The targeted assassination of senior Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was more than a simple retaliation by the US for attacks on US assets in the region, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Monday, but rather represents the beginning of a larger shift in US policy vis-à-vis the Islamic republic.
Speaking at The Hoover Institute, a conservative think-tank at Stanford, on Monday, Pompeo laid out the administration’s case for eliminating Soleimani.
Pomepo cited Soleimani’s responsibility, as the chief of the Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, for masterminding attacks which killed some 600 American troops, most of them in Iraq. The Secretary of State compared Soleimani to arch-terrorists and Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, who was killed in a US special forces operation in 2011.
“There is no terrorist, except for Osama Bin Laden, who has more American blood on his hands than Qassem Soleimani. He killed 600 of our American patriots. I knew some of these young men. He is the mastermind of the most recent attacks on our forces in Iraq,” including a deadly rocket attack by pro-Iranian militias on an Iraqi base housing US forces in December, and the subsequent assault on the US embassy in Baghdad.”
Soleimani’s killing is not an isolated act, however, Pompeo stressed, saying that the administration has launched an effort to ‘re-establish deterrence’ vis-à-vis Iran, criticizing previous administrations for ‘never doing enough against Iran’.
"I want to lay this out in context of what we've been trying to do. There's a bigger strategy to this. President Trump and those of us in his national security team are re-establishing deterrence -- real deterrence ‒ against the Islamic Republic. In strategic terms, this simply means persuading the other party that the costs of specific behavior exceed its benefits. That requires credibility – indeed it depends on it. Your adversary must understand that not only do you have the capacity to impose costs, but that you are in fact willing to do so.”
“Let’s be honest. For decades, US administrations from both political parties never did enough against Iran to get the deterrence that is necessary to keep us all safe.”
“The nuclear deal made things worse. It enabled that regime to create wealth. It opened up revenue streams for the Ayatollahs to build up the Shi’ite militias – the very networks that killed an American imposed an enormous risk to our embassy in Baghdad.”
Pompeo’s comments on the Soleimani strike came the same day that Attorney General William Barr defended the assassination, calling the slain Iranian general a “legitimate target”.
"Frankly I didn't think it was a close call," Barr told reporters, according to USA Today, adding, "The president clearly had the authority to act as he did...We had a situation where the Iranians had already embarked on a series of escalating violent actions taken against our allies, taken against the American people, our troops, with the avowed purpose of driving us out of the Middle East."
Barr also cited US deterrence as a reason for the decision to eliminate the senior Iranian leader.
"Our ability to deter attacks had obviously broken down," the attorney general said, referring to a series of escalating confrontations between Washington and Tehran that preceded Soleimani's killing.