Although violent tensions have somewhat simmered down in the region for now, the United States and world are still grappling with the ramifications of President Donald Trump’s abruptly ordered assassination of top Iranian General (and political leader) Qassem Soleimani. In defense of the strike, President Trump himself claimed to Fox News host Laura Ingraham that Soleimani had been plotting attacks against four U.S. Embassies — but this weekend on Face The Nation, Defense Secretary Mark Esper brazenly admitted that there’s no actual evidence for that. In other words, yet again an explanation for this brazen recklessness has come up majorly short.
Esper started with a self-confident assertion of the supposed “imminent” threat from Soleimani, explaining:
‘What the president said is that there probably and could have been attacks against additional embassies. I shared that view, I know other members of the national security team shared that view — that’s why I deployed thousands of American paratroopers to the Middle East to reinforce our embassy in Baghdad and other sites throughout the region.’
That makes for great talking points — but it does not cover an actually imminent threat to U.S. interests justifying the political and security volatility into which Trump has plunged the U.S. with Soleimani’s death.
Host Margaret Brennan pointed out:
‘Probably and could have been — that sounds more like an assessment than a specific, tangible threat with a decisive piece of intelligence.’
Esper’s best defense was that we shouldn’t actually take the president’s words as based on any actual evidence. That’s not reassuring! That leaves nothing driving the president’s actions other than the whims of a narcissist.
‘Well the president didn’t say that it was a tangible — he didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence.’
‘Are you saying there wasn’t one?’
Yes, that’s what he was saying, he admitted. Esper continued:
‘I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies. What I am saying is that I shared the president’s view is that probably, my expectation was that they were going to go after our embassies.’
NEWS: @EsperDod tells @margbrennan he "didn't see" specific evidence showing Iran planned to strike 4 U.S. embassies, despite @realDonaldTrump saying an attack at multiple embassies was “imminent." Watch more of Esper's interview on @FacetheNation today. pic.twitter.com/1Nud8waok1
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) January 12, 2020
In other words — again, this entire operation was founded on a whim. The Defense Secretary admitted, on national television no less, that there’s no direct evidence for the president’s claims, despite those claims driving dangerous military engagement.
The Soleimani assassination followed an attack from an Iranian-backed militia on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, but that, in turn, followed a U.S. attack on the militia that killed some of its members. Suggesting that attacks would have spiraled well beyond that level implies an accusation that the Iranians were essentially preparing for all-out war with the United States. That’s a grave accusation! And there’s no apparent tangible, direct evidence for it.
In response to those in Congress who’ve pointed to the lack of an imminent threat justifying the Soleimani strike, Esper claimed that only Congressional leaders got the most directly relevant intelligence — but he just admitted that there’s not even much of that there. In other words, heading into the 2020 presidential election, there’s a lot on the line.