How much did Trump really know about the killing of Qassem Soleimani?

Abdullah Muradoglu

The U.S. killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, one of Iran’s most influential political and military figures, during an attack in Baghdad, escalated regional tensions to a fever pitch. Soleimani was the engineer of Iran’s regional operations. Soleimani, whom Time magazine listed among the “100 most influential people in the world,” was as popular among the Shiites of the region as he was in Iran. The killing of Soleimani, who was known to be like a son to Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei, will, of course, have grave consequences.

If we were to look at U.S. media, despite U.S. President Donald Trump accepting responsibility for the attack, there are doubts about whether he knew the target was Soleimani. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims that Gen. Soleimani was preparing for a major attack on U.S. forces. Pompeo refraining from making a statement with respect to the source of this claim is telling. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said there are signs that Iran or its deputies are planning new attacks against U.S. forces, and that they have hence taken preventive measures. Trump, on the other hand, defended that Soleimani was assassinated “not to start war but to stop a war.”

Trump, who withdrew the U.S. from the “Iran Nuclear Deal,” has been saying all along that while carrying on a “maximum pressure policy” against Iran, the door to “negotiation” is always open. Therefore, Soleimani’s assassination contradicts Trump’s said policy. The hawk Republicans surrounding Trump, primarily Senators Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, welcomed Soleimani’s death.

Trump had promised to withdraw U.S. troops from the “stupid wars” in the Middle East. At the current point, the U.S. is yet to retreat from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. As a matter of fact, the number of U.S. troops in the region has been further increased. Those who most objected to Trump withdrawing the U.S. from Iraq and Syria were American neocons, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Hence, Trump could not go any further regarding this topic than “one step forward, two steps back.”

Soleimani was at the top of Israel’s target list. However, Israel wants the U.S. to do the work for it. Trump had annulled the “Iran Nuclear Deal” not based on the information from the U.S. Intelligence Committee, but on so-called intelligence provided by Israel. When Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that they had intelligence that Iran had violated the conditions of the nuclear deal, Trump considered these claims valid.

In her article for The American Conservative, Kelley Beaucar Vlahos says that nobody should be surprised if Israel is found to be behind the intelligence shown as justification for Pentagon’s attack. Vlahos, a journalist known for her criticisms aimed at the “American Military-Industrial Complex,” questions the reasons presented to justify the assassination. Vlahos is not alone; numerous American writers are interpreting the “assassination of Soleimani” with reference to the false reasons shown as basis for the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

James Antle, an editor at The American Conservative magazine, draws attention to Trump’s foreign policy team’s eagerness to turn the “proxy wars with Iran” into a broader conflict. According to Antle, who stated that Trump, by saying “America first”, prevented circles that want “endless wars”, the current situation carries high risk of war with Iran; and contrary to Trump’s claim, the U.S. military mission is not limited to Daesh.

Those who have been following this column will remember our frequent emphasis that Trump will not pull out U.S. troops “from wars that are not America’s.” We had also drawn attention to the need to anticipate certain traps and provocations to ensure Trump withdraws U.S. troops. The Soleimani assassination shows the fine details of the traps.