US has re-established deterrence but it's not everlasting: Pompeo on Iran

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in New Delhi on Tuesday night, the first high-level visit by a foreign dignitary after the Lok Sabha polls Photo: PTI
I was a young soldier back during the Cold War. You can have the greatest army in the world, but it doesn’t matter if you are not prepared to use it to achieve your strategic objectives.

As one of your scholars here, Victor Davis Hanson, said, “Deterrence is hard to establish and easy to lose.”

And let’s be honest. For decades, US administrations of both political parties never did enough against Iran to get the deterrence that is necessary to keep us all safe. The JCPOA itself — 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 Shiite militia networks, the very networks — the very networks — that killed an American and imposed enormous risk at our — to our embassy in Baghdad. Rather than blocking those efforts, the deal put Iran on a clear pathway to a nuclear weapon as well, something President Trump began his remarks by saying would never happen on our watch.

So what did we do? We put together a campaign of diplomatic isolation, economic pressure, and military deterrence.

The goal is two-fold. First, we wanted to deprive the regime of resources, resources it needs to perpetrate its malign activity around the world. And second, we just want Iran to behave like a normal nation. Just be like Norway, right? (Laughter.)

Diplomatically, allies and partners have joined us. They are today patrolling the Straits of Hormuz alongside of us in the Persian Gulf to stop Iranian attacks on shipping. Let us not forget how many ships the Iranians pulled from the straits over the past month.

Germany, France, Italy have all put travel bans on a company called Mahan Air. It’s an Iranian airline that ferries military — Iranian military assets and weapons to the battle zones.

Argentina and the United Kingdom have both now declared Hizballah a terrorist organisation.

And you have seen finally, too, the economic pressure that we have put in place to cut off roughly 80 per cent of the Iranian oil revenues. We are determined to get at that last 20 per cent, too.

President Rouhani himself said that we have denied the Iranian regime some $200 billion in lost foreign income and investment as a result of our activities. This is money that would have in large measure gone to support the very activities that would have put you and your fellow citizens at risk.

And you can see it, too. The Iranian people are increasingly angry at their own government for stealing their wealth and for the sake of violently spreading the regime at enormous cost to them.

On the military side, we’ve warned the Iranians repeatedly — I’ve done so personally myself — that an attack that took American lives would not be tolerated.

And they tested us, as they had tested previous administrations as well many times before. Past laxity had emboldened them.

But on December 27th, at Soleimani’s direction, we changed that. On the 31st, Iranian-backed militias attacked our embassy in Baghdad and we changed that calculus for them.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it perhaps best. Had we not taken that strike against Qasem Soleimani, our leadership — the recommendation that we made to President Trump — we would have been “culpably negligent” had we not made that recommendation, imposed a significant cost on the regime for their bad decision.

...And Iran hit back, and we’re grateful that no lives were lost, and we will never downplay the seriousness of any attack on the United States or its forces. But judging from the type and intensity of the strike, the regime certainly must now understand what we will do if they ever again pose risk to American lives. If Iran escalates, we will end it on our terms.

President Trump reinforced that deterrence when he gave a set of remarks this past week. And these days Iran is making noise about leaving the nuclear deal. 

...And our sanctions will continue until the regime stops its terrorist activity and commits to never having nuclear weapons and permits a verification regime which can give the world confidence that that will not take place.

...We have re-established deterrence, but we know it’s not everlasting, that risk remains. We are determined not to lose that deterrence. In all cases, we have to do this.

We have to do this to defend freedom and liberty around the world. That’s the whole point of President Trump’s work, to make our military the strongest it’s ever been.

We saw, not just in Iran, but in other places, too, where American deterrence was weak. We watched Russia’s 2014 occupation of the Crimea and support for aggression against Ukraine because deterrence had been undermined. We have resumed lethal support to the Ukrainian military.

...For years, too, China has restricted access for American products in its markets, while demanding access for their stuff here. We’ve made clear that we’re going to have a fair and reciprocal trading arrangement with China. We’ll demand it.  I hope, here in the next handful of hours, we sign the first part of what will be a significant agreement which will improve the lives of American citizens, raise wages for citizens here at home, and increase the economic relationship between our two countries on a set of terms that work for both China and for the United States.

There is a second mission, too. China has stolen massive quantities of American innovation, innovation created at campuses right like this one I’m standing on — everything from genetically engineered crop seeds to self-driving car technology. They stole it. They didn’t have to invest or take risk.

We’re making progress to make sure that the next part of the deal will improve on the IP protections that are in Phase One of the Chinese trade deal.

Edited excerpts from a speech by US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University, California on The Restoration of Deterrence: The Iranian Example, January 13

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