Authorization for the attack that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Suleimani was given by US President Donald Trump seven months ago, according to an NBC News report. The revelation cast more doubt on Trump’s assertion that the drone strike was ordered as a preemptive measure against ‘imminent threats.’ Furthermore, speculation and discussion surrounding the series of events now includes the question of why this information was not cited as a reason for the attack instead of ‘imminent threat,’ which no evidence has supported.
The Attack was Planned Months Ago
NBC attributed the new information to “five current and former senior administration officials.” Considering the unusually high turnover rate both within the Trump administration and at the Pentagon, an incalculably high number of people could have been privy to such knowledge.
Military designs drawn up to eliminate Suleimani were not exclusive to Trump. Israel and two previous US administrations had all identified the Iranian commander as a potential target. Therefore, he was already very much on the radar as an option to strike the heart of the enemy. However, that option was highest on the tiered menu presented to Trump.
As soon as the strike was carried out and the assassination was confirmed, Trump and White House officials were thrust into a never-ending news cycle that demanded answers. The rationale for the killing changed depending on the day as Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper cycled through a litany of responses. None of them mentioned that Trump authorized the attack in June.
Tehran Crossed Trump’s Red Line
The same month that plans were devised, Pompeo and former National Security Advisor John Bolton were ramping up the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Tehran. Part of that entailed warning the Iranian government of a US response should its regime attack US personnel in the region. Previously, Iran had attacked oil tankers and Saudi Aramco oil factories in a series of attacks that seemed to escalate in severity.
It was certainly reasonable to conclude that an attack on either “US citizens, US assets, or US military,” could be next, and US Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was among the people warning Tehran.
“The Iranians believe that we won’t respond, and that’s why we’ve been very clear in our message,” Selva said.
That message was Trump’s red line – any direct attack against the US would result in a counterattack. He even traveled to Baghdad to personally relay the message and underscore its seriousness.
Trump’s red line and the consequence of Iran crossing it was possibly an attempt do the opposite of his predecessor, Barack Obama. On Aug. 12, 2012, he warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that the use of chemical weapons would result in a US military intervention. Assad went on to use them and Obama blinked, opting not to respond militarily.
At every turn, Trump has tried to be the exact opposite of Obama, almost as if he asks himself “What would Obama do?” when making key decisions, and then doing the exact opposite. In the case of Suleimani, a target Obama had in his scope, but chose not to attack, Trump saw the opportunity to, in his mind, correct a mistake. Moreover, Trump has always portrayed himself as a strong man and when the Iranians crossed his red line, he saw it as a chance to keep his word, unlike Obama.
Why did Trump Lie?
That still fails to adequately explain why Trump did not publicly explain this as a reason for killing Suleimani. Instead of citing unspecified ‘imminent threats,’ his case would have endured less scrutiny had he presented it in its entirety. Perhaps he believed a defense rationale would resonate more with the electorate ahead of the election. If American voters believe their president is protecting them from terrorist attacks, they might be more likely to vote for Trump.
Another possibility is that he wanted to avoid the finer nuances behind the push for the red line in June 2019. Pompeo, Selva, and Bolton all held sway in those discussions that put a plan on the table to kill the Iranian general. Bolton was fired after he and Trump locked horns, and Trump himself criticized Bolton for wanting to start a war with Tehran. Maybe the American president would rather forget those discussions and portray himself as the one making the decision. He becomes the strong man in a story where he chose to kill Suleimani based on a range of options instead of one where he was talked into it by his advisors.
A final possibility, and the most likely, is that Trump and his administration are simply so accustomed to lying that it as in their nature to skew the reasoning behind the drone strike. Since Trump was inaugurated, he has been on the record lying on a number of topics, even the weather at his inauguration and the size of the crowd. It is not difficult to believe he could be conveying a false account of Suleimani’s assassination simply because it is in his nature to do so.