Defense Secretary Mark Esper has remained somewhat under-the-radar during the United States' flirtation with conflict with Iran, ceding center stage to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but he opened up about his stance on the situation Sunday during an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation.
Esper stood by President Trump's decision to kill Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike earlier this month in Iraq, arguing that the U.S. is safer now because of it. He didn't, however, appear to convince host Margaret Brennan with his response to her question about the intelligence the U.S. received on potential direct threats prior to Soleimani's death.
Trump previously said Washington received word of an attack against multiple U.S. embassies in the region, though that's been disputed, and it remains unclear if there was knowledge of any tangible threat, or if the decision was based on a wider assessment. Esper noted that he shared the president's view that embassies could have been the targets, but he didn't have much of an argument when Brennan pointed out that sounded more like an assessment than real intelligence. Esper acknowledged he "didn't see" anything specific in terms of threats against the embassies, but that didn't change his expectation that they were the most likely targets.
White House National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, meanwhile, defended the "exquisite intelligence" gathered by the U.S. in the lead up to Soleimani's death.