Donald Trump claims that his unexpected strike on Iran that killed top military official Qasem Soleimani came on the heels of an imminent threat against the United States – but less than 24 hours after the president officially announced the assassination, his entire rationale for the military action has collapsed.
As NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel said on Saturday, there is “no direct evidence” that there was a specific threat against the United States that would justify the strike.
“There has been no direct evidence presented by the administration and nothing that we’ve seen,” Engel said on MSNBC’s AM Joy. “When you listen to officials at the U.S. State Department, and they described yesterday in a call to reporters what this imminent attack was all about, it was quite vague in their explanation. ”
The NBC News correspondent said the administration is presenting “a very, very broad picture that doesn’t necessarily explain the kind of pinpoint specific attack that would necessarily justify this kind of imminent threat logic.”
— PoliticusUSA (@politicususa) January 4, 2020
There has been no direct evidence presented by the administration and nothing that we’ve seen. But frankly speaking, the — that is what Qasem Soleimani did. We don’t know if he was organizing what kind of attack, we don’t know if he was organizing something imminent in the future, where, when or how but the fact that Qasem Soleimani would have been meeting with Shiite militia leaders – and he was meeting with Shiite militia leaders – because they were in the same convoy that was killed for him, that’s not that unusual and the things that they would meet to do would be to carry out attacks against the U.S. That is something they’ve done in the past. That is something that is in their strategic interest. They generally both want the United States out of this country. That is what they have been set up to do. But, no, we don’t have any specific information but you can draw a logical conclusion that that’s the kind of thing they would be talking about. And frankly when you listen to officials at the U.S. State Department, and they described yesterday in a call to reporters what this imminent attack was all about, it was quite vague in their explanation. They said that it was going to be attack on U.S. personnel or U.S. bases in Iraq or Syria or the region or Lebanon, a very, very broad picture that doesn’t necessarily explain the kind of pinpoint specific attack that would necessarily justify this kind of imminent threat logic.
This is about Trump boosting his reelection bid – full stop
Engel’s reporting Saturday aligns with what even Defense Department officials have said: that there was nothing new about Iran’s behavior before Trump ordered the strike.
Of course, nobody truly believes Trump knows the first thing about what’s happening on the ground in the Middle East. In fact, four years ago, Trump didn’t even know who Qasem Soleimani was. The idea that he suddenly found a deep interest in taking him out – especially given the fact that he doesn’t even read intelligence briefings – is laughable.
Instead, what is driving this escalation with Iran is the same thing that has fueled Trump’s decision-making since day one: personal political survival.
With an impeachment trial looming and a tough campaign season ahead of him, Trump believes that attacking Iran will – as even he said in 2011 and 2012 – help him win reelection.
It remains to be seen whether this will work as a political strategy, but it’s a deeply dangerous way to conduct foreign policy.
Sean Colarossi currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was an organizing fellow for both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns. He also worked with Planned Parenthood as an Affordable Care Act Outreach Organizer in 2014, helping northeast Ohio residents obtain health insurance coverage.