Anti-war protest held in Bethlehem while local lawmakers respond to escalating tension with Iran

January 7, 2020
In The News

Both sides of America’s strained political discourse seem to agree: Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was a dangerous threat.

Whether it was the right move or the right time to kill him remains open to fierce debate. Lawmakers from the Lehigh Valley are among those demanding both answers on President Donald Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike early Friday in Iraq, as well as a hand in deciding what happens next.

On Saturday, about two dozen peace advocates gathered at West Third and Wyandotte streets in Bethlehem to demonstrate against escalating tensions further into war with Iran. Organizer Reggie Regrut called for negotiations, not more war, “to solve the problems in the Middle East.”

"Killing military leaders -- even though he's a bad person, I'm not going to lose any sleep over this man dying -- but he didn't have to die," said Regrut, a U.S. Army Reserve veteran from Phillipsburg. "Donald Trump is purposefully escalating this war, in my opinion ... .

"Fortunately we have members in Congress who will be questioning the Trump administration on the events that led up to the assassination of the Iranian general and there's still a lot of questions that American people need to have answers to. But assassinating this man at this time is only making things worse and we need to let Donald Trump know that we're not going to tolerate another war in the Middle East involving American soldiers who are going to die."

U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, a Democrat whose 7th Congressional District in Pennsylvania covers Lehigh, Northampton and southern Monroe counties, said in a statement her immediate thoughts are with the troops, as well. She spent time over the holidays visiting with military personnel in the Middle East.

“My priority is, above all else, to ensure the safety of our men and women in uniform, as well as our diplomats and all those who protect and represent our country across the globe,” Wild said. “We must strive to live up to the example of those who are willing to put their lives on the line in defense of our nation and our values by being as responsible in our service as they are dedicated and selfless in theirs.”

Iran has vowed harsh retaliation, raising fears of an all-out war, but it's unclear how or when it might respond. Any retaliation was likely to come after three days of mourning declared by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. All eyes were on Iraq, where America and Iran have competed for influence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Trump says he ordered the strike, a high-risk decision that was made without consulting Congress or U.S. allies, to prevent a conflict. U.S. officials say Soleimani was plotting a series of attacks that endangered American troops and officials, without providing evidence.

Dean Browning, a Republican hoping to challenge Wild’s re-election bid in 2020, cheered the slaying as “another example of Trump putting America and its citizens first by protecting American lives both home and abroad,” according to a news release. Lisa Scheller, also running to unseat Wild, “praised President Donald Trump’s bold action to eliminate Iranian warlord Qassim Soleimani, who has commanded armed factions that have attacked Americans in Iraq,” according to a news release.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., offered his full support for the decision to kill Soleimani, who was head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States.

“Soleimani was responsible for the murder of hundreds of Americans," Toomey said. “The world is a better place now that he is dead. Every American should be grateful to our armed forces who carried out this strike with incredible skill and precision. The Trump administration was right to restore deterrence against Iran.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., on Friday demanded the Trump administration brief Congress next week on issues including the legal basis for the strike. Wild said House members of both parties "have made it clear that the 2001 Authorization of Military Force does not allow for military action against Iran."

Casey said he's also looking for the intelligence used to authorize the strike; the nature of the threat to U.S. interests articulated by the Pentagon; and any preparation for potential retaliation by the Iranian regime against Americans.

“Qassim Suleimani was a military figure who inflicted terror and killed thousands in Israel, Iraq, Syria and other places," Casey stated, using an alternate spelling of the general's name. "He was directly responsible for the killing of hundreds of American soldiers and civilians. The world is safer with him gone."

"I have grave concerns that President Trump and his Administration have not provided the American people with a comprehensive strategy on Iran," Casey continued.

U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat who represents the Phillipsburg area in New Jersey's 7th Congressional District, called Soleimani "a mass killer with the blood of Americans and countless Syrians/Iraqis/Iranians on his hands." But he, too, called for the Trump administration to immediately defend its decision.

"When you lie about big and small things each day, no one is going to trust you unless you show the evidence," he said via Twitter.

For the war protesters in Bethlehem, the United States has overstayed its welcome in Iraq and should be bringing troops home, not enflaming tensions.

“We hope Congress will do something or try to do something, and this is very crazy,” said organizer Nancy Tate, with the Bethlehem-based Lepoco Peace Center. “And the people who are going to get hurt, maybe some U.S. citizens, some U.S. soldiers, but it’s mostly going to be the people in the Middle East, who have been suffering all these couple, three decades now from the wars we’ve been part of.”