Why Pence's falsehood about Soleimani and 9/11 matters

If the facts were already on the White House's side, Pence wouldn't find it necessary to falsely connect Qassem Soleimani to 9/11.
Image: Final Presidential Debate Between Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump Held In Las Vegas
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By Steve Benen

The day after Donald Trump directed the military to target and kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Vice President Mike Pence tried to bolster the White House's case with a specific claim. The Quds Force general, Pence argued, "assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States."

As the New York Times explained, this is not an argument to be taken seriously.

How Mr. Pence arrived at this number and this account is unclear. From what is commonly known about General Suleimani and the group of men who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, their paths did not cross.

To start, many observers were quick to point out that 19 terrorists, not 12, were involved in the attacks. Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for Mr. Pence, clarified that he was referring to a subset of 12 of the attackers who are known to have traveled through Iran to Afghanistan.

It's true that the 9/11 Commission found that some of terrorists passed through Iran, but there's nothing connecting Soleimani to the hijackers or Iran's border policies. On the contrary, the 9/11 Commission "found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack."

Soleimani's name does not appear in the 9/11 Commission's report.

Indeed, the very idea doesn't appear to make sense: there's no reason Soleimani, a leader of Shiite force, would "assist" Sunni terrorists. Soleimani was actually a fierce opponent of Saudi Arabia, where most of the 9/11 hijackers were from.

But given the broader circumstances, the fact that Pence made a highly dubious claim is less important than why he made it.

It's possible that there are legal considerations at play. As a Washington Post analysis noted, the administration may be looking for legal justifications for last week's airstrike, and it likely sees value in tying the offensive to the 2001 AUMF (authorization for the use of military force), which empowers the White House to use "appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

But let's also not overlook the domestic political debate. Team Trump wants the public to support the president's incredibly dangerous strategy toward Iran, and the White House is likely aware of the fact that most Americans were wholly unaware of Soleimani before last week. It's against this backdrop that Pence -- or whoever writes his tweets -- told the public there's reason to connect Soleimani to 9/11, reality be damned, perhaps hoping the public wouldn't know the difference.

If the facts were already on the White House's side, dishonesty like this wouldn't be necessary. It reeks of desperation, and speaks volumes about the merits of the administration's case in defense of last week's deadly gambit.

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