'Insulting' briefing exposes Trump's hollow policy on Iran

Trump and his team don't have a compelling explanation for the Soleimani airstrike. Or a strategy. Or a policymaking process. Or a vision for the road ahead.
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By Steve Benen

It's been a week since a U.S. airstrike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, touching off a crisis in the region, and there's been no shortage of questions about why, exactly, Donald Trump launched the mission. Yesterday, administration officials went to Capitol Hill to deliver a classified briefing to lawmakers, explaining the justification for the military offensive.

I think it's safe to say it did not go well. Congressional Democrats were amazed by how hollow the presentation was, and to a surprising degree, some of the frustrations were bipartisan.

Lawmakers came away with vastly different interpretations of two classified briefings that top Trump administration officials held Wednesday about the airstrike last week that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with two Republican senators sharply criticizing the officials.

"It was probably the worst briefing I've seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.

The Utah Republican, whom no one has ever accused of being a moderate, added that the administration's presentation was "insulting and demeaning." Lee went on to tell reporters after the briefing that Trump administration officials suggested to lawmakers that debate over the president's policy is itself dangerous and should be avoided to prevent "emboldening" Iran.

That is, of course, an indefensible attitude in a free society and in a political system with checks and balances. But the fact that Team Trump peddled such a line, while failing to make a compelling case for the Soleimani mission, underscores the emptiness of the White House's position.

As Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) put it after yesterday afternoon's session, "We did not get information inside that briefing that there was a specific, imminent threat that we were halting by conducting that operation.... I think it is likely because [that information] doesn't exist."

It was around this time that Vice President Mike Pence's office postponed the speech he was scheduled to deliver next week, explaining the president's elusive policy toward Iran.

So let's take stock. A week after Trump green-lit a dangerous and highly provocative mission in the Middle East, he and his team don't have a compelling explanation for why the president targeted and killed an Iranian general.

They also don't have a strategy for U.S. policy toward Iran and/or discernible objectives.

They also don't have a deliberative policymaking process.

They also don't have a vision for the road ahead.

They also don't have a competent and experienced team in place.

They also don't have a clue as to how to stop Iran from advancing its nuclear program, which is poised to advance without the constraints that the Obama administration put it place.

This is what Amateur Hour looks like with lives on the line.

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