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Georgia's Collins takes Iran debate in an unusually toxic direction

A leading House Republican believes Democrats are "in love with terrorists." if Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) really wants to go there, let's have the conversation.

There's no shortage of reasons to have concerns about Donald Trump's decision to order an airstrike that killed an Iranian general last week. After all, the mission risked sparking a war, while adding increased instability in the Middle East. It also alienated our allies in Iraq, and derailed, at least temporarily, U.S. efforts to combat ISIS.

On the other hand, there's Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, a close White House ally, and a politician who argued on national television last night that Democrats asking questions about last week's mission are "in love with terrorists." The Washington Post reported:

Collins's comments Wednesday night reflected what's become a talking point among Trump supporters in the wake of the U.S. drone attack that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, blamed for the deaths of more than 600 coalition soldiers in Iraq."They are in love with terrorists," Collins said of Democrats on Fox Business Network's "Lou Dobbs Tonight." "We see that they mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families who are the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That's a problem."

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, no Democrats have "mourned" Soleimani's death, and the idea that Collins' domestic rivals "are in love with terrorists" is obviously an ugly slander. The Georgia Republican, who's reportedly gearing up for a possible U.S. Senate campaign, is engaging in the kind of toxic, gutter politics that honorable public servants tend to avoid.

To borrow a line from the late, great Elijah Cummings, we must be better than this.

It's also important to acknowledge how offensive it is in a free society to try to stifle debate and dissent over foreign policy this way. Collins' cheap rhetoric seems intended to intimidate, signaling to Democrats that those who question his leader's risky and dangerous decisions should expect to be labeled as terrorist sympathizers.

It's all the more reason for honest brokers to ignore such nonsense and engage in a spirited debate without fear of small voices and closed minds.

But stepping back, there's also a larger context to consider: has Doug Collins ever heard Donald Trump's thoughts on foreign policy and Gold Star families?

Because it was Trump who took aim at a Gold Star family in 2016, and then feuded with a fallen American soldier's widow in 2017.

It was also Trump who said he "fell in love" with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, despite the dictator's record of brutality, and who spoke publicly about how impressed he was with Iraq's Saddam Hussein, despite the Butcher of Baghdad's reign of terror.

As New York magazine's Jon Chait noted yesterday, "What makes this current smear campaign so extraordinarily ironic is that Trump is actually guilty of the very thing his surrogates are falsely charging his opposition. Trump has repeatedly lavished praise on the world's most notorious dictators.... That Trumpists can turn around from ignoring or justifying his professed love of dictators to accusing Democrats of supporting an Iranian militarist merely shows the mental flexibility required of the president's defenders."

Jon wasn't referring to Doug Collins specifically -- his piece ran before the Georgia Republican's television appearance -- but the assessment nevertheless applies nicely to the far-right congressman.