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U.S. should ‘drive a wedge’ between Iranian regime and its people, says Rep. Gallagher

For a congressional Republican’s perspective on the conflict between the U.S. and Iran, we turn to Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former Marine who deployed twice to Iraq as a commander of intelligence teams. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why he supported the decision to kill Gen. Qassem Soleimani and what he expects next from Iran.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And let's turn now to Capitol Hill, where we have been discussing, for reaction from lawmakers firsthand.

    First up, Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. He's also a Marine Corps veteran. He deployed to Iraq twice as a commander of intelligence teams.

    Congressman Gallagher, thank you very much for joining us.

    So, we did hear the president say, in so many words, that the United States, Iran appears to have stepped back from the brink.

    But we're also hearing — and we just heard it from our analyst Karim Sadjadpour — that it very well may be that Iran has other things in mind.

    How do we know that hostilities are at an end?

  • Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc.:

    Well, it's too early to tell. The dust is indeed still settling.

    And I would expect Iran to revert to its modus operandi for at least the last two years, but really the last three decades, where it traditionally uses proxies, cutouts, terrorists group to do its dirty work for it.

    I do, however, think initial indications are promising that we have managed to reestablish some semblance of a credible military deterrent in the region. If nothing else, I think the Iranian regime clearly understands that, if they kill more Americans, we will strike back forcefully. And I think that's a good thing.

    I have supported taking Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis off the battlefield. And my hope is that the combination of maximum economic pressure, and a credible military deterrent, which we really haven't had for a long time — I think you would have to go back to at least to 2003, which was, coincidentally, the last time the Iranians really suspended their nuclear program.

    I think that combination really gives us an opportunity to put more pressure on the regime and ultimately drive a wedge between the regime and its people, because what the Iranian regime fears more than anything else, more than any strike President Trump could order, is its own people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, just quickly, then do you believe the president was too quick to say this morning that the Iranian people deserve a great future, deserve peace?

  • Rep. Mike Gallagher:

    No, I think that's an incontrovertible statement.

    The Iranian people do deserve a great future and they deserve peace. And the primary obstacle to peace and future for the Iranian people is their own terrorist-sponsoring, murderous regime that recently, with Soleimani's death squads, gunned down 1,200 Iranian civilians.

    It was their Tiananmen Square moment. And, furthermore, shut down Internet for 10 days in Iran, at the cost of hundreds and millions of dollars that they don't have, all because of fear of their own people.

    So I really think we need to unite our traditional allies in the region and unite every — even sort of Shia groups in the region around the idea that standing in the way of your future, standing in the way of independence, sovereignty and strength in the region is the Iranian regime.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How would you now describe, right now, the relationship between the United States and Iran after all this?

    I mean, last Thursday night, the American people, I think, thought maybe we were on the brink of war. Today, we hear the president talking about peace. What is it?

  • Rep. Mike Gallagher:

    I think it's intense competition.

    And it will have non-kinetic forms. It will have kinetic forms. And the Iranians really have been attacking us consistently through proxies in recent years.

    And I think the Trump administration actually showed remarkable restraint in response to, for example, attacks on commercial vessels in the Straits of Hormuz, downing our unmanned drone in the region, attacking the Saudi Abqaiq facility.

    But, finally, when they crossed that red line of killing an American and attacking our embassy, that was too much for President Trump. And so who knows what the future will hold.

    I think we have also given the Iraqi people a chance. Lost in all this is the fact that the Iraqi people have taken to the streets. They have been in Tahrir Square since October protesting Iranian influence in their country, protesting corruption in their own government.

    And I think we should send a strong signal now that we're not going anywhere, that we want to continue the partnership that was so effective in dismantling ISIS, for example, and we're not going to let Iran and its proxies stand in the way of that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very quick, two more questions.

    Do you now believe that the administration had — had clear evidence that General Soleimani was planning something new, a new threat against American interests that justified his killing?

  • Rep. Mike Gallagher:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And can you share any of that with the American people?

  • Rep. Mike Gallagher:

    No, I'm a counterintelligence, human intelligence officer by trade, so I'm a bit hesitant to share anything in the realm of classified information.

    But I have seen nothing to change my basic assessment that we needed to take action, although imminence was not the standard here. I think we sent a clear red line to the Iranian people that, if you kill Americans, we are going to respond forcefully.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, we know Speaker Pelosi has said today she's going to introduce a resolution to be voted on tomorrow limiting the president's ability to take military action in Iran without approval from Congress.

    Is the administration prepared to support anything like that, in your view?

  • Rep. Mike Gallagher:

    Well, I don't know what the administration is prepared to support.

    I think my initial reading of the resolution is that it's counterproductive. Their plans were to introduce it prior to having even read any of the intelligence, which suggests that this is not a serious effort.

    There's language in the resolution that further puts the blame for escalation on the American military, which I think is wrong and creates a false moral equivalence between the terrorist-supporting Iranian regime and our own troops and people trying to keep America safe.

    And, furthermore, it's unclear whether the war powers resolution, which has been largely ineffectual in its four-decade history, is even applicable in this situation.

    The president obviously has the authority inherently in Article 2. We're in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and pursuant to a 2002 AUMF that Congress hasn't taken the time to repeal.

    I would be for repealing that and replacing it with something that was more narrowly tailored, though.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman Mike Gallagher, thank you very much.

  • Rep. Mike Gallagher:

    Thank you.

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