Trump ordered the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, carried out late last week via a drone strike at Baghdad international airport. There’s no gainsaying that Soleimani was a ruthless leader who orchestrated bloody militia violence throughout the region. But the leaders of the current U.S. administration are distorting his record — even as they’re asking for Americans to trust that the killing was necessary to preempt what Trump called “imminent and sinister attacks” on U.S. interests.
Pence got the ball rolling Friday in a series of tweets enumerating the “worst atrocities” of an “evil man,” in which he painted General Soleimani as part of the 9/11 plot. In the eleventh tweet of his thread, Pence asserted Soleimani had:
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.
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) January 3, 2020
Pence’s math is muddled of course. There were 19 hijackers on 9/11 — and all but one of them were from Iran’s religious and geopolitical rival, Saudi Arabia.
Far more important and disturbing: Pence’ implication that Iran was involved in the 9/11 plot was explicitly debunked by the 9/11 Commission, the formal federal inquest that followed the terrorist attack. Al Qaeda members, including future 9/11 hijackers, did transit through Iran to Afghanistan because the country did not stamp Saudi passports at the time. But the commission concluded: “We have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack,” and it noted: “At the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their operation.” The commission report does not include any mention of Soleimani.
The White House did not respond to a request for a source on Pence’s tweet. Pence’s press secretary, Katie Waldman, responded on Twitter with a link to a State Department document:
— Katie Waldman (@VPPressSec) January 4, 2020
Yet this report also does not corroborate Pence’s tweet. It restates that Iran had allowed “several of the 9/11 hijackers, to transit its territory on their way to Afghanistan for training and operational planning,” but it does not name Soleimani.
In short, the administration has provided no evidence that Soleimani personally assisted the transit of future 9/11 hijackers. And the formal investigation into the 9/11 attacks absolves Iran of fore-knowledge and operational involvement in the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Whatever other sins Soleimani may have committed, he was not to blame for this atrocity.
For his part, Trump threw conspiratorial fuel on the fire. In the aftermath of the drone strike, Trump retweeted a claim that Soleimani had orchestrated the 2012 attack on diplomats in Benghazi, Libya. Trump retweeted a claim by Jack Prosobiec — an alt-right troll infamous for backing the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory — that Soleimani was “responsible for Benghazi”:
Did You Know:
Soleimani planned the 2012 attacks in Libya because he knew about the gun running to Syrian rebels that was going on out of the CIA Annex
He was responsible for Benghazi
And now he is dead
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) January 3, 2020
In fact, this claim is contradicted by the findings of the Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi, which concluded in its 800 page 2016 report that: “The Committee found no evidence of involvement by the Iranian government, specifically he Iranian Revolutionary Guard-Quds Force (IRGC–QF),” which Soleimani led.
The fringe Iran-did-Benghazi theory springs from a book published by the president of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran. This outfit sounds authoritative, but its website looks like it was designed in GeoCities, and its advisory board is stocked with notoriously unreliable neocons, including former Defense Department official Frank Gaffney and former CIA director James Woolsey — both of whom touted debunked theories seeking to blame Iraq for 9/11.
For anyone who lived through the build-up to the Iraq war (or unpacked the official lies that were used to justify that conflict), the misinformation now coming from this White House is an unwelcome flashback. But we should not be surprised. While Pence has less of a reputation for lying than the president, he participated in the deceptions of the Iraq conflict, declaring on the House floor following the invasion that WMD had been found in Iraq. (What had been discovered were retired stockpiles from Iraq’s long-shuttered chemical weapons program.)
Trump’s lies are habitual and bottomless and his social media is often full of garbage. Yet it is striking that he is retweeting a fringe theory from notorious source at the same time that he’s declared that his Twitter feed is formal enough to declare war:
These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2020
The White House is also peddling in “alternative facts” precisely at a time when the administration is demanding that the nation trust that the killing of Soleimani was necessary to prevent an “imminent” attack. Yet that claim too has cracks in it, according a reporter for the New York Times:
1. I’ve had a chance to check in with sources, including two US officials who had intelligence briefings after the strike on Suleimani. Here is what I’ve learned. According to them, the evidence suggesting there was to be an imminent attack on American targets is “razor thin”.
— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) January 4, 2020
Reporting by the Washington Post suggests that the attack — far from being based on urgent new information — had come about after months of plotting, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo finally convincing Trump to kill the Iranian general.
The post truth hellscape of the Trump administration’s domestic misadventures appears to have finally bled over into foreign policy — undermining the single virtue of the Trump administration, that it had no appetite for the reckless militarism of the Bush/Cheney gang. And now the nation stands again at the precipice of a new conflict with a formidable Middle East power, with misinformation and outright lies buttressing the cause for war.
Time is a flat circle.