At a time when Trump needs credibility most, he's already destroyed it on the world stage
Why now? is the question everyone is asking. Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the top Iranian commander that the U.S. just assassinated, isn’t a new figure or new threat by any means.
“We’ve had a bead on this guy for more than a decade and we’ve tracked him and followed him for more than a decade,” New York Times Pentagon correspondent Helene Cooper told MSNBC Friday, “and both President Bush and President Obama made decisions not to assassinate him and not to strike him because they were afraid of where this could lead.”
Now that Donald Trump has taken the polar opposite tack, Cooper added, “The Pentagon is still scrambling right now to tell a story of, Why now? The ‘Why now?’ is sort of a central question that the Trump administration hasn’t really explained.” Cooper said she wasn’t sure there was any “game plan at this point” in the aftermath of the strike that killed Soleimani.
The lack of administration planning has been particularly evident in the fact that the administration failed to brief the Gang of Eight congressional leaders in advance of the strike, along with the notable absence of administration officials who were prepared to explain the strike shortly after its execution. In fact, all that was presented in the immediate aftermath of the attack was an American flag tweeted out by Trump, who as of 3:00 pm ET Friday had yet to address the nation about the strike in any real way. But Trump pinned that flag tweet to the top of his Twitter page, so ’nuff said, apparently.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s David Ignatius echoed Cooper’s bafflement on MSNBC, saying, “I’m troubled by all the things we don’t know about where the administration is going.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been trying to sell the notion that killing Soleimani was an absolutely necessary deterrent to future attacks. “The risk of doing nothing was enormous,” Pompeo told Fox News Friday morning, claiming that Soleimani was plotting an “imminent” attack and that doing nothing “shows weakness” and “emboldens Iran.”
But as the administration tries to reverse-engineer a rationale for an operation that risks spiraling into an all-out military conflict in the Gulf region, Trump needs the one thing that he’s already spent a thousand times over: credibility. Trump has now made more than 15,000 false or misleading statements since the beginning of his presidency. He’s also in the middle of a high-profile impeachment scandal as he continues to trumpet a baseless conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and is hiding a DNC server—something every global power with an intelligence operation knows is laughable. In the meantime, Trump’s attorney general has been trotting around the globe seeking information from foreign allies to buttress another disproven Trump claim—that the FBI’s Russia probe was ill-conceived. It’s a global embarrassment, with the U.S. Justice Department by all appearances turning on the CIA. Trump is indeed such a political joke right now that foreign leaders were recently caught on video giggling about him together at the latest NATO gathering in December.
As national security expert and legal analyst Susan Hennessey noted Friday morning, “This is the moment where the White House will pay the price for demolishing its credibility with endless lies. Who will believe Pompeo this morning? Is the United States prepared to show the evidence behind this claim to our partners or the public?”
It appears no one in the entire Trump administration bothered to think about that ahead of pulling the trigger on a military operation that is already upending the region and could result in a spiraling conflict with no end in sight.