A telling moment came in March when Mr. Pompeo visited Jerusalem, where he spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the threat that Iran poses to Israel. An interviewer from the Christian Broadcasting Network posed a question around a biblical tale about a queen who saved Jews from being massacred by a Persian viceroy: Did Mr. Pompeo think President Trump had been “raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?”
“As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” Mr. Pompeo said, noting with pride “the work that our administration’s done, to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains. I am confident that the Lord is at work here.”
One month after starting his job in April 2018, Mr. Pompeo worked with Mr. Trump to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. And he went much further: He announced 12 demands that Iran would have to meet before the United States considered lifting renewed sanctions. Mr. Pompeo has a grand goal of undermining what he calls Iran’s “expansionist foreign policy” — a mission that Mr. Trump never mentions. Iranian leaders see meeting the 12 demands as tantamount to regime suicide, analysts say.
“Most of them are unacceptable to the Iranians,” said R. Nicholas Burns, the top career State Department official under President George W. Bush. “As a result, we’ve had zero contact with them and no ability to influence their behavior.”
Mr. Pompeo’s drive to confront Iran on all fronts has become conflated with the aim of keeping limits on its nuclear program. By contrast, top officials under Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama kept a compartmentalized focus on the nuclear issue, since that was more easily addressed alone.
In April, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton pushed Mr. Trump to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, even though Pentagon and C.I.A. officials opposed the action, saying it could provoke attacks. Mr. Pompeo then announced the end of permission for eight governments, including American allies, to bypass sanctions in buying oil from Iran. Those moves, analysts say, have led to the current crisis.
In recent classified briefings to Congress and in public declarations, Mr. Pompeo has discussed ties between Iran and Al Qaeda. Democratic and some Republican lawmakers say that is a blatant attempt to lay the groundwork for bypassing the need for new congressional war authorization if Mr. Trump decides to strike Iran.