In the hours after the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3, U.S. officials in the White House, Pentagon, and State Department worked overtime on assembling a plan to handle the fallout, only to watch senior administration officials and the president himself scuttle their effort in real time on national television.
The ensuing days became a mad dash to reconcile the intense intra-administration tensions over what the intelligence actually said about Iranian plots, and how best to sell their case to the American public. At the very top was a president who stewed and complained to staff about how the killing he’d just ordered might negatively affect his re-election prospects and ensnare him in a quagmire in the Middle East of his own creation.
The plan to take out Soleimani had been approved months earlier by President Donald Trump after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-National Security Adviser John Bolton pushed for more to be done to manage Iran’s aggression in the Middle East. But the president for years tried to avoid a direct military confrontation with Tehran, and hitting Soleimani was a move that could edge the two countries closer to war.