President Trump has been close to ordering the killing of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani since June of last year, according to an NBC News report that further undermines the White House argument that Soleimani was killed for posing an “imminent” threat.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton both reportedly urged Trump to order Soleimani’s killing in June, after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a U.S. drone. NBC News reports that Trump resisted and set a red line. If Iran killed an American, then he’d give the go-ahead for an operation against Soleimani.
Iran crossed that line in December when Nawres Hamid, a 33-year-old defense contractor, was killed in rocket fire from Iranian-backed militias. But it was only after protests at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, and at the urging of Defense Secretary Mark Esper, that Trump gave the order to strike Soleimani.
This new report calls into question the notion that Trump surprised those around him with his decision to assassinate Soleimani. The New York Times reported two weeks ago that Pentagon officials were “stunned” Trump gave the order to kill Soleimani. We now know that the idea was being kicked around the White House for months. And according to the Washington Post, Trump has been casually talking about killing Soleimani for years.
This new reporting raises even more questions about the White House’s most commonly deployed, dubious justification for killing Soleimani: that he was about to launch catastrophic new attacks against Americans. The argument suggests Soleimani was planning a new attack within days, or maybe months, that would have killed dozens, or maybe hundreds. Killing Soleimani was not, the Trump administration insisted, an act of retribution for Hamid’s killing or a strategic maneuver meant to deter future attacks or retribution against Soleimani’s lifetime of violence.
Trump is clearly uncomfortable admitting the true rationale for killing Soleimani. On Friday, he invented a new one. In an interview with Fox News, Trump said that “four embassies” were under threat from Soleimani prior to his killing. Asked about the claim on CBS’s Face the Nation over the weekend, Esper said he never saw anything suggesting that.