WASHINGTON – Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley praised President Donald Trump for ordering the drone strike that killed Iran's top general last week and took criticism for claiming that the only ones outside of the regime who are upset about his death are Trump's domestic political opponents.
"I think the president showed great decisiveness, great resolve," Haley told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday night.
Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force, was killed on a road near the Baghdad airport Friday. The strike that killed Soleimani came after the U.S. blamed Iran for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq by a mob of demonstrators belonging to Shiite militias.
The U.S. said one of those Iran-backed militias was responsible for a rocket attack that killed an American contractor and killed at least two dozen of its fighters in airstrikes at the end of December.
"What the president did left the Iranian regime completely flat-footed," Haley said. "They did not see this coming. They thought they could continue to do their multiple strikes. But when it got to the lives of Americans, the president is never going to allow that to happen."
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Soleimani led Iran's involvement in proxy wars in the Muslim world, including the civil wars in Syria and Yemen. He supported militias throughout the Middle East that are loyal to Tehran. And he oversaw the training of Shiite Iraqi militants to kill U.S. troops, teaching them how to make deadly roadside bombs.
The U.S. estimates that Soleimani and the Iran Revolutionary Guard were responsible for killing more than 600 American service members in Iraq following the 2003 invasion.
Haley said Soleimani's killing was "a long time coming" and that left Iran's leaders "shaking in their boots."
"You don't see anyone standing up for Iran. You're not hearing any of the Gulf members. You're not hearing China. You're not hearing Russia," Haley said.
"The only ones that are mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership, and our Democrat presidential candidates."
Her unsubstantiated claim was slammed as irresponsible by several commentators.
"This kind of statement is ridiculous, inflammatory and dangerous. Rather than inform viewers, Ambassador Haley wants to divide Americans," said former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile.
Democrats have questioned the wisdom of killing Soleimani and whether the Trump administration fully considered the potential consequences before taking action. But many have stressed that Soleimani was responsible for thousands of deaths and that they were not sad to see him go.
"No American will mourn Qassem Soleimani’s passing," said former Vice President Joe Biden in a statement after the general's death. "He deserved to be brought to justice for his crimes against American troops and thousands of innocents throughout the region."
"None of that negates the fact that this is a hugely escalatory move in an already dangerous region," Biden added, saying Trump "just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said Soleimani was a "murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans" but she said the decision to kill him was a "reckless move" that "escalates the situation with Iran."
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Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., has introduced a resolution requiring congressional approval for further military action against Iran and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that the House would vote on a similar resolution this week.
Democrats have also called on the administration to brief more members of Congress on the intelligence it says showed Soleimani was planning upcoming attacks on Americans and that he presented an "imminent threat"
"I accept the notion that there was a real threat," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said on NBC's "Meet the Press" during an interview Sunday. "The question of how imminent is something that I need more information on."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Sunday that it was "accurate" to say Soleimani was plotting against American interests.
"But it's also true that Soleimani has been plotting against the United States for decades. The question is, did the plotting here rise to the level that required his elimination from the battlefield?" Schiff said.
Haley shared a clip of her appearance on "Hannity" on Twitter and her claim Democrats were mourning Soleimani. Several public figures ridiculed her claim on the social media platform.
"Shameful, dangerous comment," tweeted 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. "We're in trouble as a nation when an ex-Governor and UN Ambassador would say something so dishonest."
"Nikki Haley. I've rarely agreed with your politics but I've always before respected you as a person. It demeans everyone when politicians go low," Williamson said.
Shameful, dangerous comment. We're in trouble as a nation when an ex-Governor and UN Ambassador would say something so dishonest, Nikki Haley. I've rarely agreed with your politics but I've always before respected you as a person. It demeans everyone when politicians go low.
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) January 7, 2020
"Just knock it off," tweeted David Frum, an ex-speechwriter for former President George W. Bush. He included a link to an October 2015 CNN article about then-presidential candidate Trump saying the world would have been better off if dictators Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi were still power in Iraq and Libya.
— David Frum (@davidfrum) January 7, 2020
"Obviously, outlandishly, demagogically false," CNBC correspondent John Harwood tweeted.
demagogically false https://t.co/l6lVmxqo3s
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) January 7, 2020
"This is categorically false. The former Governor of South Caroline, former Ambassador to the United Nations & current member of the board of directors of Boeing Corporation – on television saying something she absolutely knows is untrue," MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle said.
"Here's a question: What WON'T Nikki Haley say at this point?" asked New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica.
— Maria Shriver (@mariashriver) January 7, 2020
Contributing: Savannah Behrmann
'I want to have peace': How Trump went from a vow to avoid conflict to an order to kill Iran general
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nikki Haley: Democrats are only ones mourning Iran Gen. Soleimani