to stop President Trump from entangling America in yet another unnecessary war in the Middle East."
Any escalation of hostilities is likely to have an impact on Virginians. The Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and its strike group are already deployed in the Middle East.
The Norfolk-based amphibious assault ship USS Bataan and Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are also nearby in Europe. Virginia Beach-based Navy SEALs and their support forces have been called on repeatedly over the past two decades to conduct operations in the region.
Marines based in Yorktown, part of a Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team, can also be called on to shore up embassy defenses. The U.S. Embassy on Friday urged all Americans to leave Iraq, suspended its consular operations and told U.S. citizens not to approach the embassy.
Sen. Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said it is not clear "the Trump administration has a plan to prevent another catastrophic war in the Middle East."
"We need to be prepared for the long-term potential consequences of this action, which include: counter-attacks on U.S. troops and personnel in the region; substantial harm to the ongoing fight against the remnants of ISIS; and ultimately, the possibility of reduced U.S. influence in the region, further empowering our adversaries to the detriment of U.S. national security and our allies in the Middle East," Warner said in a statement.
He urged the Trump administration to quickly protect American troops, diplomatic personnel and civilians in the region.
So far, the United States has already sent in Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command to bolster embassy defenses and hundreds of Paratroopers from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, to the region.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott said while Suleimani's death's has "significantly escalated tensions" with Iran, he's reserving judgment as to whether it was a proportional response until Congress is briefed by the Trump administration.
"However, I remain very concerned when any president takes such serious military action against another nation without first consulting Congress and without an Authorization for Use of Military Force," Scott said. "It is important that the administration immediately present to Congress all the information it relied on to justify this airstrike, as well as its strategy as to how it intends to address this situation moving forward."
Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an expert on Iranian politics and the director of Virginia Tech's School of Public and International Affairs, said Suleimani's death will "undoubtedly cause Shiite militias in Iraq to stage more attacks on American forces to avenge his killing" and that Iranian retaliation is "extremely likely."
But he also said in a statement that war with Iran isn't inevitable.
"A tit for tat escalating war in the Middle East is the last thing the Trump administration wants in an election year. Their Iranian adversaries are also prudent enough to know they can't wage a war when state coffers are empty and their citizenry is quite alienated," he said.