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Shaheen: 'War With Iran Is Not in Our Nation's Best Interest'

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen called last night's US air strike that killed Iran's top general Qassem Soleimani a "significant escalation."

She said the US needs a strategic plan in place that prepares for any potential response from Iran, and that the plan needs to be clear.

“Mixed messages lead to the potential for miscalculations that can lead to further escalation and war,” she says. “That is not what we want to see here."

Shaheen said the US should take a broad approach to the situation in Iran, one that combines diplomatic efforts and cooperation with allies, and does not rely solely on military action. She believes a war with Iran would not be in the nation's best interest.

NHPR's Peter Biello spoke with Senator Shaheen earlier today about her take on the situation in Iran.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

So Secretary of State Pompeo said the strike on Soleimani disrupted an imminent attack and saved American lives. Do you agree with that statement?

Well, we don't know what the intelligence is that the secretary of state has or that our intelligence services have about what General Soleimani was planning. What we do know is that he had a military organization in Iran that has been designated as a terrorist group by the United States, that he is responsible for terrorist attacks against our military and the deaths of our service members, and that for those Americans who have been lost, his death does represent some justice.

In your view, is this strike made by the U.S. an act of war?

I don't think we know the answer to that yet, Peter. It's certainly as kinetic action in conflicts always is. It raises concerns. But a war with Iran is not in our nation's best interest. I don't believe Iran believes it's in their best interest. But what we want to see is a strategic approach to Iran. And, you know, what we knew when the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal was that it was going to empower hardliners in Iran like Soleimani, that it would produce a response from Iran, which we have been saying consistently and our sanctions have increased the tensions in Iran in ways that have not reduced tensions in the Middle East, but they've actually escalated them. And so what we need to do is look at options that we have that can reduce tensions... to beef up our diplomatic efforts, to look at how we can work with our allies. Our military action should not be our only response to this kind of a situation.

It seems like we keep coming back to the issue of the intelligence that you have yet to see. What questions are you planning to pose to those who are in the know?

Well, I want to see what information they had in making this decision. We don't know that yet. The American people don't know that yet. Congress doesn't know that yet. And that is critical. Did this prevent American casualties? Did this prevent Iran from taking further action in Iraq, which has been an American ally? And Iranian action there, as we saw, there were increasing demonstrations and unrest across Iraq, not just aimed at corruption in Iraq and the leadership there, but also aimed at the Iranian presence. This seems to be an effort by Iran. The Soleimani planning of the attack against our embassy in Iraq seemed to be an effort to change the subject for Iraqis to take the heat off Iran. Now, what else do we know about what was planned there? That's what I want to know.

And Iran has vowed, quote, “forceful revenge.” What do you make of that rhetoric?

Well, that's the kind of rhetoric we have heard from Iran since they took our hostages in the 1970s. So it's not unusual to hear that kind of rhetoric out of Iran. And that's why it's so important for us to have a broader strategy for how we expect to respond to whatever Iran's response might be. You know, one of the challenges that this administration has had is that they've miscalculated Iran's reaction in a number of situations. When we pulled out our troops from Syria, which I was very opposed to, because we had a small number of troops, we were not spending a lot of money there, and it was helping to stabilize Syria. And as we were ratcheting down the fight against ISIS, we didn't accurately, in my view, plan for what Iran's ability to move into Syria in response to our withdrawing the troops. It sent a message that our allies and our enemies couldn't count on the commitments that the United States had made. That's a very dangerous message for a country like Iran. We need to be clear about what our response is going to be when Iran takes certain actions. Mixed messages lead to the potential for miscalculation that can lead to further escalation and war. That is not what we want to see here.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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