The U.S. drone attack that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani not only took out a terrorist leader, but also showed Iran and other countries that America is not to be trifled with, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a student audience at Stanford University on Monday.
The attack proved that the United States had the capacity to target Soleimani in the heart of Baghdad, but, equally important, the willingness to use that ability, he said.
“We are re-establishing deterrence, real deterrence, against Iran,” Pompeo said. “The previous administration never did enough against Iran to create deterrence.”
The secretary broke little new ground in his talk before students at the Hoover Institution, repeating the Trump administration’s position that the attack occurred after intelligence professionals warned that Soleimani was plotting an imminent attack on U.S. facilities. Several members of Congress, including some Republicans, have complained that Pompeo and other administration officials have failed to provide specifics. Pompeo declined to appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to testify about the conflict with Iran.
President Trump fueled the controversy Monday when he tweeted that it “doesn’t really matter” whether there was an imminent attack because Soleimani’s past was reason enough to target him.
“The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was ‘imminent’ or not, & was my team in agreement,” Trump tweeted. “The answer to both is a strong YES., but it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!”
In response to a question from a student, Pompeo said the decision to go after Soleimani came in response to concerns from the intelligence community that the “risk was real and growing” that Iran was planning new terrorist attacks.
Trump has long been a critic of the American intelligence community, suggesting that it was part of the “deep state” of embedded bureaucrats fighting against his administration’s goals. More than once, he has refused to back intelligence findings, such as warnings that Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election and that top Saudi government officials were behind the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist.
But Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman who ran the CIA before he was named secretary of state, said intelligence professionals play an important role in presidential decisions.
“You should have enormous confidence in the intelligence community,” he said.
Pompeo said Iran had been “emboldened” by former President Barack Obama’s alleged failure to take a harder line against Tehran. “We have a very different approach than the previous administration,” he said, especially after the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by groups linked to Iran and Soleimani.
That attack “changed the calculus” for Trump and the country, he said. Now, “if Iran escalates, we will end it on our terms.”
Because of Trump’s willingness to push back, “we now enjoy a great position of strength with Iran,” Pompeo said. “We’re determined not to lose that deterrence.”
In the end, “we just want Iran to behave more like a normal country, to be like Norway,” he said to laughter from the students.
Later Monday, during a visit to San Francisco, Pompeo’s focus was on technology. He warned Silicon Valley leaders about the perils of doing business with China, saying that under that country’s law, “Chinese companies and researchers must share technology with the Chinese military.”
“So even if the Chinese Communist Party gives assurances about your technology being confined to peaceful uses, you should know there is enormous risk to America’s national security as well,” Pompeo said at the Commonwealth Club. “This is a real problem, given that many of our most innovative companies have formed partnerships with the Chinese government and companies that are linked to it.”
He added, “I also want to remind each of you as Americans, as citizens of a free nation that is increasingly at risk from Chinese actions that may undermine the very freedom that you have to build your business and create.”
John Wildermuth is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @jfwildermuth. Joe Garofoli is the San Francisco Cbronicle’s senior political writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @joegarofoli ___
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