QUESTION: Welcome to the Ben Shapiro Show. Joining us on the line is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Secretary Pompeo, thank you so much for your time. I know it’s a very busy week.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s been a busy week, Ben. Great to be with you again. Thanks for having me on, sir.
QUESTION: Well, first of all, let me just congratulate you and the Trump administration on an excellent week for American foreign policy, despite the media’s attempts to paint what happen this week as America on the verge of World War III, as a President unmoored from reality. All the administration did was reestablish a deterrence that had been lost over the prior decade, so thank you for – and the President of the United States, obviously – for bringing back a policy of deterrence that apparently had been lost in the mists of time, according to the media and the Obama administration.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Ben, I appreciate that. I know that you appreciate this is exactly what we were trying to do. We had – we’d come to a place with Iran where they had conducted some several dozen strikes, whether that was taking ships off the straits in the Straits of Hormuz – off the sea in Straits of Hormuz – or firing at a Saudi facility or conducting terror campaigns throughout – frankly, throughout not only the Middle East, but good parts of the world. We’d put in place a set of restrictions, economic restrictions. We’d worked on diplomacy, and they ultimately came to a point where they killed an American.
And the President made the decision that said we’ve got to restore deterrence, and the best method to do that is take off the battlefield a fellow with a long history of terror, a long history of killing Americans, a long history of hurting American military soldiers and killing them. We did the right thing and made the world safer.
QUESTION: Now Secretary Pompeo, what do you make of the argument by folks in the Democratic Party and the media – but very often I repeat myself – what do you make of the argument that the Iran nuclear deal had basically somehow made Iran into a reasonable country, that they were not pursuing terror, that it was only the removal of the United States from the Iran nuclear deal that precipitated increased Iranian terror and confrontationalism with the United States?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, that’s just counterfactual. From the moment they began these conversations in 2013 or so ’till 2015 when the Iranian nuclear deal was signed, and then through the time that the Trump administration came into effect, there were increased resources for the Islamic Republic of Iran. They built out the tools and infrastructure for the very Syrian militias that ultimately killed an American. They underwrote Hizballah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They built out the Shia crescent so they could travel, whether it was from Sanaa and Baghdad on to Damascus.
This was a regime, an Islamic republic regime – theocratic, kleptocratic, revolutionary regime – that now had the resources and money to control and dominate parts of the world and then put real risk on what we care most about, is protecting the American people. That policy emboldened these leaders, and we are now working to convince them that they’ve got to behave like a normal nation. If they don’t, there’ll be real costs.
QUESTION: And Secretary Pompeo, there’s been a lot of talk about upticks in Iranian pursuit of terror as though Iran was not pursuing terror for the last 40 years, as though something new is going on here. What sort of action do you think that the Trump administration actually deterred? What was the big benefit over the last week?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, in the short run, we had identified – the Intelligence Community had identified significant plotting and planning by Qasem Soleimani himself. They were describing it as a “big attack.” It was going to be against the United States of America, likely in the region. We can’t say much more than that, but the American people should know there was an attack. It was in the planning stages, but we had seen Qasem Soleimani be able to deliver on this kind of plan before.
We had an opportunity. We presented a range of options to the President about how to deter and defend and protect America, and he made the decision that, in the aftermath of the loss of life, and with all the history that you know so well, Ben, not only with Qasem Soleimani but the terror by the Iranian regime, that this was the time to take this strike against this terrible guy. And we’re hopeful that we have at least taken the first step in restoring deterrence and protecting and defending America.
QUESTION: Now Secretary Pompeo, we’ve seen some blowback from Democrats in the House, which is predictable, but also some senators, including Republican senators like Mike Lee, suggesting that the intelligence suggesting imminence of a threat from Soleimani was insufficient. What is the definition of “imminence” by the administration? Because I’m, frankly, confused by this whole argument.
Soleimani was literally in Iraq the day after the attempted burning of the American embassy in Baghdad, coordinating with the very forces who had burned the embassy. He has spent his entire career pursuing terror attacks around the globe, especially in the Middle East, and targeting American citizens. What is the standard of imminence that is used by the administration when it comes to taking out terrorists?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We saw that there were literally arranged – that were not months, but days and weeks where the next set of plots was being planned, so this was right on top of us, and this opportunity was fleeting. It was also – to your point, it was an opportunity to strike in Baghdad, not inside of Iran, in Baghdad, where he was clearly plotting external attacks outside of his country.
And so, it’s not clear to me some of the arguments folks are making about imminence. I think it was very plain. I think the – General Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that we would have been culpably negligent had we not recommended to the President that we take whatever action we thought most likely to reduce the risk from this plotting and planning, and that’s what President Trump ultimately chose to do.
QUESTION: And Secretary Pompeo, I wanted to get your quick reaction to the breaking news today that Iran did, in fact, shoot down this civilian airliner that emerged from Tehran. I’m amazed to watch some members of the media actually that tried to blame that on Trump, suggesting that President Trump killing Soleimani prompted, what, Iran to shoot down an airliner emanating from its own territory. It’s pretty obvious that this was accidental, but what do you make of that particular mistake, which seems pretty obvious at this point?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Ben, let me begin by expressing condolences for those who were killed, 170-plus humans perished in the Ukrainian airline flight. It is worth noting many of them were Western Europeans, Canadians in large numbers, but Iranians as well. And if it, in fact, proves after the investigation is complete what it is I think many surmise at this point, that in fact, it was the Iranians who fired a missile and took down this aircraft, it will have been Iranians that killed Iranians inside of Iran, an enormous tragedy.
We’ll see what actually transpired. But no matter what the situation is, to suggest somehow that actions that America took to protect itself, to defend America and to take down a terrorist in Baghdad, had any implications or any connection to what the Iranians ultimately chose to do is farcical, fanciful, and clearly political.
QUESTION: We’re speaking with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Secretary Pompeo, I don’t want you to get into the specifics obviously, because that would put Americans in danger and our allies, but what general steps have been taken at this point to secure against future attack from the Iranians? Because I understand that the administration – no one really believes that the Iranians are going to slink back into the hole of their – of – from whence they came in terms of foreign policy and terrorist attacks abroad. So what’s being done to strengthen the U.S. and its allies, harden our abilities against what will be future attacks from the Iranians?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So three pieces to reducing the risk of terror from the Iranians. First is the one that we’ve engaged in to deny them wealth and resources. We have seen, Ben – although I can’t go into a lot of detail, we have seen them have to make very difficult choices. You – in the past couple months, they’ve had to raise gasoline prices inside of their own country so that they could fund and underwrite Hizballah and militias inside of Syria. Those are difficult choices, and I think the Iranian people will ultimately reject that. But you’re right; there is still work to do.
Second piece is diplomatic in addition to those economic sanctions that will come in the days ahead. The diplomatic effort is to build out isolation against the regime, to get the European countries in addition to the Gulf states that have been working with us, the Israelis who have been working with us, to isolate the Iranian regime and raise the cost for their malign activity.
Then the third piece I’d describe is tactical and operational. We need to make sure that American soldiers who are in the region or, frankly, in other places where Iran has threatened to strike too – in Europe and even any risk here to the homeland – to make sure that we’ve done all that we can to prepare and harden those facilities. President Trump has given us the greenlight to do those things, and we’ve been moving in that direction for the past months.
QUESTION: Visiting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Secretary Pompeo, there have been a lot of variant reports on the actual Iranian missile strikes against this Iraqi base, why there were no U.S. casualties. We’ve heard of an early warning system. There has been widespread reporting that the Iranian Government actually called up the Iraqi Government and told them that the missiles were coming, and specifically to get people out of the way because, basically, they wanted to save face with their own population without provoking an American attack, without crossing another redline and prompting another response like the killing of terrorist Qasem Soleimani.
Is there any truth to those rumors, or can you speak to that at all?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll stay with what General Milley has said. It is his professional military judgment that the Iranians were attempting to kill Americans in the strikes that they took.
QUESTION: Okay. So I also want to get your take on the media response to this whole thing, because I’ve rarely seen the media this malfeasant. It is amazing. When it comes to American domestic politics, at least most American citizens have a pretty good baseline understanding of what’s going on. But when it comes to foreign policy, people don’t pay a lot of attention to the players, they don’t pay – play a lot of – pay a lot of attention to sort of the history of the situation, and so it really becomes necessary for the media to fill in those gaps. I have rarely seen the media tell more outright lies and prevarications and spin when it comes to a foreign policy issue than this one.
What do you make of the media’s response that seemed firmly directed, in my view, at protecting a narrative that suggested that the only way out of any situation with Iran was either to pay them off Obama-style or to go to World War III-style direct shooting conflict with Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I remember, Ben, when the JCPOA was being debated. The previous administration’s line was it’s either this crappy deal or the war with Iran. But in fact, those aren’t the only two choices, and I think our policy today has demonstrated that. We got out of the deal which ultimately would have permitted what President Trump talked about yesterday, would have permitted Iran to have a nuclear – a pathway to a nuclear weapons system, and President Trump has said we’re not going to let that happen. We are working to do that in a way that keeps Americans safe. That’s why we took the strike to restore deterrence. It’s why we’re trying to make sure the regime doesn’t have the billions of dollars that the previous administration had allowed the Iranian regime to take and use to spread its terror campaign.
I can’t explain and I won’t even attempt to account for what the media said. I can only tell the American people that President Trump has made clear our mission there is to make sure Iran never has a nuclear weapon and to ensure that the missile systems and terror campaigns that support that nuclear program are challenged and confronted as well. We won’t appease. We will protect the American people.
QUESTION: Now, so Secretary Pompeo, in the aftermath, obviously, of the Soleimani killing, the Iranian Government announced that it would withdraw from certain provisions of the JCPOA, and that prompted talk that the Europeans actually on Friday were going to meet no matter what happened this week and talk about having to reimpose sanctions on Iran. So it seems like Iran has sort of boxed itself in.
Is this an opening for new diplomacy, including the Europeans, to improve the JCPOA, which originally was only designed basically to delay the Iranian nuclear program for 10 years while bribing them so they could increase their regional power? A new JCPOA could be put in place, theoretically, that restricts Iran’s nuclear program and also does have provisions governing ballistic missile development as well as terrorism. Could the Europeans get on board with that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We hope so. We were on the phone with the Europeans just the last couple days. We’ll talk to them again in the days in front of us. It seems that the Iranians have made the decision that they are no longer going to participate in that agreement. You’ll recall our discussion about the INF – goodness, several months back – where there were two parties; one party had abrogated the deal, and we concluded it made no sense to be in it. We hope that the Europeans will conclude that with the Iranians out the deal it makes no sense for them to be in it as well.
What we need is Iran to behave like a normal nation. They can do so voluntarily. They can say, “No, we want to rejoin the community of nations,” or they can enter into a conversation or a negotiation where we would lay out for them a permanent structure which would allow us to verify that they weren’t enriching, that they weren’t processing – enriching uranium, that they weren’t processing plutonium, that there wasn’t a pathway for a nuclear weapons system, that they weren’t building out missiles that could launch nuclear systems, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and that they were prepared to cease underwriting Hizballah and Hamas and all the terrorists in Syria that killed tens of thousands of people. If we can get the Iranians to agree to that, I am confident that President Trump would conclude that we could change our posture with respect to the sanctions that we have imposed upon them.
QUESTION: And Secretary Pompeo, a final question for you. Nancy Pelosi in the House has obviously been pushing for some sort of clawback of congressional war authorization. As a constitutionalist, I have no problem generally with the Legislative Branch trying to claw back some of the power that’s been lost over the last couple of hundred years to the Executive Branch when it comes to war making, but this seems like a very weird point in order to do that, especially coming from the same Democrats who greenlit Barack Obama’s non-congressionally approved war in Libya and President Obama’s drone war that spanned years at a time to sort of draw the line when it comes to the President of the United States taking what is clearly authorized under the AUMF to kill a terrorist to say, okay, now it’s time for Congress to claw back its authority. It’s sort of a weird point of departure.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, as a former member of Congress, I want to make sure that the Legislative Branch protects every one of its prerogatives. It does seem like a bit of an odd time to raise this. I am very confident that President Trump had the full legal authority to took the actions – take the actions that he took, and I am equally confident that the President will continue to use his powers, the powers he is granted under the Constitution, to take whatever action is necessary to keep the American people safe. It’s a deep commitment of his. It’s what he talked about during the campaign. It’s what he’s talked about for three years. And this week, we demonstrated that this is another promise that President Trump is prepared to continue to execute – a commitment made, a promise kept that the President is going to continue to do so long as he is the Commander-in-Chief.
QUESTION: Well, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, I know you’re really busy. I really appreciate your time today, and thank you for pursuing a policy that has helped restore a level of sanity and deterrence to one of the worst regions of the world, and thank you for helping to protect the country. It’s been a very successful week from my viewpoint, I think the view of most reasonable Americans. Really appreciate your work on it, Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, thank you so much. Thanks for having me on the show today. Have a great day.