About Those Imminent Threats …

There are several accounts in various news media about how Trump came to the decision to have General Suleimani killed. The official story is that Suleimani was killed to stop some imminent threat to Americans, somewhere. From WaPo:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on Friday that Soleimani “was actively plotting in the region to take actions, the big action as he described it, that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk. We know it was imminent.”

On Capitol Hill, officials briefed lawmakers and staff but did not provide any details about the alleged Iranian targets or what made them imminent, according to people who were present.

I am trying to remember the last time the U.S. got into a war in which the official story about why turned out to be pretty much the truth. I’m thinking December 7, 1941, but I’m sure there are people who will want to argue with me about that. (Word to the wise: Don’t.)

Some analysts were skeptical about the need to kill Soleimani.

“There may well have been an ongoing plot as Pompeo claims, but Soleimani was a decision-maker, not an operational asset himself,” said Jon Bateman, who served as a senior intelligence analyst on Iran at the Defense Intelligence Agency. “Killing him would be neither necessary nor sufficient to disrupt the operational progression of an imminent plot. What it might do instead is shock Iran’s decision calculus” and deter future attack plans, Bateman said.

That was my thought. If there were indeed such plans somewhere, I don’t see how killing Soleimani would have stopped the plans from being carried out. Trump crowed that Soleimani was “caught in the act,” but doing what? All we know was that he was at the Baghdad airport. And we don’t know if killing Soleimani would be a deterrence or a provocation. I fear the latter.

And then if one keeps reading, one gets the impression that there were no specific imminent threats.

Officials reminded Trump that after the Iranians mined ships, downed the U.S. drone and allegedly attacked a Saudi oil facility, he had not responded. Acting now, they said, would send a message: “The argument is, if you don’t ever respond to them, they think they can get by with anything,” one White House official said.

Trump was also motivated to act by what he felt was negative coverage after his 2019 decision to call off the airstrike after Iran downed the U.S. surveillance drone, officials said. Trump was also frustrated that the details of his internal deliberations had leaked out and felt he looked weak, the officials said.

And Trump really hates looking weak, you know.

Trump also had history on his mind. The president has long fixated on 2012 attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya, and the Obama administration’s response to them, said lawmakers and aides who have spoken to him, and he felt the response to this week’s attack on the embassy and the killing of an American contractor would make him look stronger compared with his predecessor.

This deliberation went on over a period of days. I’m not seeing a lot of alarm over imminent threats.

The Los Angeles Times also provides an account of how the decision was made. According to reporter David Cloud, the decision to take out Soleimani caught the national security team (Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) off guard. They had gone to Mar-a-Lago to brief Trump about the eroding situation with Iran. Targeting Soleimani was one of several options they presented, but they didn’t expect him to choose it.

“The president’s decision was spurred on in part by Iran hawks among his advisors,” Cloud writes. WaPo also tells us that Lindsey Graham visted Mar-a-Lago about that time and urged Trump to get tougher with Iran.

These news stories — plus another account in Politico — quote administrative officials about new intelligence that Soleimani was plotting this or that. But given Soleimani’s history it’s probably accurate to say that he was always plotting something. The administration has failed to make a case that there was some new and uniquely terrible imminent threat that was any different from the many imminent threats he has posed over the years. And the administration’s arguments were undermined by Mike Pompeo on CNN, who responded to questions about imminent threats by talking about Soleimani’s past record.

“I’m not going to say anything more about the nature of the attack, but know this was not just in Iraq,” said Pompeo. “It was using the proxy forces he has manipulated for so long to bring so much destruction to the Shias, Sunnis and Muslims throughout the region. He inflicted harm not only on American lives but created terrible activities supporting Hezbollah, Hamas. Qassim Suleimani was at the center of all of it.”

In other words, same stuff that’s been going on for years. And the timelines provided in all of these accounts tell us there was plenty of time for the administration to notify the Gang of Eight, the key members of Congress who by law must be at least briefed before such actions are conducted.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said he was not briefed on the operation and criticised the president for conducting it “without specific authorisation and any advanced notification or consultation with congress”.

“The need for advance consultation and transparency with congress was put in the constitution for a reason – because the lack of advanced consultation and transparency with congress can lead to hasty and ill-considered decisions,” he said, adding that such decisions should not be made in a vacuum.

“The framers of the constitution gave war powers to the legislature and made the executive the commander in chief for the precise reason of forcing the two branches of government to consult with one another when it came to matters of war and a peace,” he continued. “It is paramount for administrations to get an outside view to prevent group think and rash action, to be asked probing questions, not from your inner and often insulated circle, but from others, particularly congress, which forces an administration before it acts to answer very serious questions.”

In a statement, Ms Pelosi said the entire US congress “must be immediately briefed on this serious situation and on the next steps under consideration by the administration, including the significant escalation of the deployment of additional troops to the region”.

If the administration refuses, I suggest writing another articcle of impeachment.