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Sen. Reed says calling off Iran strike was ‘correct decision’

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and one of the key lawmakers to be briefed by the White House on the administration’s options for dealing with Iran. He talks to Judy Woodruff about whether canceling a planned strike on Iran was the correct choice, President Trump’s decision-making process and the consequences of the maximum pressure campaign.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return to our top story, the Trump administration's response to Iran shooting down an American drone.

    Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, is the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. He was one of the lawmakers who the White House briefed on the administration's options for dealing with Iran.

    I spoke with him earlier, and started by asking if President Trump was right to call off the strike on Iran.

  • Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.:

    I think he made a correct decision, because, as he indicated, it would be disproportionate.

    We lost an expensive drone, but without any casualties. To inflict up to 100 casualties in an attack in Iraq — excuse me — in Iran would, I think, have been not the appropriate response.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you think any alternative would have been? And was Congress being notified?

  • Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.:

    Well, the president called together the leaders of Congress yesterday, and didn't indicate any specific plan, indicated he had a range of plans.

    But he did listen to our concerns, and I made it — my point is that we have to be very cautious here, because the — any action against Iran could be reciprocated by asymmetric attacks across the region, from Afghanistan to Lebanon. So we have to be very careful.

    There are things that we can and should do. We have to insist on the ability to fly in international airspace. Our drone was in international airspace. That could have been demonstrated by a multinational flight of fighter aircraft or other aircraft. We have to maintain navigational waters.

    We could have done that, again, hopefully in a multinational fashion. And then we can take other covert means to indicate that we are not going to accept the downing of one of our drones.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you have any concerns that the U.S. looks indecisive or weak because of this on/off-again move on the part of the administration?

  • Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.:

    I think that, if it could be done over again, rather than, at the last moment, calling off the strike, if it could have been sort of eliminated from the list of options previously, and pursued other less kinetic options, then we wouldn't have been in this predicament of a last-minute sort of cancellation based upon the sudden legalization of the casualties that would result.

    But I think that, again, more careful thought, more deliberate thought about alternatives that are very proportional and alternatives that recognize that there could be likely reciprocation by the Iranians to any type of particular kinetic strike within Iran, that consensus should be in place.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    Do you think — you mentioned the negotiation. Is that possible, though, with the kind of maximum pressure campaign the administration has undertaken?

  • Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.:

    Well, I think the maximum pressure campaign has resulted in significant depredations in Iran in terms of their economy, but it's also prompting some of these much more hostile actions in the region and I think, perhaps unwittingly, the attack on the drone.

    So we're getting into this dangerous territory. I think it would be good to rethink this maximum pressure campaign, to see if there's an avenue and a series of areas in which we can have some discussions, maybe through third parties.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, Senator, I just want to ask you to step back and look at what happened, how this decision was made.

    What does it say about military decisions that have to get made one way or another at a time we don't have a confirmed secretary of defense? We know there are disagreements between the president and some of his senior advisers.

  • Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.:

    Well, I think it shows that there's not a thorough process. And some of that might be a function not only of the difficult administrative predicament of not having a confirmed secretary of defense.

    Some of it might be the National Security Council is not functioning as a kind of neutral arbiter for opinions, but they are more focused on the position that Ambassador Bolton seems to embrace of maximum pressure and maximum effect against Iran.

    And it also might be a function of the president's kind of approach, which is not going into the full detail until it appears, at the last moment, when he recognized that this would be a serious attack with as much as 100 or 150 casualties, at a minimum.

    So I think it's a function of all of these things, but the first thing that can and should be done is get in place a confirmed team at the Department of Defense, and then also look very carefully at the decision-making process, so that, when the president gets options, everything's on the table, including the potential casualties in any type of military operation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Jack Reed, the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, thank you.

  • Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.:

    Thank you very much.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, for the perspective of a Republican lawmaker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator James Risch of Idaho.

    Senator, thank you very much for joining us.

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