The killing of a powerful Iranian military commander in a drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump on Thursday exposed divisions among Tennessee and Georgia politicians and triggered a new fight over the Republican's most significant use of military force to date.
Iranian's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, promised a "forceful revenge" after the death of Quassim Suleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Quds Force who engineered every major Iranian military operation over two decades.
The Pentagon said Suleimani was "actively developing" plans to attack U.S. diplomats and soldiers in Iraq and the Middle East, and White House officials said the escalation was aimed at deterring future Iranian strikes.
In a tweet, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said, "Qasem Soleimani was a terrorist who was responsible for the deaths of countless Americans and innocent civilians. The leadership from @realDonaldTrump and swift action from our brave armed forces have rid the world of this evil force. God bless our men and women in uniform."
U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., tweeted that "the United States of America has proven we will not back down to rogue states like Iran. The Quds Force is a terrorist organization and General Qasem Soleimani a terrorist. His death makes our world safer."
The response from top Georgia figures quickly fell along party lines. Leading Republicans said the president was justified in ordering the strike and called it retribution for the deaths of soldiers in strikes orchestrated by Suleimani.
U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, said that, "In response to continued Iranian-directed attacks, POTUS & our military leaders were clear: attacks against our own will not go unanswered. God bless the U.S. Military. God bless the USA."
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 Soleimani and his terrorist Quds Force have ruthlessly orchestrated the deaths of countless Americans," Perdue said. "Now, justice has been served."
Several Georgia Democrats echoed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who criticized Trump for carrying out the attack without first consulting Congress. They characterized the strike as a reckless escalation that could ignite a broader conflict in the Middle East.
"A trigger happy armchair strongman, lacking congressional authority, has recklessly brought our nation closer to war," said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Atlanta.
The attack was also poised to become a new dividing line in 2020 races. Nabilah Islam, a liberal activist vying for a Republican-held suburban Atlanta district, said Trump's decision could have violent unforeseen consequences.
"Trump just assassinated, without the approval of Congress, the second most powerful person in Iran," she said. "Knowing that this could set off a massive war. He is unfit to be president."
Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this story.