We’re now four days past the transformation of Qasem Soleimani from debonair terrorist thug who could bring tears to the eyes of New York Times reporters by reciting poetry into about 50 pounds of hackfleisch and scraps of cloth, and the tick-tock accounts are beginning to appear. The Washington Post has a decent one, I’ll hit that later today, but the New York Times account is much richer in detail. This is not to say that it is more accurate, or even accurate at all, because one of the contributors to that story, Rukmini Callimachi, posted a truly bizarre Twitter thread yesterday that claimed that the Soleimani strike was done with very little cause and for the purpose of distracting from impeachment. Her presence indicates a strong anti-Trump and pro-conspiracy bent is in the article. Like virtually all New York Times stories covering the Trump administration, this one is vaguely sourced and the reader has no idea whatsoever of the person’s level of knowledge of the events.
According to this narrative, President Trump was presented with a menu of options for possible actions to take after Iranian proxies rocketed a US military installation, killing a civilian contractor and wounding other personnel.
General Milley and Mr. Esper traveled on Sunday to Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s Palm Beach resort, a day after officials presented the president with an initial list of options for how to deal with escalating violence against American targets in Iraq.
The options included strikes on Iranian ships or missile facilities or against Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq. The Pentagon also tacked on the choice of targeting General Suleimani, mainly to make other options seem reasonable.
Mr. Trump chose strikes against militia groups. On Sunday, the Pentagon announced that airstrikes approved by the president had struck three locations in Iraq and two in Syria controlled by the group, Kataib Hezbollah.
Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said the targets included weapons storage facilities and command posts used to attack American and partner forces. About two dozen militia fighters were killed.
This is where I think the account begins to go off the rails. Presenting the principal, the boss, with unpalatable decisions to steer them towards the preferred decision is a time-honored staff technique. That should never be done as a “tack on,” and would only be done as such by rank amateurs because you always have to be prepared to act on whatever option is chosen. If someone did “tack on” killing Soleimani thinking it was too outlandish to be considered, then the whole decisionmaking process on the Joint Staff is irreparably broken because such an addition for sh**s-and-grins is deeply dishonest and disloyal and whoever pulled such a stunt should be publicly identified and cashiered from the service.
Is it possible? Of course.
Given the level to which the ranks of the civil service and senior military officers have been transformed from a non-partisan professional corps loyally carrying out the directions of the president into a Democrat-owned attack dog under the Obama Administration, you can easily see scenario in which an extreme option was presented to President Trump, thinking that he wouldn’t choose it, in order to leak to the press that Option X was recommended but the gutless Orange Man went for a much less useful Option Y. Keep in mind the immediate leak of President Trump’s decision to not hit Iranian targets after they shot down one of our drones last summer and how that was portrayed as Trump losing his nerve.
Is it likely? We have no way of knowing.
According to the NYT narrative, after the US embassy was attacked, Trump reached back into the range of options presented for retaliation for the rocket attack and ordered Soleimani killed.
Mr. Trump, who aides said had on his mind the specter of the 2012 attacks on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya, became increasingly angry as he watched television images of pro-Iranian demonstrators storming the embassy. Aides said he worried that no response would look weak after repeated threats by the United States.
When Mr. Trump chose the option of killing General Suleimani, top military officials, flabbergasted, were immediately alarmed about the prospect of Iranian retaliatory strikes on American troops in the region. It is unclear if General Milley or Mr. Esper pushed back on the president’s decision.
Two thoughts. First, any sane person was thinking Benghazi and the Iranian Hostage Crisis. If those images were ever out of sight of the Joint Staff planners, they should be waterboarded and sent off to pick tomatoes in California or some other Third World sh**hole. This version ignores, and it is hard to see that as an oversight, the new intelligence indicating that Soleimani was on a mission to Baghdad and not there just to make NYT reports get all swooney. I find it hard to believe that another planning cycle hadn’t already taken place, considering the new intelligence, and new range of options presented to President Trump for retaliating to the attack of or Baghdad embassy. A solid bet is that reinforcing the embassy from Kuwait and deploying a brigade of the 82d Airborne to Kuwait were options presented to the President as a part of that second planning cycle, one which included the new intelligence that something bigger was afoot.
This next part simply makes no sense.
Over the next several days, the military’s Special Operations Command looked for an opportunity to hit General Suleimani, who operated in the open and was treated like a celebrity in many places he visited in the Middle East. Military and intelligence officials said the strike drew on information from secret informants, electronic intercepts, reconnaissance aircraft and other surveillance tools.
The US embassy was attacked on Tuesday, December 31. On that same day, US Marines were deployed to Baghdad to reinforce the embassy and the 82d Airborne was ordered to sent its Immediate Reaction Force to Kuwait to standby for further orders. On January 1, the rioters withdrew from the embassy compound. On January 2, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced the “game had changed” and later that day, US time, Soleimani was killed.
For the story to work at all, President Trump could not have made the decision to hit Soleimani until sometime on December 31 after the scope of the embassy attack was known and fatuous comparisons to Benghazi became common currency. The time lapse from kill order to mission complete was just a little over 48-hours. There was literally no time for “several days” to elapse.
This is one of those things, that were I Galactic Commander, I’d appoint a special counsel to investigate this story. If the President was presented with options the Pentagon did not believe should be carried out, we need to be playing kickball with the heads of the people who pulled that stunt. But my real bet is that the sourcing here is from someone who was not involved in the planning and who is transferring their own TDS onto the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.