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Pompeo defends Soleimani strike as critics question intel, timing

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy on Iran is working and vowed that the U.S. would behave lawfully while targeting the country’s “actual decision-makers” rather than Tehran’s proxy forces.

Pompeo appeared on most of the Sunday morning political shows to defend the airstrike last week that killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani while Democrats and critics of President Trump questioned the timing of the attack, the validity of the purported intelligence that prompted it and whether the White House had a feasible strategy should Iran retaliate.

Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Pompeo insisted Trump’s threat to target 52 sites in Iran should Tehran retaliate was “entirely consistent” with de-escalation.

“The Iranian leadership needs to understand that attacking Americans is not cost-free. The entire strategy has been one of deterrence,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo also said on ABC’s “This Week” the Trump administration’s pressure campaign was “absolutely working” and attacked the nuclear deal negotiated under the Obama administration that the Trump White House withdrew from in 2018.

“That was the deal we inherited,” Pompeo said. “It’s a place we found ourselves, and we’re working diligently to execute our strategy to convince the Iranian regime to act like a normal nation.”

Addressing Trump’s threat specifically to attack sites “important to Iran & the Iranian culture,” which could be a war crime under the Geneva Convention, Pompeo responded “We’ll act lawfully. We’ll behave inside the system. We always have, and we always will.”

As Pompeo was addressing the airstrike that took place in Baghdad, Iraq, the Iraqi parliament was voting to expel U.S. forces from the country. The nonbinding resolution passed Sunday demanded an end to foreign military presence in the country, with the aim of forcing the U.S. to withdraw 5,000 troops, according to The Associated Press. It declared an “achievement of victory” in stopping the Islamic State’s advancement in the country and ended its “request for assistance” from the U.S. in the fight.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday” shortly before the vote, Pompeo told Fox’s Chris Wallace, “We are confident that the Iraqi people want the United States to continue to be there.”

He also acknowledged the possibility of Iranian retaliation while also insisting on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “we’re definitely safer today.”

“It may be there’s a little noise here in the interim, that the Iranians make the choice to respond, I hope that they don’t. President Trump has made clear what we will do in response if they do,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd Sunday.

Critics of the move, meanwhile, cast doubt on the purported intelligence that Pompeo and Trump have said indicated an imminent attack being planned by Soleimani.

“I think we learned the hard way in the Iraq War that administrations sometimes manipulate and cherry-pick intelligence to further their political goals, that’s what got us into the Iraq War,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“They have an obligation to present the intelligence, they did not notify the ‘Gang of Eight,’ ” Van Hollen added. “One opportunity they had [was] just two days ago to brief senior staff at the top secret level, [and] they provided no evidence to support their claim of an imminent threat.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, meanwhile, argued that despite Soleimani’s record of attacks on U.S. troops, killing him would likely make Americans less safe, which is what had kept the Bush and Obama administrations from killing him.

Citing the Iraqi expulsion vote, Murphy told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “you can already see the consequences to U.S. security in the region” from the killing.

Murphy also called on the administration to provide more information about the intelligence it cited, saying “it’s incumbent upon the administration to present that information to Congress and even if there was an imminent attack—the responsibility is on the admin to prove to us that by taking out the second-most-powerful political figure inside Iran they are preventing more attacks rather than inspiring additional attacks.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “Soleimani could be a rallying force, not only within Iran, but as we may hear later today, even in Iraq where we may be now asked to leave.”

“I’m not sure how we will be seen as both stronger and smarter if we have our Iraqi allies asking us to leave, if our NATO allies don’t feel like they are going to be informed before we take this kind of action, and frankly, if the people in the region that were against the Iranian regime all across the region are now rallying against America,” he added.

Tags Chris Murphy Chris Van Hollen Chris Wallace Chuck Todd Donald Trump Iran Iran strike Mark Warner Mike Pompeo Sunday shows
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