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Soleimani Killing Hadn't Been Worth The Risks. Former CIA Analyst Asks What Changed


Our next guest is Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin. She is a Democrat. She represents Michigan's 8th District, and she sits on both the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees. But before she was elected to Congress, Representative Slotkin served as a CIA analyst working alongside the U.S. military, and in that role, she did three tours in Iraq. She worked at the White House under Presidents Bush and Obama and later at the Pentagon, and she's with us in our studios now.

Congresswoman Slotkin, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

ELISSA SLOTKIN: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So we've noted your deep experience in the region. You wrote on Twitter yesterday that you participated in countless conversations about how to respond to Qassem Soleiman's violent campaigns across the region. With that in mind, two questions. First, what was your reaction when you heard that he had been killed by a U.S. drone strike? And secondly, what's your understanding about why this action wasn't taken by past presidents?

SLOTKIN: Yeah. Well, let me take the last one first. I think there had been so many conversations over the many, many years on how to deal with this Quds Force. It's been sort of a shadowy, behind-the-scenes war for a long time. And we knew that this man in particular was really a rising star and was leading this organization in a way that was resulting in the death of American citizens in Iraq in particular, arming and training Shia militias.

So it's been something that we've been struggling with. Whenever the conversation would come up on what to do about it, listen, there's always policy and legal concerns, but the most important consideration is, is the juice worth the squeeze? You know, is it worth it to provoke the Iranians in a way that would - I mean, at least one major option would always be protracted conflict with them.

Was it worth it? Would they just replace this guy? Would they continue their, you know, destabilizing activities regardless of whether he was there? And the consideration under both President Bush and President Obama was that it was not worth the strategic risk to the United States.

MARTIN: And so what do you think has changed?

SLOTKIN: I'm waiting to be briefed. As I understand it, we have a briefing from the administration, and I want to understand and give an opportunity to understand what has changed because from the outsider's perspective, not being in the administration, it's hard to understand how the strategic calculus had changed enough to make it worth it, especially for a president who says he doesn't want to get into another long, protracted war in the Middle East.

So I was sort of stopped in my tracks when I heard, and so were most of the colleagues that I have. We started immediately texting each other and calling each other and almost immediately went to the conversation about what Congress's role next would be.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you about that because you said yesterday that the administration must immediately consult with Congress going forward. Is there any evidence that there's any inclination to do that? It doesn't seem that there was any notification to Congress at all.

SLOTKIN: Yeah. I mean, so let's just talk about the facts. We have something called the War Powers Resolution. It covers our engagement abroad as a country. And one of the things that's in the War Powers Resolution is that you have to consult, particularly if you're going to do something new, sort of a military action that's not currently authorized by Congress. And killing an Iranian senior military leader is something new. So they had the responsibility to consult before and actively.

And then we get into the larger conversation of whether continued engagement on Iran is authorized, which it is not. And I asked - I had the opportunity to have Secretary Esper, our secretary of defense, in a hearing on December 11, I believe. And I asked him straight out, do you currently believe as Secretary of Defense that you have authorization for military force against Iran? And he said no.

So what is going on right now is going to kick off pretty much a 60-day period where we're going to have to decide in Congress what actions we're going to take. The administration's going to have to decide if they're going to actually seek authorization of military force. But beyond that 60-day clock, they do not have authorization to conduct a protracted war with Iran.

MARTIN: And you are expressing the hope and, in fact, the requirement that the administration consult with Congress. You said that consultations should have occurred before the strike. But if there is consultation going forward, can you share what your advice would be, given your deep background in the region?

SLOTKIN: Well, I'd want to understand two things. First, what was the intelligence basis that led to the point where the president felt like he had to target such a senior military official? I look forward to looking at the raw intelligence and not just hearing the assessment of the president's team.

MARTIN: Do you feel confident you'll be able to do that?

SLOTKIN: Well, I think for something this important, we've often had intelligence briefings with intelligence officers there next to the secretary of defense providing their own assessment. And I think that is very, very important - to have an independent analysis. So I want to know the fact basis for what led us here. I want to know what kind of planning they've done and that it's thorough because it doesn't feel like there's a coherent strategy.

MARTIN: That is Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin. She's a Democrat of Michigan. She's a former CIA analyst. And she was kind enough to join us here in our studios in Washington, D.C.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.

SLOTKIN: Thank you.

MARTIN: Later this hour, we're going to hear a perspective from a former member of President Trump's National Security Council, former senior director for Gulf affairs Kirsten Fontenrose. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.