Trump Decided to Kill Iran General Soleimani in Part to Appear Stronger Than Obama Was on Benghazi: Report

President Donald Trump's decision to kill top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was partly motivated by previous negative coverage over a called-off airstrike against Iran and a desire to be seen as a stronger president than Barack Obama, according to reported accounts by officials familiar with the planning discussions.

Trump also feared that the U.S. may be looking weak after failing to respond to a series of other attacks and provocations by Iran, such as the shooting down an unmanned U.S. drone which prompted the threat of an airstrike in June, and the alleged mine attacks of four oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

"The argument is, if you don't ever respond to them, they think they can get by with anything," an unnamed White House official speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post.

Trump's advisers were worried that the president's constant assurance that he does not want to start a war with Iran meant that Tehran became confident that he would never launch an offensive move against the country, an American official who asked not to be identified told The New York Times.

Trump was also left frustrated that his reasons to make the 11th hour decision to call off a planned airstrike in Tehran in response to the shooting down of the drone were leaked to the press and also made him seem weak, officials told The Post.

The killing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force commander during an airstrike in the Iraqi capital Baghdad followed rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, in part spurred by Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.

The deal was originally seen as a major diplomatic achievement by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

According to The Post's sources, another motivation for Trump to launch the airstrike against Soleimani was so he would appear stronger than Obama.

The president allegedly felt further decisive action could help cement his reputation following the quick response to the attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on January 31, 2019, as well as the airstrikes launched against fighters loyal to Shiite Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah after a U.S. civilian defense contractor was killed during a rocket attack in Kirkuk.

The Obama administration was heavily criticized over the 2012 Benghazi attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya which killed four Americans, including then-Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith.

The attack was initially described as a protest before later proven to be a terrorist incident. It has long been used as an example of Obama failing to treat terrorism as a real threat during his time in the White House.

According to Sen. Lindsey Graham, Benghazi had "loomed large" in the president's mind when deciding on a response to Iran, reports The Post.

Trump has spoken publicly about his reasons for launching the airstrike to kill Soleimani, claiming the military commander was planning an imminent attack against the U.S., without elaborating.

"Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel but we caught him in the act and terminated him," Trump told reporters. "We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war."

Trump is now facing calls to release more information about the alleged plot to attack Americans.

"I believe there was a threat, but the question of how imminent is still one I want answered," Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Reuters.

The White House has been contacted for comment.

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a 'Evangelicals for Trump' campaign event held at the King Jesus International Ministry on January 03, 2020 in Miami, Florida JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty