Home/Daniel Larison/The Administration’s Assassination Defense Collapses

The Administration’s Assassination Defense Collapses

The Washington Postreported on Friday that there was a second assassination ordered to kill another IRGC commander on the same day as the Soleimani assassination. The other attempt took place in Yemen:

On the day the U.S. military killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad, U.S. forces carried out another top-secret mission against a senior Iranian military official in Yemen, according to U.S. officials.

The strike targeting Abdul Reza Shahlai, a financier and key commander in Iran’s elite Quds Force who has been active in Yemen, did not result in his death, according to four U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The unsuccessful operation may indicate that the Trump administration’s killing of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani last week was part of a broader operation than previously explained, raising questions about whether the mission was designed to cripple the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or solely to prevent an imminent attack on Americans as originally stated.

The Trump administration’s official explanation for the decision to assassinate Soleimani has completely fallen apart in less than two weeks. The “imminent” attack explanation has been unraveling from the moment that the administration started making the claim. The administration cannot provide proof for their claim to anyone, including members of Congress in a classified briefing, and presumably that is because no proof exists. The “imminent” attack justification was cooked up to hide the illegality of what they did, but it was such a poor deception that it crumbled under the slightest scrutiny.

Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent comment on the findings in the report:

In an interview, Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told us there’s “no doubt” in his mind that the assassination of Soleimani and the effort to target Shahlai are part of a wider effort that’s mostly being concealed from Congress.

“The more you hear, the more you realize that you’ve been fed a bunch of untruths,” Engel told us. “Was Shahlai an imminent threat? I think not.”

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, added that this news badly complicates the rationale offered for the Soleimani killing.

It was also not a “defensive” action. It was one of two attacks that the U.S. launched because the president chose to attack. Not only have the president and other top administration officials been lying about the reason for the first strike, but the second attempted assassination shows that the Trump administration apparently believes they can attack Iranian military leaders wherever they may be in the region. That implies that the administration doesn’t see the strike on Soleimani as an isolated case, but as something that they can do to other IRGC commanders no matter where they are or what they are doing.

That brings us back to the point that Jim Webb made in his recent op-ed: it was a mistake to treat a branch of another state’s military as if it were a terrorist organization. Because Trump designated the IRGC as a whole, he now seems to think that he can order attacks on them at will without so much as mentioning it to Congress, but the president has to have Congressional authorization before he orders attacks on another state’s armed forces. In short, the administration thinks that it is acceptable to commit acts of war against the Iranian government without even telling Congress what they are doing. That is an outrageous and dangerous abuse of presidential power, and it can’t be tolerated.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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