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Former National Security Official On Repercussions Of Soleimani Strike


Kelly Magsamen has served in a variety of national security positions and is currently vice president for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress. She joins us now on the line. Welcome to the program.

KELLY MAGSAMEN: Good to be here.

FADEL: So now, you worked on the Iran portfolio for years at the National Security Council under two very different presidents. Soleimani has been on your radar that whole time. Reportedly, both administrations considered this course of action and dismissed it. Why?

MAGSAMEN: Well, listen; I think, you know, the real question is whether or not taking this step would've made Americans more or less safe. And I think there's real questions right now about whether or not President Trump's decision is actually going to leave Americans more vulnerable.

FADEL: Is there a precedent for direct action against a state actor? Normally, we're used to seeing these kinds of moves through proxies by both the U.S. and Iran, really.

MAGSAMEN: This is pretty unprecedented. I expect - you know, this is not like killing just a terrorist group leader. This is, you know, killing the head of a state government apparatus - security apparatus. So the implications of this go well beyond just sort of traditional killing of terrorists globally.

FADEL: According to President Trump, Soleimani was, quote, "planning a very major attack." But the administration hasn't really provided evidence of that claim. The invasion of Iraq was also - was predicted on faulty intelligence. How does this strike - when you hear it, how does it strike you based on the history?

MAGSAMEN: Well, I think the administration has a pretty high bar to climb in terms of, you know, providing information to the Congress, to the American public that there was, indeed, a very imminent attack. Now, of course, that's what the administration says. But I think in the coming days, they're going to have to - essentially, the intelligence community's going to have to go brief the Congress and make sure they understand the implications. But, certainly, you know, in the past, given the Iraq War experience, I think there is a lot of skepticism around U.S. intelligence.

FADEL: You've tweeted, conventional deterrence moves against an asymmetric actor like Iran will have limited utility on deterrence. Trump has added more than 14,000 troops since May. It didn't prevent the current situation. So if conventional deterrence doesn't work, what should the U.S. be doing?

MAGSAMEN: Well, I think right now, the most important thing for the United States to be doing is working very hard to ensure that U.S. personnel in diplomatic posts globally are safe. And that's going to require a lot of working with our allies, sharing intelligence, hardening of embassies, potentially drawing down more vulnerable posts. So a number of moves are going to - defensive moves are going to have to be made globally because I think this is going to potentially - Iran's reaction could potentially extend well beyond the Middle East.

FADEL: Given the maximum pressure campaign that has crippled its economy, the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and now this assassination, what incentive does Iran have to negotiate with the U.S. now?

MAGSAMEN: Well, I think right now, there's - the likelihood of the Iranians coming to the table is pretty low. I do think they're going to have to respond, you know, mainly for their own internal politics reasons. But, you know, certainly, I think the administration needs to evaluate whether or not its maximum pressure approach is actually working. I think the evidence is now showing that it's actually not working. It's actually making the region much more unstable. So I think the administration now has to sort of step back from this and say, what is our goal? What are we trying to achieve here? And are we actually deploying the right tools to get there?

FADEL: Given the situation right now, what do you hope is being discussed by the national security apparatus?

MAGSAMEN: Well, right now, I'm hoping that they're going through very extensive contingency planning for the range of Iranian responses. I mean, we could see everything from cyberattacks to kidnapping or killing of U.S. officials to attacks on additional embassies. So hopefully, right now they're in crisis response mode and doing the proper preparations. But I also hope that they're thinking the long term, what they're actually trying to achieve through their Iran policy and adjusting course.

FADEL: Kelly Magsamen of the Center for American Progress, thanks for speaking with us.

MAGSAMEN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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