Shoulda known it would all come back to John Bolton! After a weekend where Donald Trump dispatched defense secretary Mark Esper to twist in the wind on national television trying to justify the attack on Qassim Soleimani as arising from some "imminent" threat, NBC reports that we actually planned the hit on the Iranian general a full seven months ago when John Bolton was still the national security advisor.

After Iran shot down a U.S. drone in June, John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser at the time, urged Trump to retaliate by signing off on an operation to kill Soleimani, officials said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also wanted Trump to authorize the assassination, officials said.

But Trump rejected the idea, saying he'd take that step only if Iran crossed his red line: killing an American. The president's message was "that's only on the table if they hit Americans," according to a person briefed on the discussion.

So that would be a targeted killing in response to retrospective Iranian action, not an action to prevent a prospective plot to kill Americans. And perhaps it was the right choice. But who can form a rational opinion when everything that comes out of the administration is a distortion to conform to the president's most recent lie?

The New York Times reports that CIA Director Gina Haspel was looking at a "mosaic" of intel suggesting that Soleimani was ramping up for a new campaign of attacks aimed at dislodging American forces from Iraq.

Nonetheless, Ms. Haspel was convinced there was evidence of a coming attack and argued the consequences of not striking General Suleimani were more dangerous than waiting, officials said. While others worried about reprisals, she reassured colleagues that Iran's response would be measured. Indeed, she predicted the most likely response would be an ineffectual missile strike from Iran on Iraqi bases where American troops were stationed.

Haspel's record on torture notwithstanding, she's a career professional who appears to have gotten it right about the Iranian response. Iran may take revenge at some future point, but it did fire off a volley of "ineffectual" missiles before beating a hasty retreat. At least in the short term, killing Soleimani appears not to have provoked a hot war.

And perhaps if the president had deigned to explain the intelligence justification to the Gang of Eight, as he is obliged to do by law, we wouldn't be in this situation. But we're governed by a pants-shitting toddler who can't work and play well with others and is incapable of telling the truth. So instead, Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley raced out to claim a specific threat which was so "imminent" that it defeated the requirement to tell the Gang of Eight "as soon as possible after such approval and before the initiation of the covert action." Which required them to lie, since they all knew the action had been planned for months and was finally triggered by the December 27 killing of American contractor Nawres Hamid in a missile strike by Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah.

According to the Times, Milley insisted in the congressional briefing (days after the attack, of course) that the US had to kill Soleimani on January 3, 2020, to prevent specific planned attacks in December of 2019. Which is not even how linear time works! And that was before Donald Trump went out and extemporized to Laura Ingraham that Soleimani was planning to "blow up" the Iraqi embassy, and "I can reveal that I believe it probably would've been four embassies."

Leave aside for the moment the physical impossibility of "blowing up" America's embassy in Iraq, the largest and most heavily fortified diplomatic facility in the world, which at 104 acres is almost as large as Vatican City. Trump's inane riffing put his henchmen in an awkward position. Because Mike Pompeo is always willing to chomp down on a bullshit sandwich and call it delicious, but Mark Esper is less keen to throw his reputation on the bonfire. Which is how he wound up spending yesterday morning wandering from studio to studio saying things like, "What the President said was he believed that it probably and could have been attacks against additional embassies," to Jake Tapper and "I didn't see [evidence] with regard to four embassies. What I'm saying is I share the President's view that probably-- my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies," to Margaret Brennan.

When pressed, though, Esper insisted that he was "not going to discuss intelligence matters here on the show." Because the president's nonsensical theorizing about what might possibly maybe could have happened is somehow adequate justification for a covert attack on a foreign government official and appropriate for discussion with Laura Ingraham. But it's too top secret for Jake Tapper or, you know, the Gang of Eight.

Bolton's replacement as national security advisor, Robert O'Brien, was similarly squirrelly on the subject of the supposed threat to embassies. When George Stephanopoulos asked why our diplomatic facilities weren't placed on high alert if they were in "imminent" danger, O'Brien barfed out some macho nonsense about THESE COLORS DON'T RUN, COMMIE! And also the obligatory "Benghazi!!!!1!!!"

In the end, we all know exactly what happened here. Donald Trump is an intellectually flabby narcissist surrounded by warmongers who know just how to manipulate him. As the Times put it:

Advisers told him Iran had probably misinterpreted his previous reluctance to use force as a sign of weakness. To reestablish deterrence, he should authorize a tough response.

Donald Trump risked plunging the US into another Middle East war because Mike Pompeo said, "Everyone's laughing at you and calling you a pussy!" It's as simple as that.


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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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