US President Donald Trump on Monday defended his decision to order the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, which he said was justified because of the Iranian’s “horrible” actions in the past.
Trump’s claims that an “imminent threat” to four unspecified embassies were part of the reason for the US drone strike that killed Soleimani have come under attack as flimsy. On Sunday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he did not know of any hard evidence about an attack plot.
Responding to criticism that he was reckless in ordering the killing of Soleimani — by some counts the second most important figure in the Iranian regime — Trump again insisted that there’d been an imminent threat.
“The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was “imminent” or not, and was my team in agreement. The answer to both is a strong YES.,” Trump tweeted.
However, he added that “it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!”
The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was “imminent” or not, & was my team in agreement. The answer to both is a strong YES., but it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2020
Trump also painted his Democratic opponents as pro-Iranian stooges and retweeted a faked picture of two top party leaders in Muslim garb.
Trump’s latest assault on the senior Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi followed criticism of his ordering of the strike on Soleimani.
“Anything I do, whether it’s the economy, military, or anything else, will be scorned by the Rafical Left, Do Nothing Democrats!” Trump fumed on Twitter, misspelling “Radical.”
— داون آندر (@D0wn_Under) January 13, 2020
Last week, Trump told a reelection campaign rally that Pelosi and other Democrats could not be trusted with classified information in cases like the killing of Soleimani.
The US killing of Soleimani near the airport in the Iraqi capital Baghdad earlier this month stoked fears of war across the region, though these have somewhat receded in recent days.
Trump insists that Soleimani had to be killed to prevent an imminent attack on four US embassies. As commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps elite Quds force, Soleimani was responsible for Iranian operations across the Middle East and around the world.
However, senior administration officials have given varied accounts, leading Democrats to question the whole episode, which comes on the eve of Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
In his Monday tweets, Trump claimed the Democrats and what he calls “the Fake News” media were “trying to make terrorist Soleimani into a wonderful guy, only because I did what should have been done for 20 years.”
NBC News reported Monday that Trump had authorized Soleimani’s killing seven months ago, but conditioned it on fresh Iranian aggression causing the death of an American.
Citing five current and former senior Trump administration officials, the report said that the president retained the right to have the final say on any operation to take out Soleimani.
“There have been a number of options presented to the president over the course of time,” a senior administration official said, one of which was killing Soleimani.
The directive, from June, is what enabled a strike on Soleimani to be an immediate option as the US sought ways to respond to recent attacks by Iranian proxies in Iraq which killed a US contractor and injured four US service members, the sources said.
The officials revealed that after Iran shot down a US drone in June, then national security adviser John Bolton urged Trump to approve killing Soleimani. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also in favor of slaying the Iranian general.
However, Trump turned down the idea at the time, the NBC report said, insisting that he would only target Soleimani if an American was killed.
Another official said that when Trump first came to power, Pompeo, then director of the CIA, pressed the president to be more aggressive toward Soleimani after presenting the him with intelligence the official described as “very serious threats that didn’t come to fruition.”
Killing Soleimani was also discussed by administration security officials in 2017 but “was not something that was thought of as a first move,” in Washington’s policy of pressuring Iran to renegotiate a 2015 nuclear deal, a former administration official said.
The White House and the National Security Council did not respond for comment. Bolton and the State Department also declined to comment, the report said.
Tensions between the US and Iran have escalated ever since Washington in 2018 pulled out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a deal that saw Iran scale back its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
The Trump administration says the deal does not go far enough in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and doesn’t address its missile development program. After pulling out of the deal, Washington slapped strict sanctions on Iran, particularly targeting its oil industry, ravaging the Iranian economy.