(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday again backed President Trump’s assertion that Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani had been plotting “imminent attacks” when the president ordered the airstrike that killed him.
“My judgment is the president made the right call,” Pompeo told students at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “It’s what I recommended to him. There was, in fact, a set of imminent attacks that were being plotted by Qassem Soleimani. It was unmistakable.”
“You heard the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley] say that if we hadn’t done this, we would have been ‘negligent,’” Pompeo added. “It’s not a political act.”
“The intelligence community said the same thing. It was their view that the risks were real and growing, and that the actions that we took that day reduced that risk.”
Critics have accused Trump of overstating or even fabricating claims of an “imminent” threat posed by Soleimani, closely parsing the words of senior administration officials for indications of any disagreement over the matter.
Pompeo was answering a student’s question about why the American people should trust the intelligence agencies in this instance.
He recalled serving as director of the CIA before becoming secretary of state, and said he had “watched these professionals do their level best to get it right every day.”
Pompeo conceded that the intelligence community “makes mistakes all the time,” but added that “they do their level best to present this accurately.”
He noted the challenge in being able to talk about intelligence publicly without putting sources at risk: “We have to protect them and preserve them, because we’ve still got folks in harm’s way, even as we sit here today.”
“But I can say to the American people, you should have enormous confidence in the intelligence community – that their efforts are genuine, they are real, they are authentic, they are trying to provide good datasets.”
As secretary of state, he said, “I’m on the other side, as the policy advisor for the president, receiving this intelligence, informing our decision making.”
“There was enormous work done over the last 12 months to put us in a place where the president had every opportunity to make a good decision when the risk was high.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper made headlines Sunday when he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he had not seen specific evidence “with regard to four embassies” being under threat of attack, as Trump stated on Friday.
But Esper also said that it was his “expectation” that “they were going to go after our embassies. The embassies are the most prominent display of American presence in a country.”
And, and he has done a number of times, he stated that intelligence information pointed to attacks within a matter of days, and in more than one country.
“I think that the attack was days away,” Esper said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It was going to be on multiple sites.”
Pompeo himself said at the White House on Friday, “We had specific information on an imminent threat, and those threats included attacks on U.S. embassies. Period.”
‘Past laxity had emboldened them’
In his remarks at the Hoover Institution, Pompeo spoke of the administration’s efforts to re-establish “deterrence,” especially in the case of the Iranian regime.
“For decades, U.S. administrations of both political parties never did enough against Iran to get the deterrence that is necessary to keep us all safe,” he said.
The Obama-era Iran nuclear deal – from which Trump withdrew in 2018 – had “opened up revenue streams” for the regime to build up the very Shi’ite militia networks that killed an American contractor at an Iraqi military base on December 27, and attacked the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad days later.
The Trump administration, he said, had “put together a campaign of diplomatic isolation, economic pressure, and military deterrence,” with the twin goals of depriving the regime of the “resources it needs to perpetrate its malign activity around the world,” and prodding it to start behaving “like a normal nation.”
Pompeo said the U.S. officials, himself among them, had warned the regime repeatedly “that an attack that took American lives would not be tolerated.”
“And they tested us, as they had tested previous administrations as well many times before. Past laxity had emboldened them.”
That changed on December 27.
The American contractor was killed when Qods Force-backed Iraqi militias fired rockets at the K1 base near Kirkuk. The Pentagon accused Soleimani of orchestrating the attack, the latest in a series targeting coalition forces in Iraq.
Pompeo reminded his audience that Soleimani and the Qods Force were held responsible for the deaths of more than 600 American troops during the Iraq war.
“There is no terrorist except Osama bin Laden who has more American blood on his hands than did Qassem Soleimani.”
He also pointed to Soleimani’s legacy in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
“Many of you are probably aware of the millions of displaced persons and those who have been killed in Syria, numbering in the hundreds of thousands; the starvation and cholera epidemics in Yemen; Shi’ite militias destabilizing democracies in both Lebanon and Iraq along the Shia Crescent,” he said.
“The Iranian regime and its proxies under the direct supervision of Qassem Soleimani have nurtured all of that misery.”