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Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego Weighs In On Iran Intel Briefing

NPR
Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks with Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., about Tuesday's briefing from Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on threats from Iran.

Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

What kind of force is the U.S. prepared to use against Iran? And how much of a risk does Iran, in fact, pose to the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East? Those two questions were front and center on Capitol Hill today. The full House and then the Senate met behind closed doors to hear from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Afterwards, Shanahan shared with reporters the message they delivered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PATRICK SHANAHAN: We do not want the situation to escalate. This is about deterrence, not about war.

KELLY: This as the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, evacuated non-emergency government staffers from Iraq and as President Trump warns of that provocations by Iran will be met, quote, "with great force."

On the line now is Democrat Ruben Gallego. He was a Marine deployed to Iraq. He is now a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and he was at that briefing today. Congressman, welcome.

RUBEN GALLEGO: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So having heard directly this afternoon from President Trump's national security team, what do you think? Is this about deterrence, or is this about war?

GALLEGO: This is more about war than deterrence. What I saw and heard from both briefings, today's and on Friday's, is our intelligence community gathering information that, you know, is things that are always occurring kind of in the Middle East and trying to piece together reasonings for us to ratchet up our tempo there to a point of escalation that I think can, you know, potentially trigger us into a war accidentally. And that - it's very disturbing.

And there was no real - you know, without going into details 'cause it was a classified setting, there wasn't really a true logic of what - why we were using this approach in the Middle East.

KELLY: And when you speak about piecing together intelligence - I understand your caveat that you can't get into details of intel that was discussed behind closed doors - but can you speak broadly to the quality of the intelligence that the U.S. has on Iran?

GALLEGO: Well, the quality isn't the question. It's - it's really who is telling you the information and how they're interpreting it to you. And that's the problem - right? - that I see in this administration. They're interpreting...

KELLY: So you're not...

GALLEGO: ...Some actions...

KELLY: ...Hearing flawed intelligence, at least as far as you...

GALLEGO: Correct.

KELLY: ...Can judge. You're just - you're quibbling or arguing with the way that it is being acted upon by this administration.

GALLEGO: Correct and interpreted. So for - you know, these are things - you know, you follow the Middle East, you understand, the - you know, the interplay between Iran and its militias, Iran and its neighbors, Iran and some of these other regional powerbrokers. But for - for us to suddenly put all these things together and say that there is this grand conspiracy and we have to move strong against Iran makes me question the motivation. That's why I think it's - I think we have to, as members of Congress, slow down and start asking questions, hard - asking hard questions.

KELLY: But as we just heard Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, say there, he says he doesn't want escalation. He also has said the U.S. moves to deter Iran are working. He told reporters at the Pentagon today we - meaning the Trump administration - we've put a hold on - we have put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans. In other words, he's saying there's a plan, and it's working. Why not take him at his word?

GALLEGO: Well because, you know, you have two things happening here. You have Bolton who has a historic obsession with Iran.

KELLY: John Bolton, the national security adviser.

GALLEGO: Correct - has historic obsession with Iran. You also have the risk of deterrence turning into escalation and escalation turning to miscalculation. So as both sides are trying to deter each other through different actions, both covert and overt, you - in a very dense area, you could easily trip over yourself into a war.

And that's why I think it's very important that when we are moving all these pieces around the Middle East, that we do it in a very careful way. And I don't think that everything that we've done actually has helped deter. We have a lot of assets in the area. You know, Iran very perfectly knows our capabilities. And what, potentially, we're doing is getting ourselves to a shooting war when it's unnecessary.

KELLY: May I ask you in just a yes-or-no - 'cause we only have a few seconds left - but do you not see a credible threat from Iran?

GALLEGO: Of course. They are a credible threat but not a credible threat to our national interests. And they're certainly not a credible threat that would - that would require us to have a full land invasion or a kinetic war in that area. There are ways to do it. You could do tit for tat. But you do not have to go through this process where we end up finding ourselves in another war in Asia.

KELLY: Congressman, thank you.

GALLEGO: Thank you.

KELLY: That's Arizona Democrat Ruben Gallego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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