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Rubio on Face the Nation: Soleimani Was Not in Iraq on a Diplomatic Visit. He Was There on a Terrorist Mission
Rubio: “[F]or whatever reason, [Iran] calculated that the benefits of these continued attacks through the use of these proxy groups, that the benefits of that outweighed the costs. And it was time for the president to reset that analysis for them, and he did through this strike …”
Miami, FL — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined Margaret Brennan on CBS’s Face the Nation to discuss the ongoing situation in Iraq and Iran. Rubio is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
A lightly edited transcript of the interview is below.
Brennan: “Do you believe now that America is safer after carrying out the strike against Qasem Soleimani?”
Rubio: “Well, I believe Iran was on the verge of scaling up the attacks that they were aiming against the United States, probably through surrogates in many places not just in Iraq, but in Syria as well. And the United States had to take action in order to prevent that from happening and to make very clear what would happen if they undertook further attacks down the road.
“We were the subject of I believe over ten or eleven rocket attacks just since October. It was made very clear to the Iranians what would happen, and to the IRGC that Soleimani headed, what would happen if a single American was killed. That happened, they crossed that line, and if you don’t enforce the consequences they won’t believe it and they’ll continue to ratchet it up.
“And as far as the missiles are concerned, I believe they’re probably dispersing them because they fear that a U.S. counter-attack would come, but that’s not unusual and it’s not the first time we’ve seen them take these sorts of actions. And by the way, the fact they even have ballistic missiles tells you why the Iran Deal was so flawed. It provided them billions of dollars that they were able to use to fund all of that.”
Brennan: “Senator … many are asking if the administration has a strategy in place to follow up so that so that there isn’t a cycle that further escalates.”
Rubio: “I keep hearing that about the strategy. Here’s the strategy. We are there for an anti-ISIS operation and to support the Iraqi government. By the way, at the invitation of the Iraqi government. The Iranians don’t want us there and they are threatening to kill Americans. The President of the United States has an obligation to protect those Americans. Soleimani was a threat. He was not there on a diplomatic visit. He was there on a terrorist mission.”
Brennan: “What is the administration’s strategy? Has it been explained to Congress?”
Rubio: “Yes. At least I understand it and it’s called self-defense. The United States has over five thousand military personnel in Iraq and of course additional personnel in Syria who are under direct threat, not just from Iran but from their proxy groups. Iran needs to understand that if we are attacked, whether it’s directly by the Iranians or through these proxy groups, we will respond. This president has shown — he’s not getting a lot of credit for it — but tremendous restraint after eleven rocket attacks. After everything that happened in the shipping lanes. After the mines that they placed on those ships. After the attacks against Saudi Arabia. He has shown tremendous restraint in not responding to those, but now we have reached a new level and it was time to enforce the crossing of these red lines.”
Brennan: “Do you think the president’s failure to follow up on his past threats against Iran … did that force his hand on this?”
Rubio: “What I’m suggesting is that the Iranians at the end of the day do cost-benefit analysis. And for whatever reason, they calculated that the benefits of these continued attacks through the use of these proxy groups, that the benefits of that outweighed the costs. And it was time for the President to reset that analysis for them, and he did through this strike and the strike last Friday as well. It was an important moment, it had to happen. But here’s the bottom line: The President of the United States had actionable, reliable intelligence …”
Brennan: “What was the imminent threat to Americans?”
Rubio: “When you gather information like this it is highly sensitive, it cannot be disclosed at this time without also putting in danger our sources, our methods, losing access to future intelligence of this kind. But here’s the bottom line: if the President of the United States is presented with information that there is an imminent and credible threat that could cost the lives of potentially hundreds if not thousands of American servicemen and women, and other personnel in the region, the President has an obligation to act. Any President would have an obligation to act. And this President did.”
Brennan: “How do you justify that to the American people?”
Rubio: “The question is how would you justify not acting on even the possibility that Americans could die because I can tell you that if the president does not act … Not only do I know what the threat was, I know what the threats are and have been for months. Again I refer you back to my tweets going back to May of last year when we talked about this. This is not something overnight they woke up one morning and said ‘let’s start attacking Americans.’ This is an ongoing pattern of escalation in which they use proxy groups to carry out what they believe are deniable attacks. They can kill Americans, they can deny it was them, but we know it was them, they know we know it was them, everyone else knows it was them. Some of these countries around the world pretend it wasn’t them so they don’t have to get out of the Iran Deal. But everybody knows it was them and they think they can ratchet that up without consequence.
“They thought they could get away with it because you know we’re distracted by our domestic politics because we’re so divided internally, we’re not going to do anything about it.”
Brennan: “You tweeted that Qasem Soleimani was planning a coup in Iraq. What did you mean by that?”
Rubio: “If you think about what his strategy is, his strategy is to put in place a government in Iraq, friendly to the Iranians, almost a puppet state, so they can turn the entire country of Iraq into a platform to attack American interests around the world. This is not about governance. It’s not about us putting in place someone in Iraq that we want. It’s about his desire to put in place a government and leaders in Iraq that allow him free rein to use Iraq as a platform to carry out attacks against the United States.”
Brennan: “So more of the same, the U.S. and Iran jockeying for power?”
Rubio: “In this case, there wouldn’t be any jockeying because he wants to have leaders that are friendly to him, expel us, and then they can use Iraq as a base of operations in combination with Syria and Lebanon to continue their expansionist desires in the region and to drive us out and to threaten our allies.”
Brennan: “And you actually think Iran is going to stop doing that now that Qasem Soleimani is dead?”
Rubio: “Well, I think that Iran now has to sit there and say how far are we now willing to go when we know that our adversary is far more powerful than we are. That in the end if there is a war, which I do not want. I am not advocating an invasion of Iran, I am not advocating we bomb Tehran offensively, that we take action or invade them or anything of that nature. I am saying that it has to be clear to the Iranians that if they take actions against the United States directly or through these proxies we will hold them responsible and we will act. And if that is not set in stone and they do not believe that, then Americans will die. Then we will be in danger. If that calculus does not exist, the Iranians will act against us, they will kill as many Americans as they think they can get away with. And we have to make them understand that we are serious when we say that we will do things if they act.
“Everything the president is warning about is all defensive. He is not saying, ‘Congress I need a hundred thousand American troops to invade Iran.’ That’s why all this talk about War Powers and congressional authority is so silly. The President isn’t talking about invading Iran. He’s talking about responding to anything that Iran may do in the future. And a president not only has the full authority to do that, but an obligation to do that.”
Brennan: “Senator Rubio, thank you for joining us.”