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Gen. David Petraeus says US needed to restore ‘element of deterrence’ and show American will

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Former CIA Director David Petraeus believes the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top military commander was “bigger” than the death of Osama bin Laden.

The retired United States Army general and former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan believes President Donald Trump may have established a “deterrence” needed against Iran’s growing aggression by ordering the drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

(Video: CBS News)

On “Face the Nation” Sunday, CBS News moderator Margaret Brennan pushed the narrative against the Trump administration by calling into question the president’s vow to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East and bring U.S troops home while warning Iran that 52 targets will be hit if it strikes against America.

But Petraeus quickly delivered a reality check.

“What has happened here is frankly we lost the element of deterrence, the component of deterrence that was seen as American will. Our $130 million drone was shot down, and we did nothing significant in response. 5% of the world’s oil taken out of operation, numerous attacks on shipping, and then attacks on our forces – ultimately killing an American and wounding four of our soldiers,” he said.

“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,” Petraeus continued.

“Does this deter?” Brennan asked.

“We’ll have to see,” Petraeus replied.

“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, what have you, or do they continue to operate through proxies, which I’m pretty confident they will,” he said.

Petraeus added that the “real question” is whether there will be a diplomatic initiative by the U.S. as he noted that Iran’s equivalent of the U.S. National Security Council is calculating American responses “having seen that the U.S. is willing to take a very significant action,” unlike the former administrations.

“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,” Petraeus said, referring to Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. “So this is bigger than bin Laden. It’s bigger than Baghdadi.”

The retired general had noted that Soleimani had become more visible in recent years, but the U.S. had never followed through with going after him before, telling “Foreign Policy” in a separate interview that this was “a very significant effort to reestablish deterrence, which obviously had not been shored up by the relatively insignificant responses up until now.”

“This is the equivalent in U.S. terms of the CIA director, CENTCOM commander, JSOC commander, and presidential envoy for the region for Iran,” Petraeus said of the role of the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force in its country’s military, referring to U.S. Central Command and the Joint Special Operations Command.

“If another country had taken out even one of the officials you just listed there, how would the U.S. interpret that? An act of war?” Brennan pressed her narrative again.

“These are definitions. Were we not at war already?” Petraeus replied. “I don’t know, I’ll leave that to the constitutional scholars.”

He added that Iran’s current regime would “not go quietly into the night,” citing the militia “thugs” who will “clear the streets” for the government in an effort to retain power. But he also noted that the people of Iran are “not that invested” in the goals and aspirations of the Islamic government that purports to represent them.

“They care about themselves and about their families,” he said. “And they’re not that happy.”

Frieda Powers

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