👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
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1/ Trump authorized a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that killed Iran’s top security and intelligence commander late Thursday. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon had taken “decisive defensive action” and killed Qasem Soleimani, who led the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, because he “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” Soleimani was the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades.Esper also accused Soleimani of approving the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad earlier this week. Speaking to reporters while on vacation at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday – hours after the attack on the American Embassy in Baghdad – Trump insisted that he did not want war, saying “I want to have peace. I like peace.” (Washington Post / New York Times / Associated Press / NBC News /
How Trump decided to kill Iran’s Soleimani. (Politico)
How Trump planned the drone strike with a tight circle of aides. (Bloomberg)
Soleimani posted memes antagonizing Trump on social media. (Washington Post)
Killing Soleimani was worse than a crime. (The Atlantic)
After killing Soleimani, Trump confronts a credibility gap: “The administration’s track record doesn’t inspire confidence.” (Vanity Fair)
The dangers posed by the killing of Qassem Suleimani. (New Yorker)
2/ Trump claimed he ordered the killing of Soleimani “to stop a war” – not start one – and that Soleimani’s “reign of terror is over.” In brief remarks from Mar-a-Lago, Trump said Soleimani had been caught “in the act” planning “imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, argued that the drone strike was a necessary act of self defense. (Associated Press / NBC News / ABC News)
- Trump repeatedly claimed in 2011 and 2012 that Obama would start a war with Iran to win reelection. (CNN)
3/ Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed “severe revenge” and “harsh retaliation” in response to the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the killing a “heinous crime” and said his country would “take revenge.” Trump, meanwhile, warned that he was “prepared to take whatever action is necessary” if Iran threatened Americans, despite insisting that he took action to avoid a war with Iran. Trump also defended killing the Iranian general, tweeting he “should have been taken out” years ago and that “Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!” (Associated Press / New York Times / Washington Post / Bloomberg / NBC News)
- Security experts warned that Tehran’s retaliation options includes direct attacks on U.S. embassies, military facilities, and bases overseas, and cyberattacks against domestic or allied interests. (Wall Street Journal / The Guardian)
4/ Trump threatened – twice – to target Iranian cultural sites if Iran retaliated. Trump tweeted a day earlier that the U.S. was prepared to strike 52 Iranian assets, including some “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.” Two senior U.S. officials, meanwhile, described widespread opposition within the administration to targeting cultural sites in Iran. “They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people,” Trump said. “And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.” Destroying cultural sites could be considered a war crime under international agreements, such as the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. (Washington Post / New York Times / Wall Street Journal / CNN / Associated Press)
5/ Trump ordered the strike killing Soleimani without the consultation of Congress. The Trump administration still hasn’t explained the legal justification for the strike, prompting Democrats and some Republican lawmakers to question whether Trump had the authority to order the strike without Congressional approval. Trump, meanwhile, claimed that his tweets are sufficient notice to Congress of any possible U.S. military strike on Iran. Also at question is whether the Trump administration has international legal authority for the strikes. The U.S. is in Iraq with consent from the Iraqi government, but the attack was outside the scope of the U.S. mandate. (Wall Street Journal / CNN / Washington Post)
Israel had advance notice of the U.S. plan to kill Suleimani. (Los Angeles Times)
Trump told Mar-a-Lago associates and club-goers that he was working on a “big” response to the Iranian regime they would hear about very “soon.” Trump started telling people five days before launching the strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader. (Daily Beast)
6/ The Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling on the Iraqi government to expel U.S. troops from Iraq following the U.S drone attack that killed Soleimani. Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi told lawmakers that the U.S. drone attack was a “political assassination” and that it was “time for American troops to leave” “for the sake of our national sovereignty.” About 5,000 American troops are in Iraq. The Trump administration tried to persuade Iraqi officials to stop the parliamentary vote to force the U.S. military out of Iraq. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, dismissed calls by Mahdi for a timetable for all foreign troops to exit the country. (USA Today / Axios / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal)
7/ Iran will no longer will comply with limits on uranium enrichment under its 2015 nuclear pact. “Iran’s nuclear program will have no limitations in production, including enrichment capacity,” the Iranian government said in an announcement, signaling the de facto collapse of the landmark agreement. (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal)
8/ Trump threatened to put sanctions on Iraq “like they’ve never seen before ever” after its parliament passed a resolution calling for the government to expel foreign troops from the country. Trump told reporters that “If they do ask us to leave […] we will charge them sanctions” that will “make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.” (CNBC)
9/ The U.S. is sending approximately 3,000 soldiers to the Middle East in response to threats from the Iranian government of a “harsh revenge” for the killing of Soleimani. The additional troops – about 2,800 soldiers – are from the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (Military.com / NBC News / CNN)
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