President Donald Trump has said that top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was assassinated because he was planning “imminent and sinister attacks” on American diplomats and military personnel. Many, however, are questioning whether that is really true, with lawmakers openly saying they have yet to receive any kind of convincing evidence from the White House that proves that claim. “I believe there was a threat, but the question of how imminent is still one I want answered,” Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat who is vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Reuters. A congressional source who spoke to Reuters anonymously was a bit more direct, saying that claims of an imminent attack were “wildly exaggerated.”
Briefers from the State Department, the Pentagon, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told lawmakers that the assassination was meant to block plans to kill as many as thousands of Americans in the Middle East. But they provided little evidence to support that assertion, claims the Daily Beast. “This administration has absolutely not earned the benefit of the doubt when it makes these kinds of claims. When you’re taking action that could lead to the third American war in the Middle East in 20 years, you need to do better than these kinds of assertions,” a Senate aide told the Daily Beast.
That is pretty much the same message as New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi expressed in a series of tweets Saturday. The sources Callimachi talked to said that evidence that supports the claim of an imminent attack is “razor thin,” she said. Killing Soleimani was the “far out option” presented to Trump after the killing of a U.S. contractor in Iraq and then suddenly had to be put together quickly.
Some analysts say that, even accepting the White House contention that there was an imminent attack, it doesn’t automatically translate that Soleimani needed to be killed. After all, Soleimani was the one who made decisions, not the one who carried out the actual plots. Instead, some in the White House pushed the stance that failing to send a message would mean Tehran would think that it could get away with anything without the United States retaliating.
The Washington Post points out that Trump was worried about his image and looking weak after he had earlier called off an airstrike against Iran after it brought down a U.S. surveillance drone. Trump was also looking at the past. The president had long criticized what he saw as a weak response from his predecessor to the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. “He felt the response to this week’s attack on the embassy and the killing of an American contractor would make him look stronger compared with his predecessor,” notes the Post.