Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined Chris Wallace on this week's edition of "FOX News Sunday" to explain the rationale behind the assassination of Iranian special forces General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad last week and how the U.S. will respond to any retaliation.
"Is the president pulling us out of endless wars in the Middle East, or with this action this week, did he take a big step back in?" Wallace asked Pompeo.
"Endless wars are the direct result of weakness," Pompeo replied. "And President Trump will never let that happen. 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 potentially do. But make no mistake: America's mission is to have our footprint in the Middle East reduced while still keeping America safe from rogue regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran," he added.
CHRIS WALLACE: Do you know that the Iraqi parliament is holding an emergency session today to discuss the question as to whether U.S. troops, the 5,000 troops we have there, should remain in country? It has just come across the wires the Iraqi prime minister says, "It is in the interest of both Iraq and the U.S. to end foreign troop presence in Iraq," and he also says that the killing of General Soleimani and also a top militia leader who was backed by Iran, Muhandis, were political assassinations. Your reaction, sir.
MIKE POMPEO: Chris, the American people should know that President Trump will never shy away from protecting and defending America. It's what we've done over these past weeks and days. It's what we've done over our entire three years with our Middle East strategy. The activity that you're seeing today is fully consistent with that. The American people should know we will continue. The president tweeted it again last night. We will take the actions necessary to keep Americans safe. You know, as for the activity today with respect to Iraq, we've been in their country. We've been supporting Iraqi sovereignty. We've been continuing to take down the terrorist threat against the Iraqi people. The prime minister is the resigned prime minister. He's the acting prime minister. He's under enormous threats from the very Iranian leadership that it is that we are pushing back against. We are confident that the Iraqi people want the United States to continue to be there to fight the counterterror campaign. And we'll continue to do all the things we need to do to keep America safe.
CHRIS WALLACE: But if Iraq, it is a sovereign country, if they demand that we leave, one, will we leave? And if we do, won't that dramatically hurt the fight against ISIS and stability in the region?
MIKE POMPEO: So, we'll have to take a look at what we do when the Iraqi leadership and government makes a decision, but the American people should know we'll make the right decision. We will take actions that, frankly, the previous administration refused to take to do just that.
CHRIS WALLACE: President Trump says that General Soleimani was planning a "imminent attack against Americans." You have said it was a "big action that could potentially kill hundreds of American diplomats and soldiers." What was the plan? Who were the targets? And how soon?
MIKE POMPEO: Yes. President Trump was right in what he said. So was I. We’ll share all the intelligence if we can. I was the CIA director for a little while, Chris. There's things we simply cannot make public about what it is we knew at that time and what in fact we know today about the continuing activity. I think General Miller got it right when he said we would have been culpably negligent had we not gone after Soleimani when we had the opportunity. He was actively engaged and plotting against American interests. We need to look no further than what he had personally done over the days before that where an American was killed on December 27th. There's no surprise. There's plenty of public evidence about the bad behavior of Qassem Soleimani. He was a designated terrorist and we did the right thing.
CHRIS WALLACE: I just want to press to this degree. The -- he had been targeting Americans and other people around the region for decades. The blood of 600 Americans was on his hands for -- during the Iraq war. The question is, that there are some intelligence agents who are talking to media outlets who are saying yes, he was doing bad things but it was another day in the Middle East and some congressional leaders who have been briefed now say that the intelligence was not of an imminent attack that was bigger, more worrisome. Don't the American people have the right to some understanding of what it was, why it was so urgent to take out Soleimani now?
MIKE POMPEO: It's interesting. I haven't heard any of the congressional leaders who have seen the full set of intelligence make the comments that you just described. I think any reasonable person who saw the intelligence that the senior American leaders had in their possession would've come to the same conclusion that President Trump and our leadership team did about the fact that there would have been more risk to America, more risk through inaction than there was through the action that we took. I think it's very clear. I think it's very plain. We'll do everything we can to share this information with the American people, but I think the American people understand too, there's certain things you just can't -- you can't put out in public. You got to protect Americans who are out collecting the intelligence. The intelligence we will need in the days and weeks ahead to continue to defend and protect them.
CHRIS WALLACE: Iran's leaders are vowing a crushing response using words like a "hard revenge." What do we do if they strike back, if they retaliate? Is there a plan and is there -- because of the fact that we went after Soleimani -- has there been a change in U.S. response where we're no longer going to go after the enemy in the field we're now going to go after Iran's command and control.
MIKE POMPEO: Well, Chris, the American people know that there's a strategy. There's a strategy that has been several years in the making now, that we've been working on. It's been a diplomatic strategy. It's been an economic strategy. You're now seeing elements of the military strategy. And with respect to targets, President Trump talked about 52 targets last night. That's not new in the following sense: we've made clear to the theocrats and kleptocrats that are running Iran today, running it into the ground against the will of their own people -- we made clear to them that we would not respond just against these proxy forces that they run, in Yemen, and in Syria, and in Iraq, and in Lebanon. We made clear that this cost would be brought home to them, to the leadership regime in Iran, and that we would raise costs. We wouldn't just attack their asymmetric efforts; we would respond in a way that imposes costs on the decision-makers who are putting American lives at risk.
CHRIS WALLACE: So, you're saying to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, you're saying to President Rouhani, you're saying to leaders of the Revolutionary Guard, "Don't think that you're off limits?"
MIKE POMPEO: What I'm saying is exactly what President Trump has said. We will take responses that are appropriate and commensurate with actions that threaten American lives. That's what we've done so far, Chris. There's no reason that the American people or the Iranian regime should ever expect we'll do anything different.
CHRIS WALLACE: You talk about the strategy. The president has been pushing what he calls the maximum pressure strategy since he took office. He pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in May of 2018. He imposed tough economic sanctions. And this summer, he suggested that the strategy was working. Take a look.
PRESIDENT TRUMP, 1 AUGUST 2019: Iran is a much different country than two-and-a-half years ago. When I took over, Iran was all over. They had 14 to 18 different sights of confliction. They were all over. And now, they just want to -- oh, they want to negotiate a deal so badly.
CHRIS WALLACE: But in 2019 alone, Iran hit six ships, shot down a U.S. drone, launched an attack against Saudi oil facilities -- a damaging attack. And for all the talk of isolating Iran, they just conducted joint exercises with China and Russia. So, the question is, has the president's maximum pressure strategy made Iran less aggressive or more?
MIKE POMPEO: Panicked aggression on the part of the Iranian leadership, because they know that the Iranian people are demanding enormous change. And they know that the Iranian people are supported by America in that demand for change. Yeah. We've built out a huge coalition, Chris. Gulf states, Israel, countries all across the whole world who are joining us. They are joining us not only in the efforts in the Strait of Hormuz, but in air defense efforts all across the region. The malign actor of Iran has been identified. Remember where we came in, Chris. Remember where we came in. In 2015, the Obama-Biden administration essentially handed power to the Iranian leadership and acted as a quasi-ally of theirs, by underwriting them -- underwriting the very malicious -- that killed Americans. Those resources, the money that they had to build out those forces throughout the Shi'a Crescent was provided to them by the nuclear deal. We allowed Europeans to go do business there. We provided them $150 billion, pallets of cash. All of these things are the very challenge that the Trump administration has had to correct. The strategy is working. We're going to stay the course. And we will protect and defend the American people at every step, Chris.
CHRIS WALLACE: Just so you know, I will be asking Senator Van Hollen about that in the next segment. President Trump also says that he is keeping his campaign promise to pull U.S. troops out of the Middle East. Here's what he had to say in October.
PRESIDENT TRUMP, 17 OCTOBER, 2019: The plan is to get out of endless wars, to bring our soldiers back home, to not be policing agents all over the world. It was a quick hit, except they stayed for almost 10 years. Let someone else fight over this long, blood-stained sand.
CHRIS WALLACE: But just this week, this week, the U.S. deployed 100 Marines to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, plus 750 to the region, and now another 3,500. Is the president pulling us out of endless wars in the Middle East, or with this action this week, did he take a big step back in?
MIKE POMPEO: Endless wars are the direct result of weakness, and President Trump will never let that happen. 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 potentially do. But make no mistake: America's mission is to have our footprint in the Middle East reduced while still keeping America safe from rogue regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran, and from terrorist activity, broadly, throughout the region.
CHRIS WALLACE: So, is it fair to say that while the big strategy is to pull the U.S. out of endless wars, at least in the short term, there could be more of a commitment?
MIKE POMPEO: The Obama administration created enormous risks to the American people in Iran. This administration is working to reduce that risk.
CHRIS WALLACE: Finally, some analysts suggest that the impeachment of President Trump has emboldened enemies like Iran and North Korea to think that they can confront him. Do you think that, as misguided as it may be, that some of our enemies think that this president is more vulnerable because of the impeachment effort?
MIKE POMPEO: You should ask Mr. Soleimani.
CHRIS WALLACE: I understand that. But he was going ahead before you killed him. And the question is, do you think that impeachment is emboldening our enemies?
MIKE POMPEO: I don't. I think that our adversaries understand that President Trump and our administration will do the right thing to protect American people, every place that we find risk.