Unfortunately (albeit predictably), Donald Trump regaled wealthy GOP donors at Mar-a-Lago with his version of the play-by-play from the night Qassem Soleimani was assassinated at Baghdad international airport.
As you can imagine, it’s a painful retelling. And certainly not because any Americans should shed a tear for Soleimani. But rather because Trump’s “sir” stories involving US military personnel invariably accomplish the opposite of their intended goal.
Rather than honoring America’s armed services and intelligence apparatus, Trump degrades them by divulging operational details in a transparent attempt to bolster the national security bonafides of a man who received five deferments during Vietnam.
According to an audio of Trump’s comments obtained by CNN, the president made no mention of any “imminent threat” from Soleimani while speaking about the battlefield legend from Mar-a-Lago’s gilded ballroom.
Instead, he said that Soleimani was “saying bad things about our country” in the minutes before the strike.
“How much of this sh*t do we have to listen to?” Trump asked. “How much are we going to listen to?”
Naturally, Trump’s ignorance of basic facts was on full display. For example, he claimed Soleimani was meeting “the head of Hezbollah” in Baghdad. That’s an eye-roller. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (who was killed in the same strike) was the head of Kataib Hezbollah, one of Iraq’s powerful Shia militias. That is not the same as Hezbollah in Lebanon and no, that is most assuredly not a trivial distinction.
Suffice to say that if Hassan Nasrallah (the leader of Hezbollah) had hopped out of the motorcade to greet Soleimani in Baghdad, that would have come as some surprise to the CIA. Gina Haspel probably would have needed to hop on the phone to Mossad (“Hey! Guess who’s there too?!) before anybody pulled any triggers.
In case you’re inclined to suggest that it was just a slip of the tongue, Trump left little doubt about his ignorance. “[We got] two for the price of one”, he told the audience.
It’s true that Muhandis was a key player in Iraq, but Trump clearly believes that he killed the leader of Hezbollah. The fact that he still thinks that two weeks after the strike is not just alarming, it’s outright astonishing.
Then, Trump delivered his recollection of what the commanders in charge of the strike told him seconds before an MQ-9 Reaper closed Soleimani’s curtains:
They’re together sir. Sir, they have two minutes and 11 seconds. No emotion. ‘2 minutes and 11 seconds to live, sir. They’re in the car, they’re in an armored vehicle. Sir, they have approximately one minute to live, sir. 30 seconds. 10, 9, 8 …’ Then all of a sudden, boom. They’re gone, sir. Cutting off.’
Obviously, that retelling suggests Trump did not understand – let alone appreciate – the gravity of his decision. More broadly, it suggests an unnerving detachment from the reality on the ground.
It’s one thing to glorify a Delta Force raid on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi’s operational significance was severely limited by the time he was killed, he commanded very few actual fighters and he was revered by exactly nobody outside of Salafi jihadist circles, and even some of those people hated him.
It’s another matter entirely to trivialize the drone assassination of one of the world’s top-50 most important people by describing it in video game terms.
Trump continued. “I said, where is this guy? That was the last I heard from him”, he told the ballroom full of millionaires.
Soleimani, Trump sneered, “was supposed to be invincible”.
Read our full coverage of the Soleimani assassination