Impeachment Games and Gaming

It’s expected that Nancy Pelosi will transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate by the end of this week. What happens then?

The question of witnesses is still pending. The Senate will vote to adopt the procedures, and it will take a simple majority to allow a trial with no witnesses. It could go either way. At the very least, Chuck Schumer is expected to extract maximum pain from senators up for re-election in purple states.

Schumer will force a series of votes designed to squeeze vulnerable Republicans and harm them on the campaign trail if they side with Trump.

Democrats argue the half-dozen at-risk GOP senators will need some daylight between them and Trump to get reelected. And if they vote against Schumer’s motions to hear new evidence and witness testimony, they’ll be seen as Trump sycophants — undermining their bids and boosting Schumer’s odds of becoming majority leader.

Support for obtaining new documents at the trial is “even stronger than we thought, with large numbers of Republicans supporting it,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview. “And when you go against what the American people feel strongly about, on an issue they’re paying attention to, it’s not a good idea.”

Public surveys in key swing states back up Democrats’ claims.

See also White House expects GOP defections on calling witnesses in Senate impeachment trial. It would only take four Republican defections to force witnesses. That’s not impossible. As I said, it could go either way.

Conservative WaPo columnist Henry Olsen says that Nancy Pelosi gamed the impeachment trial brilliantly. How so? One way is not exactly endearing Nancy to me:

Had she sent the articles immediately after passage, the Senate could have started the trial after returning from the holiday break. Now, however, they won’t be able to start the trial until after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. This means the Senate will be in trial six days a week for the period before the Iowa caucuses and may well be in session through the New Hampshire primary, too. That will likely hurt the progressives’ favorites, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as they will have to stay in Washington rather than campaign in those crucial early voting states.

Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, the “centrist” candidates, will not be so restrained. We don’t know that this was part of Nancy’s calculation, but it could have been.

She also wins by pinning the blame for Trump’s eventual acquittal on McConnell. Democratic failure to persuade Trump backers to even consider impeaching the president has always meant the Senate trial’s outcome is a foregone conclusion. By holding the articles and forcing McConnell to do what he was going to do — run the trial his way — Pelosi gives Democrats a scapegoat for their eventual failure to remove Trump. They can blame McConnell’s allegedly unfair and prejudicial rules for the debacle rather than their own failure to bring even a small portion of the non-Democratic electorate behind them. Since Democrats already view McConnell as a mendacious partisan, this is an easy sell.

Actually, about 43 percent of independents favor removing Trump from office, and more than 50 percent approve of impeachment, so I don’t see how the Democrats failed to “bring even a small portion of the non-Democratic electorate behind them.”

The “Immiment Threat”: Voices in Mike Pence’s Head?

A sentence buried far down in a Wall Street Journal article is getting a lot of attention.

Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate.

The New York Times reported something similar this week, stating that Trump had said in a phone call that “he had been pressured to take a harder line on Iran by some Republican senators whose support he needs now more than ever amid an impeachment battle.”

If this reporting is true, it’s hard to overstate how explosive it would be that the president of the United States nearly started a war in order to appease a handful of Republican senators before impeachment arrives in the Senate.

Well, yes, it would, wouldn’t it? David Kurtz at TPM:

We don’t have to delve too deeply into whether key GOP senators were in fact pressuring Trump on Soleimani (or whether “deal with” meant target him with a drone strike). The point is this is how this president thinks, ignorant of U.S. national interests, fixated on his own personal dramas, veering from impulse to reaction and back again even in the gravest matters.
The irony is almost too obvious to point out: In order to stave off an impeachment conviction for putting his own personal interests above the national interest, Trump once again put his own interests above the national interest.

John Cassidy at The New Yorker:

The picture we are getting is of the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Vice-President Mike Pence both egging on an impetuous President to launch the January 2nd drone attack that killed the Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani at Baghdad International Airport. None of Trump’s other senior political or military advisers, meanwhile, appear to have urged restraint, despite the near-certainty that the move would inflame the entire Middle East and provoke reprisals. Any deliberative policymaking process appears to have been replaced by a combination of belligerence, toadyism, and saluting the Commander-in-Chief….

… Pompeo and Pence “were two of the most hawkish voices arguing for a response to Iranian aggression, according to administration officials,” the Times reported, a couple of days after Suleimani’s death. “Mr. Pence’s office helped run herd on meetings and conference calls held by officials in the run-up to the strike.”

Pence is emerging as a five-alarm hawk. Along with his ridiculous claim that Soleimani was linked to the September 11 attacks, Pence also has said that the administration didn’t share its intelligence with Congress because Congress couldn’t be trusted with it.

In another wrinkle to the story, the Washington Post is reporting that the administration also attempted to assassinate an Iranian official in Yemen, but failed.

On the day the U.S. military killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad, U.S. forces carried out another top secret mission against a senior Iranian military official in Yemen, according to U.S. officials.

The strike targeting Abdul Reza Shahlai, a financier and key commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force who has been active in Yemen, did not result in his death, according to four U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

It’s hard to know what that attempt signifies, because American operations in Yemen are behind a veil of secrecy. It might mean that the administration was trying to damage the leader of the Quds force.

Defense and State Department officials said the strike against Soleimani saved “dozens” if not “hundreds” of American lives under imminent threat. The strike against Shahlai potentially complicates that argument.

“This suggests a mission with a longer planning horizon and a larger objective, and it really does call into question why there was an attempt to explain this publicly on the basis of an imminent threat,” said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Trying to make sense of Trump’s foreign policy is a fool’s errand, I say.

In other news, Nancy Pelosi is signaling she is sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate next week.

The “Faking It” Administration

The House just passed a war powers resolution ordering Trump to withdraw forces engaged in hostilities with Iran. I’ll have more to say when I’ve digested the details. But I heartily approve.

To me, the most disturbing part of the administration’s  non-explanation of the recent “immiment threat” is that they apparently don’t think they have to explain anything. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, in an interview with NPR, found this frustrating.

LEE: As I recall, one of my colleagues asked a hypothetical involving the supreme leader of Iran. If at that point, the United States government decided that it wanted to undertake a strike against him personally, recognizing that he could be a threat to the United States, would that require authorization for the use of military force? The fact that there was nothing but a refusal to answer that question was perhaps the most deeply upsetting thing to me in that meeting. I think it was unprofessional, inappropriate and reflective of a certain cavalier attitude toward the Constitution to refuse to make a commitment on that front.

This tells us that in the administration’s view that is no circumstance in which they feel they must consult with Congress before taking some military action. Greg Sargent:

“It would be hard to understand assassinating a foreign head of state as anything other than an act of war,” Josh Chafetz, a Cornell law professor and the author of a book on Congress’ hidden powers, told me. “It’s appalling that executive-branch officials would imply, even in responding to a hypothetical question, that they do not need congressional authorization to do it.”

And, of course, there was no “immiment threat.” Alex Ward at Vox:

“They did give us a window on the ‘imminent’ threat, but the window was so large that it doesn’t necessarily constitute ‘imminent,’” the lawmaker said, adding that the stated time frame around what the administration has described as an imminent threat was “days” rather than “weeks.”

“They gave us no time, place, or method” when describing the Soleimani threat, the Congress member continued. “Instead, we got a historical overview of decades-long malign activities from Iran. It begs the question: Was the attack on Soleimani more in retribution for what he’s done, or what he was planning?”

Others said the meeting in the House devolved into pettiness. In one instance, according to a House Democratic aide, a Democratic lawmaker asked a difficult question, prompting the briefers to turn to a Republican for an easier question while ignoring the one just asked. In another moment, a Democratic Congress member asked a multi-part question that briefers failed to answer fully. When the lawmaker tried to follow up, “they got shushed.”

What’s more, the defense and military officials were asked multiple direct questions about the legal justification for Trump to order a strike on Soleimani. Both Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs chair, looked uncomfortable, a Democratic aide said, and turned to their legal team because they apparently didn’t have the answers themselves. “There were no justifications,” the Democratic aide said. “It was totally insufficient.”

We’re hearing from multiple sources that the briefers warned legislators not to debate the administration’s actions, because that would “enbolden the enemy.”

The most reasonable explanation for this behavior is that the whole bleeping Trump administration is faking it. They cannot justify the assassination of Soleimani. There was no immiment threat. There is no strategy of how to deal with repurcussions. They lack knowledge of what they’re dealing with. Their entire function is covering Trump’s ass. Trump says jump, and then they scramble around to craft an excuse for jumping.

People who are competent, people who have deep extertise, are not shy about explaning what they do and why they do it. Certainly some matters may be classified, but many members of Congress do have security clearances, I understand. But Trumpers have to keep their actions hidden because they’re stumbling around like drunks and don’t want the world to watch them.

Did Somebody Blink?

I missed the Creature’s speech today, which is just as well. I might have been compelled to heave large objects at the teevee set. I’m going mostly by Paul Waldman’s five takeaways. The first takeway is:

Trump’s Iran policy has been a catastrophic failure. “The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer,” Trump said. But that in itself is an acknowledgment of his own failure.

When the president came into office, we had a painstakingly negotiated agreement that by the consensus of the entire international community was successfully restraining Iran’s nuclear program. Trump not only abandoned that deal, he instituted a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, arguing that if we crippled their economy, they’d become less aggressive in the region and crawl back to the negotiating table, whereupon they’d give us whatever concessions we asked for.

The very fact that we’re in the position we are now demonstrates that this policy has failed.

See also Trump’s deepening Iran morass all started with one big lie, which was “The idea that the Iran nuclear agreement constituted a wretched display of elite failure and American weakness, and that Trump has replaced it with an approach that’s ‘strong.'”

Iran may have given Trump that off-ramp by launching a strike that apparently didn’t kill Americans. If he de-escalates — perhaps by declaring that Iran blinked in the face of his show of strength — that will be great, as far as it goes.

But the larger point here remains this: None of this has to be happening at all.

In brief, the more Trump cancels the diplomatic work of earlier administrations and substitutes his own juvenile notions of “policy,” the messier everything gets.

The second takeway is “Trump desperately wanted to find a way to declare victory and back off.”  Nancy LeTourneau writes that the Trumpers seem to believe that Iran blinked and will stand down. As far as we’re being told so far, no U.S. servicepeople died in yesterday’s missile attack. So the Trumpers think they’re ahead.

The problem is that when your only tool is bullying through threats and violence, all that matters is the body count. Under that scenario, the U.S. wins by taking out a major military figure, while the strikes from Iran produced no casualties.

But if we step back from the body count, we can examine what else Iran achieved from this exchange. Perhaps the most important is that it will probably lead to U.S. forces leaving Iraq.

The Pentagon is denying the letter that offered to prepare to leave. But if Iraq continues to insist we leave, at some point staying will be untenable.

It’s also possible Trump isn’t the one making the decisions. My smart Facebook friend Jeffrey put forward a theory I haven’t seen elsewhere, but which I think is plausible:

In support of that theory, note that Trump had an off-the-official-schedule Oval Office meeting with a Saudi envoy from Mohammed bin Salman on Monday. We only know about it because the Saudis published photographs of the meeting.

Photos of the meeting, which included several senior White House advisers, were tweeted out Tuesday by Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister, Prince Khalid bin Salman, indicating he delivered a message to Trump from his brother, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Independent (UK) reported,

Iraq’s prime minister revealed that he was due to be meeting the Iranian commander to discuss moves being made to ease the confrontation between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia – the crux of so much of strife in the Middle East and beyond.

Adil Abdul-Mahdi was quite clear: “I was supposed to meet him in the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver a message from Iran in response to the message we had delivered from the Saudis to Iran.”

The prime minister also disclosed that Donald Trump had called him to ask him to mediate following the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad. According to Iraqi officials contact was made with a number of militias as well as figures in Tehran. The siege of the embassy was lifted and the US president personally thanked Abdul-Mahdi for his help.

There was nothing to suggest to the Iraqis that it was unsafe for Soleimani to travel to Baghdad – quite the contrary. This suggests that Trump helped lure the Iranian commander to a place where he could be killed.

I am not claiming this adds up to anything, but it might. Along with the obvious value of a military operation to distract the nation from impeachment, it is possible Trump is taking direction from the Saudis, who are trying to manipulate the situation to suit themselves. And it may be that the Saudis don’t want an escalation, in which case Trump will stand down.

Members of the House were briefed today on the “intelligence” that persuaded them that General Soleimani was behind an imminent attack that could be stopped by killing him. Dems walked away unconvinced. The word “sophomoric” was used. Charles Pierce: “The Secretary of State’s version of ‘imminent’ is ‘it’s five o’clock somewhere.'” So unless we hear more I think it’s safe to assume the “imminent threat” was pure bullshit.

The other takeaways are that Trump is still obsessed with Barack Obama and cannot pass up an opportunity to blame his own failures on President Obama, no matter how absurd that is.

“Trump is comically insecure about his manhood.” Yeah, obviously.

And “Trump still has no idea what he wants to accomplish with regard to Iran or how to do it.” Again, obvious. He wants to “win”; he wants to be feared and respected. He wants to be seen as getting the upper hand in all situations. But he has no idea what that means or how to accomplish that in the world of politics, and his flailing attempts just make him look more pathetic.

And if Iraq forces our military to leave, it would be the ultimate humiliation for Trump. I don’t see him blustering his way out of that one.

The Great Unraveling

The administration’s position(s) on Iraq and Iran are unraveling at a furious pace, while Trump is claiming absolute war powers. And this afternoon the Pentagon appears to have separated itself from the President regarding a possible withdrawal from Iraq.

Greg Sargent:

Here’s the latest. New reporting has revealed deep internal skepticism over the intelligence underpinning the assassination’s stated rationale. Iran just announced it will no longer abide by restrictions in the Iran nuclear agreement, revealing the profound folly of Trump’s withdrawal from the deal, given that Iran had previously been complying with it.

Meanwhile, Trump is firing off deranged, Dr. Strangelovian tweets threatening to strike Iranian cultural targets — a war crime — while blithely asserting zero obligation to inform Congress of any future attacks.

On Trump’s unhinged threat of war crimes, Schiff offered an interesting but overlooked point. He noted there is no chance Trump’s threats to bomb Iranian cultural sites, or his related threat of “disproportionate” military responses to future Iranian attacks, reflect any actual planning in the Pentagon.

“None of that could come out of the Pentagon,” Schiff told me. “Absolutely no way.”

That Trump is threatening to deploy our military to commit war crimes in a manner entirely severed from real-world military planning is deeply abnormal and must not be allowed to slide by as just Trump being Trump.

Adam Schiff wants to hold open hearings on the Iraq-Iran situation asap, which sounds sensible to me.

Speaking of unhinged tweets, see Aaron Rupar at Vox:

Tweeting three days after US forces killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary forces, in an airstrike in Iraq at his direction, Trump indicated that he plans to escalate hostilities with Iran should the country retaliate. He also thumbed his nose at the idea that federal lawmakers represent any check on his powers as commander-in-chief.

“These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” Trump wrote. “Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee (Eliot L. Engel, chair) responded:

Steve Benen writes that there is less and less reason to believe there was any “imminent” threat that required targeting Soleimani. And the New York Times reported:

National security experts and even other officials at the Pentagon said they were unaware of anything drastically new about Iranian behavior in recent weeks; General Suleimani has been accused of prodding Shiite militias into attacking Americans for more than a decade.

Josh Marshall: 

It is basically impossible to think that President Trump’s decision to authorize the dramatic assassination of Qasem Soleimani wasn’t influenced by his looming impeachment trial. But we’re also getting more detail now on the precise chain of events leading up to it. I recommend first this Twitter thread from the Times Rukmini Callimachi. The upshot is that the claim of disrupted future attacks was thin at best, inferences drawn from Soleimani’s travel itinerary placed in the context of the shadowy game of tit for tat the two countries have been playing for the last year.

From a different perspective, this is the kind of assemblage of evidence that gets made after you make a decision — justification rather than actual reason. Callimachi has more details. But there’s nothing about the version of the evidence she presents that would make anyone think there was evidence of a threat that required imminent action. Assuming her outlines of the evidence is correct, this is after the fact justification meant to put the operation on a better legal and political footing.

When the Iraqi parliament voted to ask U.S. troops to leave their country, Trump went ballistic.

President Donald Trump threatened to impose deep sanctions on Iraq if it moves to expel U.S. troops and said Sunday he would not withdraw entirely unless the military is compensated for the “extraordinarily expensive air base” there.

Trump’s remarks came on the same day that Iraq’s Parliament voted to support expelling the U.S. military from its country over mounting anger about a drone strike the president ordered last week that killed Iran’s Qasem Soleimani and earlier U.S. airstrikes in the country. The vote was nonbinding.

“We’ve spent a lot of money in Iraq,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington after spending the holidays at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. “We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. … We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”

But the U.S. military is saying something else entirely. This just happened:

The U.S. military says it will reposition troops within Iraq in preparation for a possible withdrawal.

In a draft letter released Monday, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III says that U.S. forces will be relocated “to prepare for onward movement” and says that “we respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.” A U.S. military official confirmed the letter’s authenticity.

David Atkins provides more insight into how stupid and counterproductive it was to assasinate Suleimani. Along with the withdrawal of Iran from the nuclear agreement and the vote in Iraq to expel U.S. troops, here are two more consequences:

The Iranian people are now rallying to their government in massive numbers to mourn Soleimani just a month after engaging in widespread anti-government protest. A longstanding objective of American foreign policy on both the right and the left has been to weaken Iran’s theocratic government and promote liberal democratic values within the country. There can be no question that killing Soleimani has been counterproductive to that goal. This should come as no surprise at all: not only is it a matter of wounded national pride, Soleimani for all his many evils was seen as a key figure in the battle against hated Sunni extremist powers, especially ISIS, in Shi’ite Iran.

Duh.  Also, too:

The U.S. led coalition has suspended its battle against ISIS. The rise of ISIS has been one of the most alarming developments of the last decade, and the fight to contain and eliminate it has been difficult. ISIS rose as a result of a tragically ignored power vacuum among conservative Sunnis in Iraq and Syria resulting from the misbegotten American invasion. All other concerns in the Middle East pale in comparison to taming the threat from ISIS and its attempt to foster a globally self-organized agenda of violent illiberalism. Iran has been a key opponent of ISIS, and fostering closer diplomacy with Iran and Shi’ites in the region has been crucial in the battle against the so-called Islamic State. The Trump’s administration’s betrayal of anti-ISIS Kurdish fighters also doesn’t help. Now with U.S. forces unwelcome and potentially under attack across the region, ISIS will be much freer to being re-organizing and recruiting. Needless to say, this is dangerous not only to those in the region, but to everyone around the world.

Nancy Pelosi announced the House will vote this week on a resolution to limit Trump’s ability to make military decisions without Congress.

The move to curtail President Donald Trump’s ability to act unliterally is designed to force Republicans in the Senate to address the heightened tension with the Middle Eastern nation.

“Last week, the Trump Administration conducted a provocative and disproportionate military airstrike targeting high-level Iranian military officials,” Pelosi wrote in a letter announcing the legislation to her colleagues Sunday night. “This action endangered our service members, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran… we are concerned that the Administration took this action without the consultation of Congress and without respect for Congress’s war powers granted to it by the Constitution.”

The legislation, which is privileged, forces the GOP-led Senate to vote on the matter, teeing up a political battle over whether to reign in a president’s ability to circumvent the Legislative Branch when conducting foreign military action. It comes amid intensified tensions with Iran after the weekend’s U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed one of Iran’s top military generals, Qassem Soleimani.

In other news, John Bolton has finally stopped being coy about testifying. He says that if he’s subpoenaed, he’ll testify at the Senate trial.  Greg Sargent:

For one thing, as The Post’s Jennifer Rubin points out, this means House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has just been given new leverage to keep insisting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agree to a real trial, including witnesses such as Bolton, while she delays in sending over the articles of impeachment.

I would add that this also badly undercuts one of the GOP’s dumbest talking points: That the only reason House Democrats haven’t sent over the articles is because their case is weak. By saying he’s willing to testify, Bolton has suddenly made the choice that Senate Republicans must face into something that’s very real: Either they accept Bolton’s offer, or they decline it.


The Administration Versus Reality

The Iraqi parliament has voted to direct the government to expel all foreign troops — meaning U.S. troops, of course. The prime minister is expected to sign it. As I understand it, this directive would not expel troops immediately but would work out a timeline for troops to leave.

Along with alarm over the death of General Soleimani, the Iraqis are understandably peeved that this military action was carried out in their country with no notice whatsoever.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry filed a complaint via two letters to the President of the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General about the “American attacks and assaults against Iraqi military locations,” according to a Foreign Ministry Statement.

The complaint was also about the death of Al-Muhandis, the militia leader, and others on Iraqi soil.

“These attacks represent a serious violation of Iraqi sovereignty and the conditions of the presence of the American forces in Iraq,” the statement read, adding, “Iraq called on the Security Council to condemn the bombing and assassinations.”

This is not unreasonable.

SecState Pompeo said that the Iraqi people are fine with whatever the U.S. does, because we are their liberators, or something.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday dismissed calls by Iraq’s caretaker prime minister for a timetable for all foreign troops to exit the country, in the wake of a U.S. strike that killed top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, arguing that the Iraqi people want the United States to remain and continue the fight against terrorism.

Pompeo also blames the entire current situation on President Obama. Obama should have taken out Soleimani! Except that most of the deaths of U.S. troops attributed to Soleimani happened during George W. Bush’s watch, and he didn’t take out Soleimani either.

In fact, conscious decisions were taken under the George W. Bush administration, even when Soleimani was in the crosshairs, not to pull the trigger. Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote last year, he had a shot in 2007 but let Soleimani go: “The decision not to act is often the hardest one to make—and it isn’t always right.”

But, um, sometimes the decision not to act is right. Notice that most of the people lining up to praise Trump’s actions are the same geniuses who thought invading Iraq in 2003 was a great idea. They don’t learn.

This happened yesterday:

President Donald Trump on Saturday warned Iran that a strike on “any Americans” or “American assets” in retaliation for the killing of its top general would result in the US targeting 52 sites — including “Iranian culture” sites.

But deliberately targeting cultural sites or cultural heritage sites could amount to a war crime.

Even better, now Iran is saying it is suspending all commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal. So much winning.


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.

Wagging the Dog

If you missed Chris Hayes last night — this is a good, brief (5 minutes) explanation of the Pentagon documents released yesterday that clearly show Trump ordered the Ukraine aid to be held up. And then a few hours after these documents were made public, the U.S. military on Trump’s order kills Qassim Suleimani at the Baghdad airport.  Coincidence?

News stories are tellling us that the operation was planned after a rocket attack killed an American contractor in Iraq a few days ago. If so, this was a totally disproportionate retaliation. And, the U.S. had already disproportionately retaliated by striking Iraq and Syria and killing 25 people. I still say this was more about impeachment than protecting Americans.

We’re hearing that this strike was done with no notice to or clearance from Congress, although some Republicans claim to have been briefed. Many people also have unearthed a series of old tweets by Trump predicting that President Obama would start a war with Iran to help his re-election chances in 2012. Trump obviously thinks that starting a war is politically smart. If the situation escalates, we can also count on Mitch McConnell declaring that we can’t very well have an impeachment trial while there’s a war going on.

Of course, this provocation was utterly unnecessary. A number of people who served in the Obama and Bush II administrations have stepped up to say that taking out Qassim Suleimani was something considered but rejected by their bosses. It was too incendiary. But fools do rush in where angels fear to tread.

Trump and SecState Pompeo are claiming that Suleimani was planning an “imminent” operation that could have taken “hundreds of American lives.” Of course I don’t believe this is true. Congress must demand that Trump share whatever intelligence he has to prove this statement. Even so, if there were such plans the plans still exist, as does the military force Suleimani headed. There is no reason to think that killing Suleimani would put an end to the alleged plans.

In short, this was a colossally stupid move on Trump’s part that almost certainly will have disasterous consequences. Republicans are falling in line behind Trump to support his decision. What are Democrats doing? Most of the 2020 candidates for the presidential nomination have denounced Trump’s act as dangerous and reckless. And then there’s Bernie —

I hope we’re all clear on that.

Stuff to Read:

Fred Kaplan, Trump Just Declared War on Iran and Trump Is Clueless on Iran and North Korea.

Zack Beauchamp, Trump’s Iran War Has Begun.

Charles Pierce, Trump’s Order to Assassinate Qasem Soleimani Has Kicked Over the Hornet’s Nest. (Pierce provides quotes from an old Hugh Hewitt interview in which Trump plainly had no idea who Qasem Soleimani was and complained that the U.S. was being unfair to the Kurds.)

Greg Sargent, Trump’s Iran strike demands a serious response from Democrats.