General Petreaus, an actual “revered military leader”, just went on record to say the killing of Suleimani is more significant than those of even Bin Laden or al-Baghdadi.
Check this out:
From an interview with Foreign Policy:
As a former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and a former CIA director, retired Gen. David Petraeus is keenly familiar with Qassem Suleimani, the powerful chief of Iran’s Quds Force, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad Friday morning.
After months of a muted U.S. response to Tehran’s repeated lashing out—the downing of a U.S. military drone, a devastating attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, and more—Suleimani’s killing was designed to send a pointed message to the regime that the United States will not tolerate continued provocation, he said.
Petraeus spoke to Foreign Policy on Friday about the implications of an action he called “more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden.” This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Foreign Policy: What impact will the killing of Gen. Suleimani have on regional tensions?
David Petraeus: It is impossible to overstate the importance of this particular action. It is more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden or even the death of [Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi. Suleimani was the architect and operational commander of the Iranian effort to solidify control of the so-called Shia crescent, stretching from Iran to Iraq through Syria into southern Lebanon. He is responsible for providing explosives, projectiles, and arms and other munitions that killed well over 600 American soldiers and many more of our coalition and Iraqi partners just in Iraq, as well as in many other countries such as Syria. So his death is of enormous significance.
The question of course is how does Iran respond in terms of direct action by its military and Revolutionary Guard Corps forces? And how does it direct its proxies—the Iranian-supported Shia militia in Iraq and Syria and southern Lebanon, and throughout the world?
FP: Two previous administrations have reportedly considered this course of action and dismissed it. Why did Trump act now?
DP: The reasoning seems to be to show in the most significant way possible that the U.S. is just not going to allow the continued violence—the rocketing of our bases, the killing of an American contractor, the attacks on shipping, on unarmed drones—without a very significant response.
Many people had rightly questioned whether American deterrence had eroded somewhat because of the relatively insignificant responses to the earlier actions. This clearly was of vastly greater importance. Of course it also, per the Defense Department statement, was a defensive action given the reported planning and contingencies that Suleimani was going to Iraq to discuss and presumably approve.
This was in response to the killing of an American contractor, the wounding of American forces, and just a sense of how this could go downhill from here if the Iranians don’t realize that this cannot continue.
FP: Do you think this response was proportionate?
DP: It was a defensive response and this is, again, of enormous consequence and significance. But now the question is: How does Iran respond with its own forces and its proxies, and then what does that lead the U.S. to do?
Iran is in a very precarious economic situation, it is very fragile domestically—they’ve killed many, many hundreds if not thousands of Iranian citizens who were demonstrating on the streets of Iran in response to the dismal economic situation and the mismanagement and corruption. I just don’t see the Iranians as anywhere near as supportive of the regime at this point as they were decades ago during the Iran-Iraq War. Clearly the supreme leader has to consider that as Iran considers the potential responses to what the U.S. has done.
It will be interesting now to see if there is a U.S. diplomatic initiative to reach out to Iran and to say, “Okay, the next move could be strikes against your oil infrastructure and your forces in your country—where does that end?”
FP: Will Iran consider this an act of war?
DP: I don’t know what that means, to be truthful. They clearly recognize how very significant it was. But as to the definition—is a cyberattack an act of war? No one can ever answer that. We haven’t declared war, but we have taken a very, very significant action.
FP: How prepared is the U.S. to protect its forces in the region?
DP: We’ve taken numerous actions to augment our air defenses in the region, our offensive capabilities in the region, in terms of general purpose and special operations forces and air assets. The Pentagon has considered the implications the potential consequences and has done a great deal to mitigate the risks—although you can’t fully mitigate the potential risks.
FP: Do you think the decision to conduct this attack on Iraqi soil was overly provocative?
DP: Again what was the alternative? Do it in Iran? Think of the implications of that. This is the most formidable adversary that we have faced for decades. He is a combination of CIA director, JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] commander, and special presidential envoy for the region. This is a very significant effort to reestablish deterrence, which obviously had not been shored up by the relatively insignificant responses up until now.
FP: What is the likelihood that there will be an all-out war?
DP: Obviously all sides will suffer if this becomes a wider war, but Iran has to be very worried that—in the state of its economy, the significant popular unrest and demonstrations against the regime—that this is a real threat to the regime in a way that we have not seen prior to this.
FP: 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 now?
DP: The incentive would be to get out from under the sanctions, which are crippling. Could we get back to the Iran nuclear deal plus some additional actions that could address the shortcomings of the agreement?
And from Face The Nation:
MARGARET BRENNAN: Joining us now is former Obama administration CIA director, retired General David Petraeus. Good to have you here. Good morning.
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: Good to be with you, Margaret. Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Qassem Soleimani was your adversary when you were running CENTCOM.
GEN. PETRAEUS: And a very, very capable one.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What was your thought when you heard he'd been killed, the first thought?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, it was surprise, to be candid. We'd never gone after him before, although I hasten to add that he never dared set foot inside Iraq to my recollection, when I was commanding the surge, nor in the time that I was the commander of U.S. Central Command. He only really became visible in the way that he has in more recent years after the Arab Spring, supporting the murderous Bashar al-Assad in Syria and then very actively supporting the Iranian-supported militia inside Iraq that were helping to contend with the Islamic State invasion of northern and western Iraq.
MARGARET BRENNAN: He openly traveled.
GEN. PETRAEUS: He did. He did self--
MARGARET BRENNAN: He had an instagram account.
GEN. PETRAEUS: --selfies is on the front line, yeah, he was on social media. But of course, that was a period when he was helping Iraq go after the same enemy that we eventually helped Iraq defeat. And make no mistake about it, those militia and the Iraqi security forces could not have defeated the Islamic State in Iraq without our enabling forces, our drones, our precision munitions and our intelligence and advice.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There's been a lot of talk over the past few days that both the Obama and the Bush administration's had looked at targeting Qassem Soleimani and deemed it too risky. You just said that was not the case when you were in your position.
GEN. PETRAEUS: During the- during the periods that I was in Iraq and in Central Command. I can't talk about what we might have discussed when I was the CIA director some years later. But certainly at those times we just didn't have the opportunity. It never rose to any real consideration, even for me, much less taking it back to Washington--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why?
GEN. PETRAEUS: --which we certainly would have done. Well, again, we had never had him on the X as you will--
MARGARET BRENNAN: It just- it wasn't the opportunity. It's not that it was too risky.
GEN. PETRAEUS: He was in Iraq and my understanding is, prior to the surge there was an episode where we detained some Iranian advisers and so forth, which we had to release actually under pressure from Iran through the president of Iraq. But that was just prior to the start of the surge.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard Secretary Pompeo on this program say that it is entirely consistent for the president of the United States to threaten to bomb Iran, 52 sites specifically. That it's consistent with trying to de-escalate.
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that credible?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well--
MARGARET BRENNAN: To you?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, I think--
MARGARET BRENNAN: It certainly doesn't sound it.
GEN. PETRAEUS: What has happened here, I think, is frankly, that we lost the element of deterrence. The component of deterrence that was seen as American will. Our drone- 130 million dollar drone is shot down, did nothing significant response. 5 percent of the world's oil production taken out of operation. Numerous attacks on shipping and then attacks on our forces. Ultimately, of course, killing an American and wounding four of our soldiers. So ultimately, the president appears to have decided that it was necessary to take an action to shore up deterrence, to show that we were not going to accept this—
MARGARET BRENNAN: Does this to that?
GEN. PETRAEUS: And then—
MARGARET BRENNAN: Does this deter?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well the- you know, we will have to see. Again, the question is now, what will Iran do? Will they dare to respond directly with Iranian missiles against our forces, our embassies, our bases, our shipping or what have you? Or do they continue to operate through proxies, which I'm pretty confident they will do. And then, again, what is the scope of that? And the bigger issue is one you actually got to this a bit with Secretary Pompeo. But I think the real question for the United States is, will there be a diplomatic initiative that says, okay, look, this is not headed in a good direction. We truly do want to de-escalate. Everyone is going to lose if this continues to ratchet upward. Can we now sit down and talk about getting back to the nuclear agreement, with addressing the concerns that the administration has had--
MARGARET BRENNAN: You're saying there needs to be a strategy?
GEN. PETRAEUS: --and so forth.
MARGARET BRENNAN: A follow up strategy?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well and again there does. And the question is is that there? And I am- I obviously—
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we didn't get an answer to that question.
GEN. PETRAEUS: --don't know. And again we'll have to see how that plays out in the days and weeks that lie ahead.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
GEN. PETRAEUS: But I'm sure that the equivalent of the National Security Council in Iran is working very hard to do all the calculation and to determine what would the U.S. response be having seen that the U.S. is willing to take a very significant action. I mean, it- it's impossible to overstate the significance of the attack that takes out Qassem Soleimani and the number two militia leader in Iraq as well, who also never dared to set foot in Iraq during the surge after we've missed him and he escaped. So this is bigger than bin Laden. It's bigger than Baghdadi. This is the- the equivalent in U.S. terms of the CIA director, CENTCOM Commander, JSOC Commander, and presidential envoy for the region for Iran. And- and the most powerful figure in Iran for the solidification of the Shia Crescent and also the operational commander of the actions that they were pursuing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And if another country had taken out, even one of the individuals you just listed there, how would the U.S. interpret that? An act of war?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Again, these are definitions. I mean, were we not at war already? I don't know. I'll leave that to the constitutional scholars and so forth. The same with whether the Article Two of the Constitution--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
GEN. PETRAEUS: --gives the president the authority to do what he did.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Iran's revolutionary regime, you heard Senator Murphy say, they're stronger now than they've been. Economically, they're really on the ropes.
GEN. PETRAEUS: I don't think that's entirely accurate. I mean, their economy is in dismal shape.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
GEN. PETRAEUS: The people are demonstrating on the streets and in unprecedented numbers since the revolution against the economic deprivation, the lack of employment opportunities and the plummeting of their quality of life. So, they're not- by the way, they're not that invested in the kinds of Iranian adventures that have been funded and carried out by the Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force under the leadership of Qassem Soleimani.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But--
GEN PETRAEUS: They understandably want- they care about themselves and their families and they're not that happy.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But what I've had other military officials say to me is that all may be true. This may be a blow to the regime. Financially they are struggling, but that the United States may be underestimating the brutality the regime is willing to take to keep themselves in power. That this is not a tip towards regime change.
GEN. PETRAEUS: Oh, I don't underestimate that at all. There are two million Basij militia, they're called. These are thugs with pipes on the streets that will clear the streets to the extent that they can. That's in addition to the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Armed Forces and Ministry of Interior Forces. So, again, this regime is not going to go quietly into the night. I don't think this leads to regime replacement or- or some kind of failure of the regime or that's not to be expected. The question is, what does the regime do in response to the killing of Qassem Soleimani?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Last question. It's a quick one to your question. How does it end?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, this is the reason I was asking about what is our strategy from here? Do we have a diplomatic initiative to reach out? It's not quite enough, I don't think, to say, well, they know how to reach us. I think we should actually be trying to reach out through intermediaries first, of course, as we have in the past, and then trying to come to some kind of agreement about how to get back to the nuclear deal that was had its strengths, as well as some shortcomings, to be sure, and then address the other legitimate grievances and issues that we have about militia activity, support and the missile program.
MARGARET BRENNAN: General Petraeus, good to have you here.
GEN. PETRAEUS: Thanks, Margaret.