US officials cite deterrence to defend lethal drone strike

Deterrence behind strike

For all of the Trump administration’s insistence that the threat of an “imminent” attack led to the American drone strike on Iran’s top general, U.S. officials behind the scenes say the strike was motivated as much, if not more, by a broader effort to rein in a dangerously emboldened Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr gave voice to the broader rationale on Monday, saying deterrence was a key component of the strike. But they, like other U.S. officials interviewed by The Associated Press, stopped short of saying definitively that no specific plot was broken up.

Still, the shifting rationale has raised questions about the nature and credibility of the threat posed by Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the architect of a decades-long reign of terror in which Iranian proxy fighters killed hundreds of Americans and contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the region. Critics of President Donald Trump's decision say he should have consulted Congress before taking an action that brought the United State and Iran to the brink of war.

As lawmakers protested, the Trump administration seized on the “imminent threat” rationale, though Pompeo later said he didn’t know the time frame for Soleimani’s next attack and other officials indicated that there was no clear sense of the next targets either. Trump on Friday told Fox News that the threat was against four American embassies, but two days later Defence Secretary Mark Esper said he’d seen no such evidence.

In the latest round of confusion, the president maintained Monday that there was no contradiction in their comments.

In recent days a clearer picture of the decision-making process leading up to the strike has emerged. While U.S. officials stopped short of saying definitively that there was no specific plot disrupted by Soleimani’s death, they have acknowledged in recent days that the long-considered operation had a more fundamental purpose: breaking up what they viewed to be a perilous cycle of violence that could have brought the United States and Iran even closer to hostilities.

Soleimani was undoubtedly planning other potentially deadly operations against American interests as he had for decades, the officials said. But a driving concern was that the Trump administration feared a loss of “deterrence” with Iran, according to three senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations surrounding the strike and its aftermath.

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