The Trump administration is taking a victory lap after an airstrike took out Iran’s top general with minimal retaliation from the regime.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani deprived Iran of a terrorist mastermind and saved many American lives, Breitbart reported. In a separate speech Wednesday following Iran’s response, President Donald Trump touted his Iran policy as a restoration of strength after the weakness shown repeatedly by the Obama administration.
“In the end, our Iran policy is about protecting and defending the homeland and securing American lives,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo: Strike saved American lives
Pompeo is widely seen as the architect behind President Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach to Iran, which saw the United States pull out of Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal in 2018. Ensuing tensions between America and Iran reached a climax last week with the drone strike on Soleimani, which prompted fears of a new, deadly war in the Middle East.
But the worst appeared to have been averted when Iran returned fire Tuesday night with fifteen missiles aimed at two Iraqi bases that resulted in no American casualties, according to the Associated Press. Trump was well poised to claim victory when Iran said that it would not seek any further escalation, and in his own comments Wednesday morning, Trump confirmed that he is not seeking a military conflict with the regime, NBC News reported.
But critics questioned Pompeo’s claims that Soleimani posed an “imminent” threat to Americans, and the secretary of State was evasive when asked point-blank about the underlying intelligence Tuesday, Reuters reported. Still, he affirmed that Soleimani was behind the deaths of hundreds of Americans, including a recent strike that killed an American contractor, and he tied the top Iranian general to an extensive network of terrorism that expanded beyond the Middle East into Afghanistan.
“We know what happened…in December, ultimately leading to the death of an American. So, if you are looking for imminence, you need look no further than the days that led up to the strike that was taken against Soleimani,” Pompeo said. “And then you in addition to that have what we could clearly see were continuing efforts on behalf of this terrorist to build out a network of campaign activities that were going to lead, potentially, to the death of many more Americans.”
Links to Taliban
Soleimani has been linked with the killings of American troops in Iraq with roadside bombs, and as leader of the elite Quds Force he played a leading role in organizing Iran’s proxies throughout the Middle East. His death was greeted with an outpouring of grief in Iran, where hundreds of thousands took to the streets in mourning as regime leaders promised to avenge him.
Pompeo said that Soleimani was not only involved in terrorism throughout the Middle East, including via support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Bashar Al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, but was also “actively working to undermine the peace process” in Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban. Trump has controversially sought a peace deal with the terror group to put an end to the Afghanistan War.
“Most people know about Iran’s proxy networks in the Arab world but the regime also has a relationship to the Taliban and other groups,” Pompeo said. “The Taliban entanglement in Iran’s dirty work will only harm the Afghanistan peace process.”
Trump touts Iran policy, floats peace deal
Pompeo hailed the Trump administration’s hard-line against Iran as a vast improvement over President Barack Obama’s conciliatory approach, something that Trump also highlighted in remarks as he touted the mission to kill the “world’s top terrorist.” The president said that Soleimani should have been killed long ago as he announced additional economic sanctions and called on Western allies to join America in leaving the Iran deal, which placed limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
While making clear that America would not roll over in response to Iranian provocations, Trump opened a door to a new peace deal. The president also acknowledged Iran’s rivalry with Sunni Islamists, raising the possibility that America could work together with Iran to fight ISIS.
“The destruction of ISIS is good for Iran, and we should work together on this and other shared priorities,” he said. “To the people and leaders of Iran: We want you to have a future and a great future. One that you deserve, one of prosperity at home, and harmony with the nations of the world. The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.
The relatively harmless response from Iran left many saying that Trump’s strike, rather than risking war with Iran, instead put the regime in its place after years of unchecked provocations. It remains to be seen what happens next, but for the time being, it looks like Trump has good reason to boast.