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War

Seven months before a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Donald Trump authorized lethal action against him. The revelation continues to erode the Trump administration’s claims that Soleimani posed an “imminent threat” to the United States.

NBC News reported on Monday that Trump authored a presidential directive in June that allowed for a strike on the Iranian general.

A senior administration official told NBC that it was “some time ago” that aides put killing Soleimani in front of Trump as part of the options available in response to Iranian hostility. According to NBC, Trump was urged by John Bolton to make the strike in June after Iran shot down a U.S. drone.

Trump reportedly told aides he would only make the strike after an American life was lost, which happened after a U.S. contractor was killed in Iraq by forces backed by the Iranians.

In the aftermath of Soleimani’s killing, Trump has claimed that the unusual action was undertaken because the general was involved in plots that were an “imminent threat” to U.S. assets and personnel.

But neither he nor senior members of his administration have presented evidence to justify the claim. Instead, they have publicly struggled to answer direct questions on the nature of the purported threat.

Trump claimed in an interview with Fox New’s Laura Ingraham on Thursday that Soleimani was targeting “four embassies,” but on Sunday, Defense Secretary Mike Esper said he hadn’t seen hard evidence of any such threat.

Members of the House and Senate who received classified briefings from the administration have publicly expressed disappointment with the presentations and indicated that the “imminent threat” has yet to be justified.

“No case was made for imminence,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told reporters after the briefing on Wednesday. The sentiment was echoed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who said the information he was given at the briefing was “a far cry from what I consider to be an imminent threat.”

The skepticism about Trump’s decision making, as well as his decision not to inform congressional leaders ahead of the strike, led to a House vote in favor of restraining Trump’s war powers. The measure was supported by members of both parties.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Donald Trump’s administration has been a fountain of lies from his first day in office. But the U.S. attack that killed a top Iranian commander promises to turn that fountain into a tsunami.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the drone strike on the Baghdad airport was urgent because intelligence indicated Qassem Soleimani presented “imminent threats to American lives.” But Pompeo was curiously unwilling to supply evidence.

The New York Times reported, “According to one United States official, the new intelligence indicated ‘a normal Monday in the Middle East’ — Dec. 30 — and General Soleimani’s travels amounted to ‘business as usual.'” The Washington Post divulged that Pompeo had been pressing Trump to kill Soleimani for months.

Why should anyone believe anything the secretary of state says? He was deliberately misleading Sunday when he scoffed at the idea that Trump might order the destruction of Iranian cultural sites — something the president had threatened before and reiterated even after Pompeo denied it.

Trump himself has been a paragon of dishonesty on Iran, even more than on most subjects. He pulled out of the nuclear deal, which he falsely said Iran was violating. Under the agreement, he said, Iran would “free to go ahead and create nuclear weapons” after seven years. In fact, it stipulated “that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.”

He tweeted that Barack Obama “gave Iran 150 Billion Dollars and got nothing.” Obama agreed to unfreeze Iran’s own assets, which amounted to a fraction of that amount, in exchange for the effective dismantling of its nuclear program.

Americans should know by now that when our leaders take us into wars, they will do it on the basis of disinformation. President Lyndon Johnson got the authority to escalate in Vietnam by exploiting a minor 1964 naval incident in the Tonkin Gulf to accuse North Vietnam of “open aggression on the high seas” — which was false.

Johnson campaigned that year on a promise not to “send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” In 1965, he did exactly that. His successor, Richard Nixon, expanded the war with a lengthy bombing campaign in neighboring Cambodia, undertaken in secrecy.

Like Johnson and Nixon, this president and his subordinates believe that deceit is the best way to gain support for military action. Mike Pence said Soleimani’s killing was justified because his Quds Force assisted al-Qaida in the 9/11 attacks — a conclusion firmly rejected by the 9/11 Commission, appointed by George W. Bush.

But Pence took a lesson from the Bush administration, which justified the Iraq War on the spurious claim that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Repetition of the charge soon convinced most Americans, though Bush himself later had to admit it was baseless.

Obama felt no compulsion to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan, which he promised to end in his first 16 months but never did. A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction quoted an Obama National Security Council official on the administration’s repeated claims of progress: “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

Obama justified his intervention in the Libyan civil war as a way to prevent the slaughter of civilians, but eventually — without saying so — expanded the mission to regime change.

During World War I, the leftist writer Randolph Bourne argued that “war is the health of the state.” What has become clear since then is that war depends on deception – about the reasons for committing to combat, the reasons for continuing to fight when it goes badly and the reasons the effort was necessary despite its ultimate failure.

Politicians realize that if citizens are to be mobilized in support of wars of choice, they must be fed a diet of lies. Even that may not work: Last summer, a Gallup Poll found that only 18 percent of Americans favored military action against Iran. A HuffPost/YouGov survey found that only 43 percent approved of the strike against Soleimani.

But if public support doesn’t materialize, we can be sure the administration will concoct more fictions. There is a long history of presidential mendacity when it comes to matters of war. No one is better suited to uphold that tradition than Trump.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.