The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Soleimani’s death shouldn’t come as a surprise. We should be questioning the timing.

Trump has entered a new era of warfare by openly authorizing the assassination of another nation's military leader, using an armed drone, says David Ignatius. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Abedin Taherkenareh/The Washington Post)

It did have a wag-the-dog feel to it, a cynic might say.

With the Senate discussing plans for President Trump’s (albeit uncertain) impeachment trial, the U.S. commander in chief ordered the killing of Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, at Baghdad International Airport.

By most accounts, he deserved to die. He had American blood on his hands and was behind Iran’s deadly clandestine operations abroad. “However . . . ,” said nearly every so-called expert snagged by American news programs to comment on a variety of hypotheticals related to Iran.

Speculation was wild as a spring break: What would happen next? Would Iran, which promised revenge, attack Israel? Would Iranian citizens feel emboldened and demand regime change? Does the United States remove a sitting president so soon after what some have called an act of war?

Henry Olsen: The Soleimani assassination could have dangerous ripples around the world

From the death of a U.S. contractor, the siege of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the killing of Qasem Soleimani. Shane Harris explains how the events unfolded. (Video: The Washington Post)

In the 1997 movie “ Wag the Dog ,” the U.S. president manufactured a faux war in Albania to distract from a sex scandal just two weeks before his likely reelection. A spin doctor engaged to help manage the mess accurately predicted that the media would focus entirely on the war, forgetting all about that other inconvenience. And, voila .

Coincidentally, the comedy appeared in theaters just months before then-President Bill Clinton, enmeshed in a sex scandal of his own, sent 14 cruise missiles to pulverize the Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, on a day when Monica Lewinsky testified before a grand jury. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. Or, rather, should I say, nature imitating art? Clinton’s attack reportedly was in response to al-Qaeda’s bombing of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

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Needless to say, there’s nothing humorous about what transpired last week in Baghdad. According to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

Intelligence sources helped pinpoint Soleimani’s location. As military actions go, the killing of Soleimani was one for the textbooks. One may also find consolation in the fact that American intelligence gathering has apparently improved dramatically since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was based on bad, if widely believed, information.

What’s clear is that Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, had been instrumental in attacks against Americans and our allies for years. Given such, why wouldn’t U.S. policy be to remove him as soon as possible? Removal of bad actors is often folded into policies, such as the stated goal adopted during the Clinton administration of ousting Saddam Hussein.

Certainly, decisions of when and where are tethered to legalities and congressional oversight, depending on circumstances, as well as international considerations. The attacks of 9/11 provided an excuse to invade Iraq, to put it bluntly, under the umbrella of President George W. Bush’s fiat that our enemies thereafter would include any country that aided terrorism or sought weapons of mass destruction. The “axis of evil,” of course, included Iran.

Thus, given Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement — and his cage-rattling foreign policy — Soleimani’s death probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. A worthy speculation is: Why did it take so long?

It is disturbing, nonetheless, to consider that Trump might have been prompted to act for reasons other than the nation’s best interest — such as his being mocked by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On Wednesday, two days before the airstrike that killed Soleimani, Khamenei wrote this on Twitter:

“[Trump] has tweeted that we see Iran responsible for the events in Baghdad & we will respond to Iran. 1st: You can’t do anything. 2nd: If you were logical — which you’re not — you’d see that your crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan . . . have made nations hate you.”

Ann Telnaes: Pompeo channels Cheney

First, Trump could do something, and he certainly did. Second, be that as it may, some would argue that religious statehood defies reason.

Reactions around the world will be interesting to observe, if not very surprising. More testosterone-venting; more pistol-cocking; more threats, taunts and, yes, probably, violence. Here at home, partisans brawled and bloviated as expected:

“[The] Trump Admin owes a full explanation of airstrike reports,” tweeted Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) chimed in, “To the Iranian government: if you want more, you will get more.”

Were we not entertaining the possibility of military mayhem, such Twitter posturing would send comedy writers scurrying to their keyboards. Then again, maybe first drafts have already arrived in agents’ inboxes. If America loves anything more than a good war, it’s a sequel — but preferably on the big screen, served with dark humor and a side of popcorn.

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Jennifer Rubin: Trump has raised strategic incoherence to new levels with Soleimani’s killing

Greg Sargent: Trump’s Iran strike demands a serious response from Democrats

Max Boot: Trump just upped the ante in the Middle East. Is he ready for what comes next?

Marc A. Thiessen: In killing Soleimani, Trump enforces the red line he drew on Iran

Jason Rezaian: All Iranians can agree on one thing: No one wants a war

Alexandra Petri: Whatever happens with Iran, I’m confident Donald Trump can get us through it

Hugh Hewitt: Trump ’s killing of Soleimani had to be done to protect American lives