Leveling up in power, incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed concerns over his reputation as a military hardliner during his Senate confirmation hearing.
“I know firsthand the painful sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. So when journalists, most of whom have never met me, label me—or any of you—as ‘hawks,’ ‘war hardliners,’ or worse, I shake my head,” Pompeo told lawmakers on Thursday.
“There are few who dread war more than those of us who have served in uniform,” added President Donald Trump’s nominee. “And there is a great deal of room between a military presence and war. War is always the last resort. I would prefer achieving the president’s foreign policy goals with unrelenting diplomacy rather than by sending young men and women to war.”
However, when pressed by senators about his solutions toward hostile foreign actors, Pompeo advocated for aggressive military strategy overseas, stating his belief that the president doesn’t need authorization from Congress to strike Syria or North Korea.
“There may come that day,” said Pompeo regarding the possibility of a preemptive strike.
During intense questioning from Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Pompeo confirmed the U.S. will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely until “we can greatly diminish the threat to our homeland from terrorism that may emanate there.”
“There’s nobody left alive who plotted against us on 9/11,” shot back Paul, calling Trump’s opposition to further Middle East involvement “better than many of his advisors.”
“I don’t have a contemporaneously opinion I expressed [at the time],” responded Pompeo, noting he presented a plan last summer to the president for “a continued role” in Afghanistan.
“I’ve been part of this cabinet, I’ve watched it thoughtfully every day,” said the nominee, describing his goal to “achieve the American objective” without endangering U.S. citizens.
Pompeo enters the State Department following a massive gutting of the agency under outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and amid crises over nuclear proliferation with North Korea, multilateral agreements with Iran and grey-zone military aggression from Russia. Though the State Department is at one of its lowest points in history, Pompeo remains optimistic that he can turn the beleaguered agency around.
“I am a talent hawk,” quipped the nominee.