Read: It wasn’t the law that stopped other presidents from killing Soleimani
The public still doesn’t have good clarity on how, why, and when the president made the call to kill Soleimani in an air strike on January 3, but a picture is gradually emerging. The Washington Post reports that “Trump’s decision to approve the killing of Iran’s top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, [came] at the urging of [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and Vice President [Mike] Pence.” Pompeo in particular had been pushing for a more violent response to Iran for months, and was deeply disappointed when Trump abruptly called off a punitive air strike last summer.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reports, top Pentagon officials were “stunned” by Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani, the most extreme of several options. In the favored patois of the military, initialisms, this smacks of CYA: Having offered the president this option, commanders now seem to be backing away from it. Nonetheless, it also indicates differences of judgment between Cabinet secretaries and the military.
This sounds a lot like the run-up to the Iraq War. We now know that Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and others in the Bush White House had been seeking regime change in Iraq from the start of the administration. Soon after the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld began seeking a pretext to begin a war with Iraq. But some military commanders were wary. By 2002, the U.S. was already engaged in a war in Afghanistan, attempting to root out Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, which had perpetrated the attacks. Some generals questioned the wisdom of launching another major war, or argued that the U.S. would need a much larger armed force than the administration intended to send. Dissenters, including Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, were forced out.
In the Trump administration, there’s already been an exodus of defense officials who challenge the president. Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned roughly a year ago after a disagreement about Syria policy. Brett McGurk, the top envoy for fighting the Islamic State, also quit. On Monday, Pentagon Chief of Staff Eric Chewning, a Shanahan hire, resigned, though no reason was immediately offered for his departure.*
Conor Friedersdorf: Trump can’t handle a war of choice
To bring the public around to support the war in Iraq, the Bush administration offered a range of justifications. By misconstruing, twisting, or concocting intelligence, the White House overstated the Iraqi weapons-of-mass destruction program and warned that Saddam Hussein was on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. Bush and Cheney claimed that Hussein was closely tied to al-Qaeda, creating a putative link between the 9/11 attacks and a war in Iraq. The vice president said an American invasion would inspire celebrations in the streets of Iraq, similar to those after the Allied re-conquest of France: “We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators,” he said on Meet the Press.