“Governing by Chaos:” Soleimani Killed, Trump Team Struggles to Define “Imminent Threat”

There are 297 days until the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and our current president, Donald J. Trump, continues, as Senator Kirsten Giliibrand (D-NY) puts it, “to govern by chaos.”

Early last Friday morning, January 3, Trump, without notifying Congress, ordered a drone strike to kill General Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful general, who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people.

Trump first said that he had ordered the strike in retribution, at least in part, for the death of an American contractor at an Iraqi military base, possibly by Iranian-backed forces. In order for the strike to have been legal without Trump’s consulting Congress, however, there must be evidence that the strike was called to fend off an imminent threat.

Consequently, the Pentagon was quick to tell the public that the strike was intended to stop an imminent attack on Americans.

Following the strike, Trump threatened on Twitter that if Iran retaliated, the U.S. would “quickly and fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner.”

“If Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets,” he tweeted, “The U.S. has targeted 52 Iranian sites — some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

After the media, Trump’s advisors, and lawmakers in Trump’s own party, quickly pointed out that destroying a nation’s cultural sites would be a war crime, Trump responded by saying, “They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people, and we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.”

But…Yes, yes it does. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured the world that the administration would remain within the law.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, too, rushed to walk back Trump’s threat, saying “We will follow the laws of armed conflict.”

Iran’s response happened on Tuesday, when it launched more than 12 missiles aimed at two Iraqi bases holding U.S. troops. There were no American casualties, and there is evidence that Iran warned Iraq of the strikes in advance, purportedly so that Americans would know they were coming. At first, many believed that as long as Trump didn’t further escalate, things might remain quiet for now. Since then, however, Iran has pledged “severe revenge” on the U.S.

The administration refuses to provide evidence of an imminent attack by Iran, but continues to work to convince the public that Trump’s drone strike was justified. Sidestepping the question of “imminence,” they point to Soleimani’s previous actions, saying that they indicate that Soleimani would continue to act in the same way. They also claim that eliminating Soleimani was part of a larger strategy.

Previous administrations, it should be noted, had strategically chosen not to eliminate Soleimani, not because they supported him, but because of possible other chain reactions Soleimani’s demise could set into motion — such as a war.

The administration’s larger strategy was what Senate lawmakers had expected to learn more about during a national security briefing on Wednesday evening. They were disappointed, however— insulted, even —when they received no more insight than what they had already read in the news. Lawmakers on both sides were angered at the implication that they didn’t need to know, and were told that to debate the appropriateness of a military intervention in Iran would be unpatriotic.

While this was all unfolding, former national security advisor John Bolton, who had previously complied with the White House edict not to cooperate in the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump, said that if subpoenaed, he would testify before the Senate.

Trump, as expected, said he would be fine with Bolton testifying, but that they should respect “privilege.” In other words, Bolton should only be allowed to say what Trump allowed him to say.

Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi continues to hold the articles of impeachment until, as she says, she can be assured of a fair and impartial trial in the Senate. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has said he has the votes to go ahead with a trial, even without the articles (and without witnesses — or impartiality).

Congress has just voted in favor of restricting the president’s war powers against Iran, meaning he must get authorization from Congress. The Senate is also working on a similar resolution. This may ultimately amount to nothing more than a strong message to Donald Trump, since he can veto the resolution. Nevertheless, it’s a message.

Senator Tammy Duckworth said, “Is America safer today than before trump made this rash decision (to kill Soleimani)? My answer is No.”

Senator Rand Paul echoed that sentiment, saying “…Now the whole country of Iran is consumed with revenge… If you’re asking yourself, ‘Will there be attacks on America?’ I think there’s much more likely to be attacks now with his death. But you also have to ask, if anybody thinks there’s a possibility that diplomacy would work, how’s it going to work when you kill the major general of another country?”

As we hurtle toward the 2020 presidential election, another question to consider: “Is America safer today than it was before Trump was elected?” Chaos cannot govern a country that remains free.

Iran’s Top General Killed In US Airstrike, Could ‘Put Americans At Risk’ | TODAY [2020-01-03]

Iran attacks U.S. forces as Trump prepares to address crisis | CBS News [2020-01-08]

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