How we got here
When the Pentagon offered President Trump a series of potential responses to missile strikes on a U.S. base in Kirkuk, Iraq, by an Iranian-backed militia, they "tacked on the choice" of killing Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Quds Force commander and the second most powerful figure in Iran, "mainly to make other options seem reasonable," The New York Times reports. Trump opted to strike back at the militias.
But as those airstrikes, which killed about two dozen militamen on Dec. 29, led to angry pushback in Baghdad, Trump watched TV footage of militia supporters storming the outer perimeter of the U.S. Embassy and "became increasingly angry," the Times reports. And when he subsequently "stunned" Pentagon officials late Jan. 2 by embracing "the option of killing Gen. Soleimani, top military officials, flabbergasted, were immediately alarmed about the prospect of Iranian retaliatory strikes on American troops in the region."
"Trump's decision to target Soleimani came as a surprise and a shock to some officials briefed on his decision, given the Pentagon's long-standing concerns about escalation and the president's aversion to using military force against Iran," The Washington Post reports. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "first spoke with Trump about killing Soleimani months ago." Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence pushed most aggressively for Trump to order Soleimani killed, officials told the Post and the Times. And "one significant factor" in Trump agreeing, the Post reports, "was the 'lockstep' coordination for the operation between Pompeo and [Defense Secretary Mark] Esper, both graduates in the same class at the U.S. Military Academy, who deliberated ahead of the briefing with Trump."
Looking back "the Trump administration may have began laying the legal groundwork for the strike as early as April," USA Today reports. "That's when the State Department designated the Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization."
For years, "Pompeo has tried to stake out a maximalist position on Iran that has made him popular among two critical pro-Israel constituencies in Republican politics: conservative Jewish donors and Christian evangelicals," the Post explains. "Since his time as CIA director, Pompeo has forged a friendship with Yossi Cohen, the director of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad," and "at the State Department, he is a voracious consumer of diplomatic notes and reporting on Iran, and he places the country far above other geopolitical and economic hot spots in the world." Read more at The Washington Post.