President Donald Trump revealed last week the best possible news to the country bracing for the potentially devastating results of Iran’s missile strikes on two military bases in Iraq.
“We suffered no casualties,” Trump said, surrounded by his foreign policy team at the White House.
When Trump’s speech was finished, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a letter to all department employees emphasizing the importance of the news.
“I have no higher priority as Secretary of State than making sure that you and your families are safe as you carry out your vital mission,” he wrote, according to a copy of the letter seen by Breitbart News. “We are closely monitoring the security situation at all our posts worldwide, every second of the day.”
Pompeo succeeded where his predecessor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had failed, protecting American diplomacy personnel at an increasingly dangerous time in the Middle East.
It was no accident. Since taking the job as the country’s top diplomat, Pompeo placed an enormous emphasis on security and was well aware of the ongoing hostilities in the region from Iran-backed militia.
The 2012 attacks at the consulate in Benghazi left an enormous impact on Pompeo, who was a member of Congress at the time and was a member of the special committee to investigate Clinton’s manifest failures.
“Mike and I both were astonished in 2012 given the immediate response to the attack on our compound in Benghazi, I think in part because of our background in the army,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) told Breitbart News in an interview about Pompeo.
In the military, Cotton said, security briefings were frequent as brigade commanders took detailed precautions to keep their bases safe.
Cotton said Pompeo brought that same mentality to the C.I.A and the State Department.
“Mike has taken that level of detailed granular looks at the security of all of our facilities,” he said. “That is what our diplomats and our intelligence officers, and our troops deserve from their leaders.”
In September 2018, Pompeo closed the United States consulate in Basra, Iraq, for safety reasons, calling out Iran specifically for making it unsafe for American personal.
“We’ll hold Iran’s regime accountable for any attack on our personnel or facilities, and respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives,” he wrote at the time, detailing his decision.
Pompeo closely monitored the growing security threat in Iraq as Iran grew bolder in the region.
That culminated at the end of 2019, as Iran-backed militias escalated violence against American military targets and ultimately resulted in a New Year’s Eve attack on the American embassy in Baghdad.
The tumultuous end to 2019 only escalated in the New Year with President Trump’s decision to eliminate Iran Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani.
Pompeo arrived at President Trump’s club at Mar-a-Lago in Florida on December 29, remaining there with his advisors for the duration of the escalating conflict. After Soleimani was killed, Pompeo provided the primary defense of the president’s bold decision, appearing on all of the Sunday cable news shows, and holding multiple press briefings to discuss it.
It was a stark contrast from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who reportedly passed on the opportunity to explain what happened after the disastrous attacks Benghazi.
After returning to Washington, Pompeo continued his defense of the president, teaming up with advisors to brief members of Congress about the successful mission, counseling the president at the White House as Iran launched retaliatory missile strikes, and standing by Trump’s side as he spoke from the White House. The following morning, Pomepo joined Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to announce additional punishing sanctions on Iran.
The president was clearly in command, and Pompeo moved quickly to not only execute his orders and defend the administration’s decisions.
“He’s been completely prepared for this moment and I think he and the president have handled it very well,” Cotton said about Pompeo’s role in the successful mission to reestablish deterrence with Iran and the aftermath.
Few could imagine former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in such a prominent role in a crisis, or even having the skills to properly defend the president.
Political operative David Urban, who ran Trump’s operation in Pennsylvania in 2016, said in an interview with Breitbart News Trump’s foreign policy and his national security team was the strongest he could think of in recent memory.
“They’re all, while very strong individuals, having their own very strong opinions, all still have the same unified vision of the success of this administration, unlike the beginning of this administration,” he said.
In Washington, Republicans were encouraged that Pompeo was at the president’s side.
“I have known Mike Pompeo since he was in the House, and he has always been a man of integrity,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said to Breitbart News. “There is no question the world is safer – and America’s position is stronger – because of Mike’s leadership at the State Department.”
Days earlier, some media outlets were circulating a list of possible replacements to the Secretary of State as he was reportedly privately considering a run for Senate in Kansas.
But by January 6, amidst the crisis with Iran, Pompeo told Senate Majority Mitch McConnell he would remain as Secretary of State and not pursue a run for Senate, according to reports.
Pompeo told reporters after the meeting with McConnell he had no intention of running for the Senate seat.
“I said the same thing yesterday that I said for months – no real news there,” he said. “I’ve said that I’m going to stay serving as Secretary of State so long as President Trump shall have me. So, no, if I – you can accuse me of being inconsistent elsewise, but not on that one.”
While Sen. Mitch McConnell might have been disappointed, many Republicans in Washington were not.
“It would have been great fun to reunite with Mike Pompeo in the Congress but he is doing a great job as Secretary of State and I’m glad he’ll be there next year,” Cotton said to Breitbart News in reaction to Pompeo’s decision to stay.
“He’s a great asset to President Trump, and he will continue to help the administration make this century another American Century,” McCarthy said.
Ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) praised Pompeo as a “strong, steady hand” at the State Department.
“With his experience on the Intel Committee and leading the CIA, he has a deep understanding of the international threat matrix and how to advance America’s interests,” Nunes said to Breitbart News.
But the escalating conflict with Iran helped solidify Pompeo’s intentions to stay in the administration, according to sources.
A senior administration official close to Pompeo told Breitbart News the secretary was eager to continue serving the president at an important time in the world.
“The desire to continue to serve President Trump and ensure he is successful is reason number one,” he said, describing Pompeo’s decision to stay. “He feels that he can do that mission best in this current position.”
Aside from the immediate threat posed by Iran, Pompeo is eager keep working on the long term geo-strategic threat posed by China and wanted to continue his ongoing push for religious freedom around the world.
Sources close to the secretary said Pompeo operates comfortably in President Trump’s America-first foreign policy, channeling the president’s energy to signal toughness to the world.
The secretary of state also appears empowered by the president’s politics.
“The secretary has mentioned to me a number of times how he just respects the fearless way that President Trump remains committed regardless of personal cost, to achieve what he promised the American people he would,” a senior administration official said.
Critics despise Trump’s fearlessness combined with Pompeo’s “swagger,” but the secretary’s friends delight in watching him tackle the issues of the day.
“Both of them understand what an America first foreign policy looks like,” a source close to Pompeo told Breitbart News, referring to Pompeo and Trump.
“Sec. Pompeo has worked collaboratively with the president to really have a strong vision for a strong America all over the globe,” Urban said.
The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
President Trump and Pompeo shared long-standing criticisms of the Obama approach to Iran and the Iran nuclear deal. They also criticized Clinton’s handling of Benghazi and criticized them both for allowing it to happen in the first place.
Pompeo entered Congress in the tea party era of the Republican party that grew deeply suspicious of Obama’s effort to reverse American foreign policy with Iran and Hillary Clinton’s “leading from behind” foreign policy in Libya. Adding Benghazi to the list of foreign policy mistakes only strengthened Pompeo’s understanding of the world and what American engagement in the world should look like.
“I do think it shaped his thinking not only about Hillary Clinton but about how the Obama administration approached foreign policy generally and leading from behind,” said a Pompeo associate to Breitbart News.
In Congress, many Republicans believed Pompeo to be a military hawk, following in the same footsteps as a Sen. John McCain or a Sen. Lindsey Graham.
But after joining the Trump administration, friends say Pompeo has learned to appreciate the president’s reluctance to engage in widespread military interventionism and regime change and channeling a Republican party weary of endless wars.
“I do think that that has had an influence on the secretary in terms of how he views the American role in foreign policy,” one friend of Pompeo’s said.
Urban said he believed Pompeo was still a hawk, but tempered in terms of expectations.
“You can still be hawkish without wanting entanglements,” Urban said, pointing to the use of limited power, but “strong” power to push back against a long list of conflicts.
Pompeo’s success in the administration comes from his understanding of the chain of command — Trump is the president and the Secretary of State exists to serve the duly elected president of the United States.
“It is ultimately the president’s foreign policy and Mike understands that,” Cotton said.
That sort of instinctual deference comes from his military service, say people close to the Secretary.
“I don’t think Secretary Pompeo has a question about what the chain of command looks like,” Urban said. “There’s no question. Zero.”
Urban graduated West Point with Pompeo and also with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. He said that both advisors to the president were experts who would give the president their assessments and unvarnished opinions on the issues facing the country.
“At the end of the day, they all understand that he is the president, he’s the decider, it’s his policy they implement it,” Urban said.
Sen. Cotton compared the relationship between Trump and Pompeo to former President Ronald Reagan and his second Secretary of State George Schultz, noting he had the trust and confidence of the president
“One can be smart, learned and experienced but if the secretary doesn’t speak for the president, and isn’t seen to speak for the president, it’s hard to succeed as our nation’s top diplomat,” Cotton said.