It’s not just ISIS that we need to worry about, but also Russia, North Korea, and the rise of Iran.
Newly minted CIA Director Mike Pompeo explored the long-term threats to U.S. interests this week during an hour-long interview at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
It’s still quite unclear how the Trump administration plans to divert from the previous administration’s approach in Syria. The Obama administration prioritized the defeat of ISIS while putting many of the long-term regional threats to the United States on the back burner.
The director of America’s premier intelligence agency offered insight into the regional threats that occupy his mind during his long days at Langley. Director Pompeo, a former Republican congressman, emphasized that the new administration is keeping a watchful eye on the adversarial regimes in Russia and Iran.
In Pompeo’s analysis, Russia’s “intention” was to continue to embed itself into Syria. Russia plans on making a permanent play in the country, hoping to install a warm-water naval port that can help Moscow better pursue its global interests, he explained. And if Russia expands into Syria, that will make American policymakers’ lives much more difficult.
Russian involvement in Syria on the side of the Assad regime (along with Iran and Hezbollah) “fundamentally changed the landscape” of the Islamic civil war there, Pompeo said to the forum. The CIA director alleged that former President Barack Obama had essentially “invited the Russians in,” which caused an even more inflamed sectarian environment.
Although he clearly labeled Russia as an adversarial nation with goals opposite that of the U.S., Pompeo remained open to dealing with the Russians on matters of common interests.
Turning to Iran, he noted that the theocratic regime has made troubling progress throughout the Middle East region. Iran is trying to become the “kingpin” of the region in expanding its revolution through Iran, Iraq, and now Syria, Pompeo said.
The CIA director expressed his long-held discontent for the Iran nuclear deal, which received another lease on life as Iran was re-certified as being in compliance with the rules by President Trump. Nonetheless, he said the U.S. would be ready to counter Iranian regional threats.
“They love to stick it to America,” Pompeo told the Aspen forum. “When we have a strategy in place, I’m confident we will be able to push back.”
Moving away from Syria and the Iranian regime, Pompeo said that much of the time dedicated to White House national security discussions these days revolves around North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
“The president — when I’m with him nearly every day — rarely lets me escape the Oval Office without a question about North Korea,” Pompeo said. “It is at the front of his mind.”
Pompeo entertained the possibility that Iran and North Korea were working together to further their nuclear weapons programs.
“They’ve had a lot of willing partners — suppliers, engineers, and talented physicists,” Pompeo said.
Lastly, the CIA director touched upon the global jihadi threat.
Pompeo expressed confidence that ISIS’ days are numbered, but warned that the global menace of radical Islam will remain a constant threat to the United States.
“The threat from radical Islamic terrorism is something that will be around for an awfully long time,” he warned.