Ah, finally we’re getting to the truth. This is the answer he should have given from the start.
What could be Trumpier than the president insisting, essentially, that some people just need killin’?
The problem with that answer, though, is that it weakens his argument for acting without first seeking any sort of authorization from Congress. If there’s an imminent threat, he can act on his own to preempt it. It’s an emergency. If instead there’s a some-people-need-killing problem, then he could have and should have run that by the legislature sometime during the seven months that he was eyeing Soleimani as a target. But he knew how that would be received in the House and didn’t want his hands tied, so he followed the old advice that it’s easier to seek forgiveness than it is to ask permission.
Even though, uh, he would never seek forgiveness for something he did. You know what I mean.
Today he’s being a bit more candid about his reasoning. Yes, fine, okay, there was an “imminent” threat in this case, if hearing that helps you strict constitutionalists out there sleep easier at night about presidential war powers. But even if there wasn’t, it was time for the world at long last to solve its collective Qassem Soleimani problem.
Another clue about the true reasoning: “what should have been done for 20 years.”
By tomorrow he’ll be giving us the full unvarnished truth, which is that, “imminent threat” or not, there was no way, no how, no chance he was about to let American diplomats be terrorized after the fiascos of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis and the 2012 Benghazi attack. The assault on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad just before New Year’s sealed Soleimani’s fate. If you want to send a message that American facilities aren’t to be trifled with, reducing Iran’s second-most powerful man to bite-sized chunks will ensure that that message is received.
Mark Esper was on TV yesterday morning and was asked to confirm the truth of what Trump said about the Iranian threat a few days ago, i.e. “I can reveal that I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies.” Four embassies? Is that right, Mr. Secretary? Well … sort of, said Esper. Some embassies were at risk. But where Trump’s getting the number four, who knows:
.@realDonaldTrump appears to respond after @EsperDoD told @FaceTheNation that he "didn't see” specific evidence showing Iran planned to strike 4 embassies as Trump has claimed they faced an "imminent" threat. Watch Esper's full answer to @margbrennan here: https://t.co/i1bBACGGVJ pic.twitter.com/XHqYhGqy25
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) January 13, 2020
The strange thing about this alleged threat to U.S. embassies in the region, though, is that there appears to have been no attempt to warn staff about it, as one would normally expect. Even stranger, Esper suggests in the clip — correctly — that an attack on multiple U.S. embassies would have forced America and Iran into a state of open hostilities. Later in the same interview, though, he assured viewers that “We do not expect any further attacks” from Iran at this time. It’s hard to believe that the regime would have committed to war and all that entails, then have Soleimani become the first surprise casualty of that war and instantly decide to scrap the whole plan. Either Esper’s exaggerating or Iran has been deterred temporarily from a major confrontation while it regroups after Soleimani’s death.
In fairness to him and Trump, sources confirmed to the NYT that there was some sort of serious threat coalescing, although whether it was “imminent” is a separate question:
Intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive data collection, have said there was no single definitive piece of information about a coming attack. Instead, C.I.A. officers described a “mosaic effect,” multiple scraps of information that came together indicating that General Suleimani was organizing proxy forces around the region, including in Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, to attack American embassies and bases.
Several officials said they did not have enough concrete information to describe such a threat as “imminent,” despite the administration’s assertion, but they did see a worrying pattern. A State Department official has privately said it was a mistake for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to use the word “imminent” because it suggested a level of specificity that was not borne out by the intelligence.
Gina Haspel and Joint Chiefs chair Mark Milley have also claimed that the intelligence suggested a major attack was coming. Something was up. The question is whether the White House should have clued Congress in long ago to its interest in surgical strikes on the Iranian leadership in the name of deterrence.
In lieu of an exit question, here’s something that was retweeted by the presidential Twitter account this morning that’s not so presidential.
— داون آندر (@D0wn_Under) January 13, 2020