Late last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo justified the U.S. airstrike on Qassim Soleimani, commander of Iran's Quds Force, by claiming there was intelligence showing an "imminent attack." Asked to substantiate those claims, the Trump administration has, at least publicly, offered effectively nothing.
The problem is not just the Team Trump's record of habitual lying and absence of credibility. The New York Times reported over the weekend that there were "disputes" within the administration about the "significance" of the intelligence. The same article added that some officials "voiced private skepticism about the rationale" behind the strike, with one describing the U.S. intelligence as "thin."
It was against this backdrop that Pompeo spoke to reporters this morning at the State Department, where he was pressed for some kind of proof to back up his rhetoric. The cabinet secretary again came up short.
...American officials have failed to provide any evidence to show what might have been targeted, or how soon an attack was expected."If you're looking for imminence, you need look no further than the days that led up to the strike that was taken against Suleimani," Mr. Pompeo told reporters at the State Department on Tuesday.
It's worth pausing to appreciate how little sense this makes.
In "the days that led up to" the airstrike that killed the Iranian general, there was considerable unrest in Baghdad, where large groups of Iraqis held enraged protests at the U.S. embassy in response to earlier U.S. airstrikes, which came in response to the death of an American contractor in Iraq.
In time, those protests dissipated. They do not represent evidence of an "imminent attack."
Similarly, in the days before the airstrike targeting Soleimani, there was deadly violence in Syria and Lebanon, but that's not evidence of an "imminent attack," either. The whole point of the word "imminent" is that it's prospective, not retrospective. Those looking for evidence of something that's poised to happen in the future shouldn't necessarily look backwards.
It remains possible that the Trump administration had reliable, actionable intelligence, which justified last week's offensive, and warranted the president's profoundly dangerous gamble. I'm highly skeptical, but of course it's possible.
But it doesn't inspire confidence to hear Pompeo and his colleagues struggle to present any evidence, or even talk about this in mildly persuasive ways.
All of which again leads us to a familiar point: if the official White House line about the reason for the attack appears dubious, we're left to wonder about the actual motivation for Donald Trump doing what he did.