When Donald Trump authorized the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the reason given was that the Iranian general was a critical part of what was described as an “imminent attack” that threatened the lives of hundreds of Americans. It was that need for a prompt response that provided the basis for why Trump took an action that would almost certainly be seen as an act of war, without consulting Congress. And it’s that idea of an imminent attack that’s been so utterly lacking in evidence that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has decided to simply redefine “imminent.”
After first going with the pretense that there was intelligence he just could not share with the public, on Thursday Pompeo gestured toward the idea that what created the need to kill Soleimani on Jan. 2 was actually an attack that happened on Dec. 27. In a Thursday night appearance on Fox, Pompeo doubled down on that idea, speaking again about the death of an American contractor in a rocket attack that had already passed. Then Pompeo went with the idea that there hadn’t just been one attack in the works, saying, “There were a series of imminent attacks.” It was just that “we don’t know when, we don’t know where.”
So, Pompeo is now claiming that Soleimani had something in the works. But he didn’t know what it was. Even more importantly, he also didn’t know when any of these attacks would be. Which means that the one thing he does know was that he didn’t know any of them were imminent.
Not only does this blow up the idea that the U.S. had to act, but it also completely negates the initial story put forward by Pompeo that there was some single big operation in the works, something that Soleimani had called back to Tehran to discuss, something that threatened hundreds of Americans in the region. What Pompeo is saying now is little more than that Soleimani was a bad guy, so he had to die. Which isn’t an act to address an imminent threat. It’s simply vengeance.
Most notable of all, Pompeo’s statement directly contradicts the information bombshell that Trump delivered on Thursday when he claimed that Soleimani intended to blow up the U.S. embassy in Iraq—a claim that itself contradicts the evidence that was given to members of Congress in what even Republicans have described as the worst military briefing ever.
None of this is happening because Mike Pompeo is protecting delicate intelligence sources, or is confused over the meaning of “imminent.” It’s happening because the idea that Trump had justification for going after Soleimani that was sufficient to risk drawing America into an expansive war in the Middle East was simply a lie from the beginning.
At Trump’s Thursday night rally, Mike Pence joined Trump in confusing an imminent attack with something that had already happened. “When one American life was lost at the hands of Iranian-backed militias just a few short weeks ago,” said Pence, “POTUS launched the first airstrikes against them in ten years.” That’s not protecting Americans from an imminent attack. That’s an act of retribution.
In his statement, Pompeo said that “if you want imminence,” there was nothing more imminent than something that had already happened. Which isn’t just a lie; it’s a deliberate attempt to confuse the issue. Something that already happened isn’t the most imminent, because it isn’t imminent at all. Pence knows that.
Just as he knows that Trump never had any evidence to support an action that the military regarded as extreme and outside the range of reasonable response.