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  March 13, 2018

Does Pompeo at State Mean War on Iran?

President Trump's ouster of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State in favor of Mike Pompeo is a step closer to US war on Iran, says national security reporter Marcy Wheeler
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Marcy Wheeler is a national security reporter and author. Her website is Empty Wheel.


AARON MATÉ: It's The Real News. I'm Aaron Maté. Speaking to reporters today on the White House south lawn, President Trump said that Iran was a major factor in his decision to fire Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

DONALD TRUMP: Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along, actually quite well, but we disagreed on things. When you look at the Iran deal, I think it's terrible. I guess he thought it was okay. I wanted to either break it or do something. He felt a little bit differently. So, we were not really thinking the same. With Mike, Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it's going to go very well.

AARON MATÉ: So, with Trump and Mike Pompeo having a similar thought process, as he says, what does that mean for Trump's plans on Iran and his wider global agenda?

Joining me still is Marcy Wheeler, national security reporter, whose website is All right, Marcy, what do you think is the significance of Tillerson's replacement, his ouster, and his replacement with Mike Pompeo?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, a, he has to be confirmed first, and that's not, I think Gina Haspel will be confirmed, unfortunately. But I'm not sure Pompeo's confirmation is going to go that smoothly. Assuming he gets confirmed, I sort of think of this in what I call Jared Kushner's peace deal, which is a move to remap the Middle East. It probably means war with Iran. It probably means continued coddling of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Israel. It means close relations with Russia. So, on all of those fronts, Trump is right. He's moving Pompeo to state because he will get no pushback on some pretty stupid foreign policy goals and some pretty poorly thought out implementation of maybe better foreign policy goals.

He wants somebody who will do what he wants. So if he gets Pompeo in that position, that's where, I mean, if he doesn't get Pompeo in that position, we're probably going to see someone equally as bad in that position. But Pompeo, if he gets that position, I assume that there will be war with Iran.

AARON MATÉ: But the Senate confirmed Pompeo as CIA Chief, so why wouldn't they confirm him as Secretary of State?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, a, he has to get through the committee. The committee is an 11/10 split. One of the Republicans is Rand Paul who voted against Pompeo for the CIA Director position. There were two Democrats in that committee who voted for Pompeo. Jeanne Shaheen and Tim Kaine. But Pompeo has done things with regards to the Russian investigation that should make both of them oppose him for Secretary of State. Then there are people like Corker who was originally cool to the idea of a Pompeo Secretary of State. Jeff Flake, Marco Rubio, who both aren't necessarily in lock step with the president on these foreign policy goals.

So, I'm just saying it's quite possible he won't get out of the committee because of the fact it's a more even committee, because unlike the Senate Intelligence Committee, it's not just a rubber stamp, and because of the specific make up of the committee. If it gets to the Senate, then a lot of it depends on whether people will filibuster him, but yeah, I think the place where it might get held up is in committee.

AARON MATÉ: All right. So, if he does get out of committee and he is confirmed, you say that means war with Iran. Why?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, because once Trump backs out of the Iran deal, we are not going to have the European allies with us because they were with us on sanctions to push Iran into the Iran deal up to a point, and I think they've reached beyond that point. For Trump to pull out of the Iran deal in the same way pulling out of the Paris Accord and a number of other agreements, I think Europeans are going to begin to say, "We're not going to put your quasi leadership over our interests anymore, and we're going to continue to engage with Iran. We also think that Saudi Arabia is a ..." Look, Saudi Arabia is a bigger destabilizing force in the Middle East right now than Iran. They are committing genocide in Yemen with our help. So, when you look at things like that, I think the rest of the world is not as, I mean, aside from selling war toys for Saudi Arabia, the rest of the world is not as...blind to Saudi aggressions as we are. I think that under Pompeo it will continue to get worse.

AARON MATÉ: Okay. In terms of the Kushner peace plan that you mentioned and whether or not Pompeo will help elevate that, by that you mean, if I understand it right, basically Kushner wants to enlist the Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE to help essentially buy off the Palestinians, pressure the Palestinian authority to accept a fragmented set of cantons that they'll call a state. That will take Palestinians out of the equations and then free up the Trump administration to more forcibly confront Iran?

MARCY WHEELER: Right. Also, Qatar is involved in this. There were reports that a top Republican donor at the Emirates behest was pushing for Tillerson's head last fall. Because Tillerson did not back their isolation of Qatar. So, it's a Sunni, Shia thing, and we should expect Trump to get even more anti-Shia than American foreign policy has been for the last 30 years, which is saying something.

AARON MATÉ: Tell us a bit about Pompeo. What about his background do you think can give us an expectation for what he will be like as Secretary of State?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, I mean, he has politicized the CIA. He is politicizing the intelligence for more than...

AARON MATÉ: He wouldn't be the first person to politicize the CIA.

MARCY WHEELER: No, I mean, he, but I think he is, I think it's more dangerous under Trump even than under Bush. Because Bush at least had adults around him, whereas Trump doesn't have people who understand how the world works around him. So yes, it's terrible to have somebody who politicizes stuff and frankly, it's probably less dangerous at state than it is at the CIA. That might be a better trade to have Gina Haspel at CIA and Pompeo at state. But I also just think he is a bigot. He has injected religion into foreign service CIA. He's not a rational minded, civil servant of the kind that, he may be a better bureaucrat than Rex Tillerson, who kind of botched the state department. So, he may hire all of these positions that have been vacated by Tillerson. But he's going to hire them with hacks. He's going to hire them with people are party apparatchiks rather than diplomats. So, that's not necessarily a better thing.

AARON MATÉ: Well, from hiring hacks to a lack of adults, all this just sounds like continuity to me. I don't see a big difference from that and the Bush administration, for example.

MARCY WHEELER: I think there is a big difference. I mean, I think the number of actual career diplomats who have either been fired or who left is very significant. A fall off from the Obama administration. Already today, Trump said that he's going to elevate the spokesperson, who's a former Fox and Friends personality, to be the under secretary to replace the guy who got fired for telling the truth today. So, we are bringing in completely unqualified people to fill what have traditionally been career positions or professional positions, and in the span of a day, we're seeing ideology, or loyalty, or just willingness to do whatever Trump says, especially up to, and including lying being valued over any kind of experience in the diplomatic-sphere.

AARON MATÉ: All right. Marcy, continuity or not, I think we can agree that there is cause for alarm and on that point of concord, I think we can leave it there for today. Unless you have any final thoughts.

MARCY WHEELER: Fight about Russia in 30 seconds or less?

AARON MATÉ: No. Definitely no Russia. We'll leave it there.

Marcy Wheeler, national security reporter. Her website is Thank you.


AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.


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