On Wednesday, a Ukrainian jetliner crashed in Iran, killing everyone aboard.
After maintaining for days that there was no evidence that one of its missiles had struck a Boeing 737-800 minutes after it took off from Tehran on Wednesday with 176 people on board, Iran admitted early on Saturday that its military had shot down the passenger jet by mistake.
Here is the sequence of events leading up to the missile attack that killed 56 Canadians: Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon to kill Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani, Iran’s top military leader. Iran, in turn, unleashed a barrage of missiles on Wednesday that seem to have taken no lives and appeared to have inflicted little damage on air bases in Asad and Erbil in Iraq that house thousands of Iraqi and American servicemen and women.
And then a few hours later, Iran tragically shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane mistaking it for an incoming American air attack.
Understanding why Trump ordered the killing of General Soleimani as opposed to other options to constrain Iran
While it is now clear what the sequence of events were that led led to the Iranian attack on the Ukrainian passenger jet, what is not clear is what led to Trump's decision to assassinate Gen. Soleimani in the first place.
What we know is that in the days leading to the death of Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful commander, Pentagon officials apparently put the option of killing Soleimani — which they viewed as the most extreme response to recent Iranian-led violence in Iraq — on the list of options they presented to President Trump.
According to the New York Times, Pentagon officials believed there was little to no chance that Trump would choose to kill Soleimani.
But Trump did choose to kill Soleimani - he chose the most extreme option. Reports suggest that the Pentagon officials who prepared the options were "flabbergasted" by the decision.
The question is why did he choose the most extreme option as opposed to other options to constrain Iran? It has become clear in the last 10 days that the Trump administration has no consistent rationale for the killing so most observers believe that the order to kill Gen. Soleimani was either an impulsive action related to the violent Iranian initiated riots outside the U.S. embassy in Iraq, or a strategic distraction related to his impeachment woes.
This post is not first and foremost about Iran or Middle East politics - it is about trying to understand the President of the United States. And the central argument of the post is that if you try to understand Donald Trump as a politician with a clear strategy and motivation to achieve real world policy objectives, you will understand very little. The key is to remember that the Donald Trump that matters is not first and foremost a politician with a coherent word view. He’s a reality TV performer.