When the U.S. military killed an elite Iranian general in Iraq on Friday, Washington called it self-defense, while Tehran called it a crime -- and vowed vengeance. Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the evidence that Qassem Soleimani presented an imminent threat to American lives and why his assassination “had to be done.”
And now, for a Republican view, we turn to Senator James Risch of Idaho. He's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thank you very much for joining us.
I know that you agree with the president that this targeted killing of General Soleimani was warranted. Why?
Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:
This man is as well-known — was as well-known as Osama bin Laden.
Certainly, the case can be made that he was more dangerous than Osama bin Laden, if you take just the number of people that he killed vs. what Osama bin Laden did. He's done terrible things. He heads up a terrorist organization, the Quds Force.
He has — he was the person who was responsible for executing the program of manufacturing and deploying IEDs. They're the terrible roadside bomb that killed and maimed so many of our men and women who fought in Iraq.
This was a bad person. Just recently, there is very strong and clear intelligence information that he was ratcheting up and getting ready to commit some acts that would have resulted and most likely resulted in a loss of very significant American life.
And that's what I wanted to ask you about, because we just heard Senator Kaine say there was no evidence that Congress had of an imminent threat and that, in effect, what the president has done is drive the U.S. and Iran, in his words, to the brink of an unnecessary war now.
Sen. James Risch:
Well, Tim's a bright guy. And I really respect his judgment.
But Tim knows as well as I do that Iran has been doing this for a long time. They shot down that drone just recently. They attacked the Saudi Arabia oil plant. They have been for — over the last 60 days, they have committed a dozen attacks on our troops in Iraq by lobbing rockets onto the grounds.
They hadn't killed anybody until just recently and, of course, killed an American and an injured four.
I think, really, the — they have been notorious for miscalculating in the past. They looked at what I think was reasonable forbearance on the president's part when he made the decision the drone in the second attack that he would forbear at that moment.
I think they mistook that for weakness. Myself and others have been sending the message to the Iranians, both publicly and through the usual back channels, that they shouldn't mistake reasonable forbearance for weakness…
… that this man is…
But, Senator, if I could just step in, given the fact that there's every expectation Iran will now retaliate, was it worth whatever they're going to do to take him down?
Well, clearly, this had to be done.
Judy, can you imagine if we were holding this interview after the intelligence information that we had clearly showed that Soleimani was going to do these attacks and killing Americans, and then the word got out that the president knew about it and didn't do anything?
That would be horrendous. Can you imagine what the Democrats would be saying under those circumstances?
Senator, one other point Senator Kaine made had to do with how this pushes, in his words, Iraq into the arms of Iran, that carrying this out on Iraqi soil — we know the Iraqi prime minister has criticized the U.S. for doing this.
Is that another repercussion the U.S. would rather not have seen?
Easy charge to make.
The difficulty is, is the Iranians have been infiltrating Iraq for a long time. Soleimani himself was commanding Iranian troops that were present in Iraq. This — there's no pushing needed.
The Shia who live in Iraq are perfectly happy to be in bed with the Iranians, the Sunnis not so much. And as with most of these conflicts in the Middle East, it is very, very deeply tied to the religious difference between those two sects.
And, finally, Senator, what about the role of Congress in this? Should Congress be required to have an authorization, a sign-off before the president takes this kind of military action in the future?
You know, we have the War Powers Act that the president has. And the president also has powers under Article 2 of the Constitution.
This wasn't a political action. This was a military action that the president took to protect American people and American interests. Under the law, he is required to report to Congress within 48 hours of the action he took and the basis for it.
And I have been assured in the numerous calls I have had, including talking with the president this morning, that — that report will be coming. And this was a military action. It wasn't a legislative action.
And going forward?
I think that the — there's not going to be any military action on our part at this point, unless, of course, more — we get information or the president gets information from the intelligence community that we have an imminent attack.
He will defend American troops. I'm absolutely convinced of it. He hates doing this. He doesn't like using kinetic action, but he is deeply committed to protecting American lives.
Chairman James Risch of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thank you, Senator.
Judy, thank you very much for having me.
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