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Mon Jan 13, 2020, 02:51 PM

Trump's collapsing rationalization for the Soleimani strike as 'imminent'

It is by now fair to assume that President Trump’s assertions about the rationale for ordering the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani cannot be taken at face value. The evolution of Trump’s justification presented on Fox News on Friday night — that Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on four U.S. embassies — has been severely undercut by other members of his administration, including his defense secretary’s admission that he’d seen no evidence to that effect. A president who reflexively defends an erroneous tweet about the nonexistent threat posed to Alabama by a hurricane cannot be considered a reliable source of information on matters of much more risk and significance.

Trump is fighting two fights at once as he seeks to rationalize the Soleimani strike, particularly in casting it as a response to an imminent attack by Soleimani.

The first is legal. Trump’s decision to target a senior military leader of another country sits at the fault line between his power as president and Congress’s constitutionally determined role in declaring war. The Soleimani killing doesn’t neatly overlap with historical acts of war, for a number of immediately obvious reasons, pushing the decision into something of a gray zone legally. Experts tend to agree, though, that had the drone strike that killed the Iranian military commander been intended to prevent an imminent attack on the United States, Trump is on stronger legal ground.

“An imminent threat is what you would need to justify taking an action in self-defense,” Oona Hathaway, a former national security lawyer in the Defense Department’s Office of General Counsel, told The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor last week. Writing for the Atlantic, Hathaway explained that, under both the Constitution and international law, “the threat must be so extreme and imminent that it would be unreasonable to seek the necessary approvals before taking action to defend the country.”


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