A rocket attack against an Iraqi military base near Kirkuk on Dec. 27 left one American, described as a “private contractor,” dead and four soldiers wounded. The four soldiers have since returned to duty. Even though there have been at least 1,570 private contractor deaths since the United States invaded Iraq, Donald Trump decided to make an example of this incident. The military presented him with multiple options ranging from “moderate” to “far out.” It appears Trump decided to go with all of the above.
The story that the White House has been telling about the death of Qassem Soleimani—that he was killed in order to stop a “imminent and sinister attacks”—has never made any sense. After all, Soleimani was a major general heading a division of the Iranian military. He was not a guy strapping on a suicide vest or climbing aboard a plane with a box cutter. Killing Osama bin Laden on the eve of 9/11 might have been satisfying, but it would not have prevented what came next. If there really was an imminent attack, then it would make sense to strike against those preparing to carry out the attack, not a military leader whose role was many levels removed from anyone placing a finger on a trigger.
Even when Donald Trump shuffled out after hours of silence to give his afternoon statement, he appeared unenthusiastic and less than convinced by his own words. Trump may have been delivering some of his catch-phrases of “toughness” but he seemed rattled. Defensive.
There’s little doubt about why Trump, along with Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence, have continually referred to Soleimani as a terrorist—according to Trump, the “the number-one terrorist” in the world—rather than as a leader of the Iranian military. That’s because they know the action was on shaky grounds both in treading on Congress’ authority to levy war, and when it comes to long-standing executive orders forbidding U.S. involvement in the assassination of foreign leaders.
But there are huge questions both about why Trump chose to respond to this incident, and why he decided to respond as he did. After getting a glimpse at some of the intelligence behind the assassination, New York Times correspondent and NBC analyst Rukmini Callimachi has some answers. None of which support the story Trump has been telling.
What Callimachi discovered after getting a chance to review some of the documents supposedly supporting Trump’s action at the Baghdad airport, was that the evidence requiring taking out Soleimani was “razor thin.” In fact, that evidence seemed to be only that Soleimani was doing what he always did, visiting with militia groups across the region, and that he was headed back to Tehran to discuss an operation of some sort. The nature of that operation, and the targets, is unknown. To get to an imminent threat to Americans requires making several logical leaps unsupported by the intelligence.
But then, military leaders who presented Trump with the options for how to react to the rocket attack at Kirkuk didn’t expect him to kill Soleimani. Trump was given a whole slate of possible reactions, one that included the air strikes that were made against multiple sites in Iraq and Syria on Dec. 29. The attack on Soleimani was on the list of options, but only as what Callimachi’s source described as the “far out” option. It should also be said that Trump had another option: neither of the above. He could have allowed the Iraqi military to deal with an attack that targeted one of their bases. That doesn’t appear to have been considered.
Instead, given multiple options, Trump took all of the above. In fact, it was when Trump saw how bad the reaction had been to the air strikes, that he decided to compound the potential for violence by ordering the assassination of Soleimani. Now there’s another series of options under study … by the generals in Iran. Which absolutely makes it seem that Trump was fishing for an opportunity for all out war.
If Trump isn’t desperately trying to force a war with Iran, he’s certainly doing an amazing simulation. He chose one of the most disruptive options available to him, and when the results of that option were not just disastrous, but demonstrated the ability of the Iran-aligned Shiite militias in Iraq to coordinate a rapid response involving thousands, Trump hit the button to make things infinitely worse.
There are currently 5,300 U.S. soldiers in Iraq and an unknown number of private contractors. Unfortunately, Trump is likely to get many more reasons to press more buttons.
Published with permission from Daily Kos.