WASHINGTON – In the 10 days since he carried out the drone attack that killed Major General Qassim Suleimani, the Trump administration has been struggling to write a later narrative to justify it. On Monday, President Trump put an end to that hash of explanations. “It doesn’t really matter,” he tweeted, “because of his horrible past.”
Until that message on Twitter, the administration had insisted in several ways that General Suleimani, the most important military officer in Iran, was planning countless “imminent” attacks. The outcome of the explanations accelerated over the weekend after Trump said four embassies were under immediate threat, a charge that his own administration could not support.
With the president’s latest statement, he reinforced criticism of an attack that had raised fears of a total war with Iran and led Iraq to ask the United States to leave the country. And, critics wondered, was it imprudent and irresponsible for the United States to kill Iran’s second most important leader if the reason did not “really matter”?
“Trump finally admitted the true motivation for the murder of Suleimani who had American blood on his hands: reprisals,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, who sponsors legislation to prevent the administration from spending federal funds on unauthorized military actions. I ran.
Khanna and other congressional Democrats, who have complained about being in the dark both before and after the drone attack, interpreted Trump’s tweet as proof that he must request congressional authorization for any future attack.
“I will say it again: THE AMERICAN PEOPLE DO NOT WANT ANOTHER WAR BASED ON FALSE INTELLIGENCE” Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, tweeted.
The administration’s explanations for the strike have changed day by day, and Monday was no exception. Trump’s tweet came in response to unflattering articles about how Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper seemed to contradict the president’s claim that he believed there was an imminent threat at four US embassies in the Middle East.
But Trump said he saw no inconsistency at all.
“It has been totally consistent,” he said Monday afternoon when he went to New Orleans for the college football game. “We kill Suleimani, the world’s number 1 terrorist in every way. Bad person, killed many Americans, killed many people. We kill him “.
He added: “When the Democrats try to defend it, it is a disgrace to our country. They cannot do that. And let me tell you that it does not work very well for them politically.”
Still, the confusing message from Mr. Trump and his senior officials after the top-level decision of his presidency threatened to undermine the message that the administration was sending to Iran, experts said.
And that message was undermined by other tweets that Trump sent on Monday morning. One of them included a photoshoped image of Senator Chuck Schumer and President Nancy Pelosi with a turban and a headscarf in front of an Iranian flag, claiming that it showed “corrupt Democrats doing everything possible to go to the rescue of Ayatollah # NancyPelosiFakeNews “.
The retweeted image It was the most extreme version of a sentiment that the president spent the morning advancing in retweeting criticism of Ms. Pelosi and suggesting that she supported the Iranian government.
Pelosi criticized the Trump administration for the murder of General Suleimani, saying he risked a “dangerous escalation of violence” and relied on questionable intelligence.
The flow of the president’s Twitter publications aimed at her seemed to be an attempt to attack her credibility the same week she was expected to send two articles of political trial against Trump to the Senate. The tweet was also a reminder of the way in which Trump used in the past the fears of Muslims and terrorism for his own political purposes.
Responding on Twitter, Mr. Schumer I ask, “President Trump: How low can you go?”
Dana Shell Smith, former United States ambassador to Qatar, wrote on twitter that Mr. Trump was participating in a “hate speech against an entire religion.”
Trump’s retweet was not the first time that Republicans tried to link Democrats with the Iranian government through the use of manipulated images.
Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, Last week he published a photograph of former President Barack Obama shaking hands with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. However, it was revealed that this image was manipulated years ago. Mr. Obama never met Mr. Rouhani in person.
During his presidency, Trump also used Twitter to share videos posted by a British ultra-nationalist group that allegedly shows Muslims committing acts of violence.
“This tweet contrasts so sharply with the seriousness of the real situation with Iran,” said Ben Rhodes, former Obama national security assistant. “We are in the midst of a growing crisis with Iran, which is largely due to Trump’s own creation, and yet he continues to see it largely through the prism of a rather ugly domestic policy.”
Rhodes said the tweet underlined how Trump’s perspective had not changed since he first ran. “Trump sees Iran’s policy as if it were 2015 and is campaigning for the presidency, not as if it were 2020 and is facing a crisis with huge real-world dimensions for nuclear weapons, war and peace, and the people Iranian, “Rhodes said.
White House officials have often tried to circumvent the content Mr. Trump shares online, but on Monday the press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, defended the retouched image. In an interview with Fox News, Ms. Grisham said the president was “making clear” that the Democrats were “chattering the Iranian conversation points, almost on the side of the terrorists.”
He added that Trump was “emphasizing that Democrats seem to hate him so much that they are willing to be on the side of countries and the leadership of countries that want to kill Americans.”
Mr. Trump and the Republican National Committee specifically addressed Ms. Pelosi for a statement he made on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, when asked if he supported anti-government demonstrations that emerged after Iran shot down a Ukrainian plane shortly after it took off from Tehran.
Pelosi said there were “different reasons why people are on the street,” noting that current protesters were reacting to Iran’s army by admitting that it accidentally shot down the Ukrainian plane. She did not respond directly to a question about whether it would be “a good thing if the regime were torn down.”
During Ms. Pelosi’s interview with George Stephanopoulos, she also said that the Trump administration had not been “direct with the United States Congress” in its explanations of why it decided to attack General Suleimani when he did.
Trump’s campaign hopes the murder will increase his popularity. But a recent USA Today / Ipsos survey found that most respondents, 52% to 34%, considered Trump’s action to be “reckless.”
Trump spent the weekend expressing his support online to the people of Iran calling for political and economic change, which participated in the country’s biggest popular protests in more than 10 years.
On Monday morning, Trump praised the protesters for supporting the United States. “Wow! The wonderful Iranian protesters refused to step on, or in any way denigrate, our Great American Flag.” Trump wrote on Twitter. “He got on the street to be trampled, and instead they walked on it. Great progress!
A spokesman for Pelosi did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s publications.
Catie Edmondson contributed the reports.