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This billboard in Tehran says in Persian: "Martyr Hajj Qasem Soleimani." Photo: Vahid Salemi/AP

In authorizing the targeted killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, President Trump chose his lifetime instinct for projecting strength over his vocal aversion to foreign intervention.

What he's saying: "Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him," Trump said at Mar-a-Lago.

  • "Soleimani made the death of innocent people his sick passion."

What's next: Leon Panetta — former CIA director, Secretary of Defense and White House chief of staff — told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the U.S. is "closer to war with Iran than we’ve been in the last 40 years," and warned of a "cycle of violence that ... could take us to war."

  • "[T]he Iranians are going to plan, without question, an attack on either U.S. forces or U.S. bases either through their proxies or ... directly," Panetta said.
  • "We have a lot of troops stationed in the Middle East. We have a lot of targets that the Iranians could go after."

Behind the scenes: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "had gone to Palm Beach to brief Trump on airstrikes the Pentagon had just carried out in Iraq and Syria against Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia groups," the L.A. Times' David Cloud reports.

  • "One briefing slide ... listed several follow-up steps the U.S. could take, among them targeting Suleimani ... Unexpectedly, Trump chose that option."

In discussions that began over the weekend, officials "reminded Trump that after the Iranians mined ships, downed the U.S. drone and allegedly attacked a Saudi oil facility, he hadn’t responded," the WashPost reports (subscription).

  • Trump was motivated partly "by what he felt was negative coverage after his 2019 decision to call off the airstrike after Iran downed the U.S. surveillance drone."
  • "Trump was also frustrated that the details of his internal deliberations had leaked out and felt he looked weak."

The big picture: "The U.S. drone strike ... marks a pivot toward direct confrontation with Iran, further entangling the U.S. in the Middle East after years of trying to avoid a major conflict," The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription).

  • "With Islamic State seemingly routed in Iraq and Syria, and Tehran lashing out in the face of a deteriorating economy, the U.S. and Iran [are vying to] shape the ragged peace in an unsteady part of the world.”

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Go deeper

Updated 13 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Shooting at Michigan high school leaves 3 dead, 8 wounded

Police cars restrict access to Oxford High School following the shooting in Oxford, Michigan, on Tuesday. Photo: Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

A 15-year-old sophomore was arrested after a shooting at a Michigan high school that left three people dead and eight others wounded Wednesday, according to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office.

The latest: Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said at a briefing Tuesday night that the suspect's father had on Friday bought the 9mm Sig Sauer pistol investigators believe was used in the shooting at Oxford High School. Authorities released the names of the victims late Tuesday.

City Council member Andre Dickens wins Atlanta mayoral race

Andre Dickens during a rally at Center Stage on November 28, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

City Council member Andre Dickens won a runoff election Tuesday to become Atlanta's next mayor, soundly beating the council's president Felicia Moore.

The big picture: Dickens was just a few months ago considered to have an outside chance of replacing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who announced in May that she wouldn't seek a second term.

UN report: Pandemic set to cost global tourism $2 trillion in 2021

A tourist in front of the Eiffel Tower on November 25, 2021 in Paris. Photo:Chesnot/Getty Images

A new United Nations report warns that global tourism will see only modest revenue gains in 2021 after last year's historic losses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: Tourism revenues in 2020 fell by more than half from the previous year — a significant blow to the global economy, according to analysis by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).