Many conservatives have spent the past several years arguing that U.S. intelligence officials not only have attempted to undermine President Donald Trump, they also favor the kind of interventionist foreign policy that Trump condemned on the 2016 campaign trail. Why, then, are these conservatives suddenly willing to parrot baseless claims by American intelligence officials that the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was a strategic necessity?
To be clear, the existence of a cabal of anti-Trumpist officials within the nation's top law enforcement agencies was exaggerated by Trump's defenders. That said, the FBI did, in fact, make grave errors in its investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, as demonstrated by the Justice Department Office of Inspector General's report. The FBI violated the rights and privacy of Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, considered evidence against Page the FBI knew to be misleading, and ignored sources that clashed with their preferred narrative of events.
Of course, the Trump-Russia investigation is hardly the only time that intelligence officials have misled the public about the strength of their case. The intelligence that persuaded President George W. Bush, Congress, and the American people to go to war with Iraq turned out to be spectacularly wrong; and our spymasters and generals have a long history of hiding the extent to which the government surveils American citizens.
One of the only exciting things about Trump's candidacy was that he condemned the Bush administration's Iraq campaign and the disinformation that launched it. In 2008, Trump told CNN he thought Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) should pursue impeachment charges against Bush for "getting us into this horrible war by lying."
But now, following Trump's decision to order a drone strike on Iranian terror architect Soleimani, Trump, as well as his staffers and supporters, say the intelligence that led to that decision is unquestionable.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham complained today that "a lot of people are now questioning the intel. That's really unfortunate."
Grisham declined to explain what specific, imminent threat Soleimani posed to U.S. persons, and said that the intelligence would soon be shared with Congress. This is unacceptable: The correct order of operations here is to consult Congress before pursuing military action that could start a war with Iran. The Constitution gives Congress—not the president, and not the State Department—the sole authority to declare war.
The State Department, meanwhile, has given every indication that there was no credible, imminent threat from Soleimani. When asked about this at a press conference on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "We know what happened at the end of last year and ultimately led to the death of an American. If you are looking for imminence, look no further than the days that led up to the strike." Something that already happened cannot be considered imminent.
Soleimani was a terrorist, responsible for appalling crimes. But there is good reason to question whether killing him serves America's long-term interest in disentangling its military from Middle East politics. Any conservative who takes Pompeo or Trump on blind faith has lost the right to complain about the deep state.
If you really think the spymasters are out to get Trump—or just frequently incompetent in general—you should be very skeptical that what they whispered in his ear about Iran was the truth.