In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” this weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked whether or not our adversaries viewed President Trump as being “vulnerable” due to his impeachment and the attendant worries that was causing.
Pompeo’s response is what I believe the kids are fond of calling a “clapback” these days: “You should ask Mr. Soleimani,” he responded.
The questioning came as part of a broader segment in which Wallace asked Pompeo whether the Iranian regime had become more bellicose under the Trump administration.
It began as the news came in that Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, currently leading a caretaker government after resigning the post due to months of protests, called upon U.S. troops to leave the country and termed the drone strike that killed Soleimani and another Iranian-backed official as “assassinations.”
“The American people should know that President Trump will never shy away from protecting America, that’s what we’ve done over these past weeks and days,” Pompeo said.
“That’s what we’ve done over our entire three years with our Middle East strategy. The activity you’re seeing today is fully consistent with that.”
Here’s a video of the entire interview; the interaction that led to the remarks on Soleimani begins at 5:40:
Wallace mentioned Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy on Iran and discussed whether it had worked, listing instances of Iranian aggression in 2019 which included shooting down a U.S. drone, launching an attack on Saudi oil fields via their Yemeni proxies, targeting six ships and initiating joint military exercises with China and Russia.
Pompeo responded by telling Wallace to “remember where we came in” after the Obama administration empowered Iran’s leadership, “underwriting them, underwriting the very militias that killed Americans.”
Wallace then played video relating to the president’s promise to take the U.S. out of wars in the Middle East, countering with the troop deployments to the region in the wake of the embassy attack in Baghdad and questioning whether the president was getting us more bogged down in the region.
“Endless wars are the direct result of weakness,” Pompeo said, sounding like the West Point graduate he is. “We’re going to get it right, we’re going to get the force posture right, we’re going to get our facilities as hardened as we can possibly get them to defend against what Iran may possibly do.
“But make no mistake, America’s mission is to have our footprint in the Middle East reduced while still keeping America safe, safe from rogue regimes” like Iran, Pompeo said.
Wallace then addressed impeachment, arguing that some thought the impeachment “has emboldened enemies like Iran and North Korea to think they can confront him.”
“Do you think that, as misguided as it may be, that some of our enemies think this president is more vulnerable because of this impeachment effort?”
“You should ask Mr. Soleimani,” Pompeo responded.
After a deafening pause, Wallace said he understood that. He asked again whether our enemies would consider Trump more vulnerable because of the impeachment effort.
“I don’t,” Pompeo said. “Our adversaries understand that President Trump and our administration will do the right thing to protect the American people every place that we find risk.”
The original answer probably ought to have sufficed, but apparently we need everything spelled out for us nowadays, so there you go.
There are substantive questions about the Soleimani strike that can be argued, although I’d say they’re far more narrow than the media is admitting. (Soleimani’s death, for instance, isn’t debatably an “assassination”; this was a leader of a terrorist group, however state-sponsored that group may have been, on foreign soil.)
One of them — and I’m surprised Wallace even bothered to ask it — isn’t whether or not foreign leaders still think impeachment makes President Trump more vulnerable abroad. In Iraq, the administration approved airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias and the strike against Soleimani in just the past few weeks, both aggressive operations, neither of which one could have seen the Obama administration going forward with.
In terms of North Korea, it’s difficult to be surprised that Pyongyang has yet to deliver the “Christmas present” it was promising the United States if the administration didn’t get more flexible.
Given that the Hermit Kingdom is still late to the 1970s, the fact that our holiday presents will be delivered belatedly, if at all, should be a shock to no one.
However, plopping a few missiles into the ocean to show us the Kim regime Means Business, while certainly a setback, is unlikely to be a substantive development.
One almost wonders whether this was a roundabout way to bring cannier viewers back to the controversy caused by then-President Clinton’s strike against a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan as the calls for his impeachment grew louder.
The rationale was that the plant was supposedly linked to Osama bin Laden and producing VX nerve gas for him; both of these proved to be false and critics of the Clinton administration have long claimed the strike was orchestrated as a show of strength to divert attention from the inquiry into l’affaire Lewinsky.
If so, the connection is tenuous at best and it went unmentioned by Wallace.
The show of strength, in this case, hardly seems false and nobody in the administration is foolish enough to believe it would take a minute away from the impeachment coverage the media doth love.
The strike is wholly consistent with a tough line on Iran that Iran can’t predict.
Those who doubt that can, of course, ask Mr. Soleimani.
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