Days after President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike in Baghdad that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hit all five Sunday shows to address his assertion that the strike was necessary to avert an “imminent attack” on America, and to explain the president’s recent threat to target Iranian cultural sites.
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, the secretary was immediately pressed by host Jake Tapper on Trump’s Saturday night tweet warning Iran that America is prepared to hit non-military cultural targets if Iran were to retaliate.
“We will defend America, and the strikes that we took over this past week, including killing the terrorist Soleimani and we will continue to take if we need to. If we need to defend the American interest, we will do so,” Pompeo insisted. “What President Trump said last night is consistent with what we have said all along.”
“And the president’s tweet made clear that we will do that and the American people should know that we will always defend them and we’ll do so in a way that is consistent with the international rule of law and the American constitution,” he added. “And we have done it before and we will do it again.”
Tapper, however, noted that attacking Iranian cultural centers would violate international law, prompting Pompeo to claim that the Trump administration’s strategy against Iran is “consistent with the rule of law” and the president’s tweet “does not deviate from that one iota.”
“And so the cultural centers are fair targets in your view?” Tapper pushed back.
“We will do the things that are right and consistent with the American law,” America’s top diplomat responded. “I have been part of the discussion and planning process and everything that I have seen about how we will respond with great force and great vigor if the Iranian government makes a bad decision, when they do, and I hope they don’t, we will respond.”
The CNN host continued to grill Pompeo on the president’s online threat, asking Pompeo how Trump’s tweet can be seen as a de-escalation of tensions with Iran.
“We have provided them clear guidance about what it is that we have an expectation. We have worked with them and had conversations with them and it is important for them to know that we will no longer behave like the Obama and Biden administration, and we will no longer appease.”
Pompeo was also questioned on Sunday about his assertion last week that Soleimani’s killing absolutely made Americans a lot safer. After Pompeo said he was confident that the world was safer now, Meet the Press anchor Chuck Todd asked how he squared that with the State Department’s advisement to Americans in the Middle East to evacuate due to the likeliness of retaliation.
“Chuck, you’re concentrating on the second and the moment,” the secretary answered. “President Trump is focused deeply on keeping Americans safe over the long haul...It may be that there's a little noise here in the interim.”
On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos wondered aloud about recent reports that there were some administration officials who expressed skepticism about the rationale for Soleimani’s assassination, claiming the intelligence surrounding an “imminent attack” was thin.
“The senior leaders who had access to all of the intelligence—there was no skepticism,” Pompeo declared.
While defending the intelligence used to justify the airstrikes, Pompeo seemed to back off of his claims that the administration was averting an imminent threat to American lives by killing Soleimani. When Todd asked him if the threat was imminent, the secretary sidestepped the question while pointing to the death of an American contractor late last month that kicked off the escalation of tensions.
“So was the justification that [Soleimani] has been this destabilizing force in the region for so long or was the justification this imminent threat?” Todd pressed, attempting to get a direct answer.
“Chuck, it’s never one thing,” Pompeo obfuscated.
In his interview with Tapper, meanwhile, the secretary said that it was “not relevant” whether the threat of devastating attacks on Americans was about to happen in the coming days or weeks, once again pointing to the Dec. 27 attack that killed one American.
Stephanopoulos also asked whether the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran was working considering the escalation of tensions, causing Pompeo to answer: "We're working diligently to execute our strategy to convince the Iranian regime to act like a normal nation.”