Friendly reminder that we’re only talking about the imminence of the threat posed by Soleimani because that’s a prerequisite for self-defense, which is always lawful. But Trump wouldn’t have needed to claim self-defense here if he had gone to Congress at some point to ask for authorization to target Iranian military officers. He could have done that 13 months ago, before the new Democratic majority was seated.
But there were prudential and procedural reasons for why that would have been difficult. Procedurally, he would have somehow had to overcome a Senate filibuster, which was next to impossible even with a Republican majority. And prudentially, it might have been a step too far towards aggression for Iran, with whom Trump was still hoping to hold nuclear talks at the time. The president was eager until recently to restore diplomacy. “I’m seeking authority to kill your top soldiers” would have … complicated that message.
Forced, then, to decide between (1) maintaining a hands-off policy towards Soleimani absent legal authorization and (2) killing him and then finding a creative argument for why it was lawful, the White House chose door number two. Pompeo was pressed in an interview this morning about the imminence of the threat in this case and replied, “There is no doubt that there were a series of imminent attacks being plotted by Qassem Soleimani. We don’t know precisely when and we don’t know precisely where, but it was real.” Which led to some head-scratching. You would never say in a case of individual self-defense, after all, that you didn’t know exactly when and where the threat would come. The attack is already upon you. You can’t go to your enemy’s house ahead of time and kill him because you had reason to believe he’d come for you “soon.”