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Iran Vows "Harsh" Revenge for Killing of General Qassem Soleimani; Pompeo Says Killing Soleimani Disrupted "Imminent Attack"; Is U.S. Military Equipped to Fight Another Large-Scale War; Financial Markets React to Killing of Soleimani. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 3, 2020 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We're back now with more on our breaking news. The Middle East is now on a new brink of chaos as Iran vows harsh revenge after the U.S. killed it's stop general in a drone strike.

Qassem Soleimani was one of the most powerful men in the Middle East. He served as the commander of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. That title, though, does not fully explain the towering role he played in Iran and in the region over the last several decades.

Alex Marquardt is joining me now to put all of this into context.

Alex, how significant is this? And for what it means for the region and the world?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, to that point, even calling him a general or a commander, that wildly overplays his importance to Iran and the wider world.

Soleimani was, depending on who you ask, either the second or third most-powerful man in Iran for decades. Perhaps even more powerful than the president, Hassan Rouhani.

What he had done in his career, which spanned around 40 years, since his 20s, really profoundly shaped events in the Middle East and all around the world. The significance of his death cannot be overstated.

Now his title, technically, was the head of the Quds force, that shadowy arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp., which is a U.S.- designated terrorist group that has carried out military operations and terrorist attacks globally.

U.S. officials accuse Soleimani of being behind the deaths of hundreds of American servicemembers, of maiming thousands. And on that point, politicians on both sides of the aisle agree that he deserved to be taken out.

He coordinated, supported, armed and directed violent groups well beyond Iran.

In Iraq, for starters, he was the patron of a network of Shiite militia groups, which did help to defeat ISIS but have also carried out countless atrocities against Sunni Muslim civilians.

And in Syria, he was a major backer of President Bashar al Assad, helping keep Assad in power since that revolution started nine years ago.

And then in Lebanon, where he had a great impact, Soleimani oversaw efforts and operations by the militant group, Hezbollah, including against Israel to the south.

His tentacles were everywhere. And over time, over those 40 years, he cultivated this cult-like mythical status in Iran, in the region and beyond, both with supporters and enemies. So his death, Brianna, is nothing short of monumental.

KEILAR: Monumental.

Thank you for putting that in context, Alex.

Let's discuss this more. We have CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, and former senior adviser to National Security Council under President Obama, Samantha Vinograd, with us.

Clarissa, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Americans in the region are safer after the death of Soleimani. He says that Iraqis and Iranians should view the killing as the U.S., quote, "giving them freedom."

Just fact-check that for us and give us a sense of what Iranian retaliation could look like.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, there's no question that for the vast majority of Shia Muslims, they will not see the killing of Qassem Soleimani as contributing to their freedom. They will see it as an act of war, a declaration of war by the U.S.

I think, without a doubt, as you just heard Alex Marquardt outline there, the tentacles of Iran expand far beyond the sovereign country of Iran itself.

And whether it's U.S. servicemen in Iraq or civilians in Lebanon or military personnel, who are deployed currently in Syria, there's no question that U.S. military and civilian infrastructure and assets will be increasingly vulnerable as we wait to see what kind of a retaliation the Iranians will decide to go with.

And it seems pretty clear that there will be some kind of a retaliation. There has to be for killing such a sort of towering figure within the Iranian military but also political world.

The question is: What does that look like? What shape or form does that take? Are we going to see more attacks on shipping channels, shipping lanes, oil infrastructure? Are we going to see attacks on U.S. allies in the region? Are we going to see attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the likes of which we've witnessed with those protesters over the course of the last week?

They have a plethora of different options at their disposal, all of them potentially damaging, and all of them potentially escalating the situation even further into an all-out military conflagration -- Brianna?

KEILAR: And, Sam, Pompeo's reasoning, his justification was that this disrupted an imminent attack, as he put it. "Imminent" was the important word that he used. When you look at that explanation, what's your assessment of that and whether that flies?


SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's going to come under serious scrutiny from a legal perspective. We are still waiting to hear what legal authorization the president used to conduct this targeted assassination, whether it was his Article II authority or what's known as AUMF, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

When Congress is briefed in the coming hours, I imagine we will see more about that legal justification.

But the imminent threat as a legal basis is going to be quite shaky, frankly.

And Qassem Soleimani, we have to remember, he himself was not directly participating in attacks. He was likely planning them and approving them, so even if the State Department, the Intelligence Community, are able to declassify intelligence about Soleimani's role, they will have to prove or make the case that killing him imminently decreased the chances of an operation going forward.

I think some analysts would argue that killing Soleimani and the others in this convoy may actually increase the risk of imminent attacks to American personnel. And that is borne out by the fact that the State Department has urged all American citizens to leave Iraq.

If the threat had gone down in the near term, certainly, and they would be urged not to leave Iraq, and that urging by the State Department is likely also attributable to the fact that there's a lot of pressure on the Iraqi government to respond to what's really viewed as insult on Iraqi property.

KEILAR: Clarissa, what are U.S. allies in Europe saying about this strike?

WARD: I think there's a sense of real fear and concern. No one is shedding any tears over the death of Qassem Soleimani. He has the blood of hundreds of Americans and hundreds of thousands of people living in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen.

So everybody I think in terms of European leaders would understand he was somebody who was not productive when it came to trying to establish peace.

However, at the same time, I think there's real anxiety that there hasn't necessarily been a step taken to look at what the next four or five chess moves are. What is the broader strategy here?

We hear again and again this mantra of maximum pressure on Iran. OK, well, you're certainly throwing down the gauntlet here and going with a nuclear option by targeting someone like Qassem Soleimani.

But to what end was this done? What deal is the U.S. hoping will be made? What do they hope to see coming out of this? Is it for regime change to happen overnight?

If there's the expectation, I think they're in for a rude awakening, because events like this tend to galvanize public support for the regime even among reformers who have not traditionally been supporters of the regime.

It really depends and remains to be seen exactly what President Trump is hoping to get out of this, as to what, indeed, will come as a result of it.

KEILAR: Sam, how problematic is it, for Pompeo, that he's pointing to, look, this is something that the U.S. based on an intel-based assessment when President Trump himself has just excoriated the Intel Community and disregarded the intel they produce at so many different points.

VINOGRAD: Certainly. President Trump has not been a fan of intelligence unless it typically bolsters the case he wants to make.

I'm hoping Secretary of State Pompeo meant two things. The first is that the precision strike against Soleimani was a result of very thorough intelligence-sharing partners, perhaps, intelligence collection to identify where he was going to be and when, with respect to implementing the strike.

What I'm waiting to see was is, again, what the imminent threat was that the Intelligence Community flagged.

And finally, why isn't there an intelligence assessment about of repercussions of taking the strike? Typically, in my experience, the Intelligence Community would brief how Iranian proxies would react, how the Iraqi government would react, how Russia and China, Iran's patrons, would react.

So that cost-basis assessment by the Intelligence Community is key part of any intelligence-based assessment, and we don't yet know if the president received that and/or digested it.

KEILAR: Sam, thank you.

Clarissa, thank you so much as well.

[13:39:32] There are thousands of U.S. troops heading to the Middle East amid this escalating tension between the U.S. and Iran. Is the military equipped to fight another large-scale war?


KEILAR: President George W. Bush first sent troops to Afghanistan after 9/11, in 2001, when the fight meant rooting out al Qaeda. Then in March of 2003, U.S. forces invaded Iraq, looking for weapons of mass destruction, which it turned out did not exist. And despite Bush's declaration of "mission accomplished," on May 1st of that year, U.S. troops have stayed in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Here's a look at where troops are currently deployed throughout the gulf region and beyond.


We have CNN military analyst and former Army commanding general, Mark Hertling, who is with us now.

Sir, you, of all people, are very familiar with what all of this has required of the military. America has been at war for just shy of 20 years now. Do you think that U.S. forces are prepared for a conflict of the magnitude that this could possibly bring?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the military always prepares to do the bidding of the nations, Brianna. But as you just pointed out on that map, we have a lot of military personnel in a lot of different places,. And there seems to be, in the year 2020, as we just started it, a whole lot more of emerging threats than we've ever had before.

In fact, the Council on Foreign Relations usually does a yearly thing where they put out a document on how many emerging threats do we have. For the first time this year, they had the largest number, which was 13.

Interestingly enough, in the top five was a potential for a proxy war with Iran.

So we seem to be hitting on all cylinders going into the first part of this year.

KEILAR: And I wonder, you were someone who worked on what are the consequences of military commitments going to be in Iraq, going to be in Afghanistan.

We just heard our Clarissa Ward say one of the big questions here is, what is, I guess, the chess behind this, looking six moves ahead, which is something you used to do.

Do you have confidence that was done in this case?

HERTLING: I'm not sure, truthfully. It seems to be a little bit more fast-paced and ad-hocism is applying across the board in many cases. What I would say is, when I was in the Pentagon as the war planner on

the joint staff, when the buildings were attacked and we went into Afghanistan, there was a requirement for me, for the chairman and secretary of defense to put together a list of adversaries who could potentially go against that deployment and what it would do when we started taking resources away from various commanders in order to go to Afghanistan.

That list grew when we decided to go into Iraq, and it became a much larger list of resources.

As you know, Brianna, the military is not infinite in terms of its manpower or equipment. So if you talk about executing another conflict, starting another war, having more battles, you're going to have to take some from others.

In today's world, when you have concerns in other parts of the globe, like in Korea, Europe, South America, the Arctic, the South China Sea, you start to see how a lot of combatant commanders are saying, I can't give anything up in an environment where the resources are stretched very thin.

KEILAR: Yes, they're just strapped.

General Hertling, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

There are major cities in the U.S. that are on high alert after Iran's vow to retaliate. So what are city leaders and law enforcement doing to step up security?



KEILAR: Financial markets are reacting to the attack that killed a top Irani military leader in Baghdad. And right now, the Dow Jones is down triple digits, as you can see. Oil prices are surging to their highest level in months.

CNN's Alison Kosik is live from the New York Stock Exchange.

Alison, how are investors reacting to this news out of Iraq?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, we're seeing stocks off the lows of the session, but stocks are experiencing their biggest drop we've seen in a month.

Part of that is because it's been pretty smooth sailing for stocks lately over the past month. We've seen major indices reach record highs on a weekly if not a daily basis.

But this strike on Iran's top commander really gives investors reason for caution in the stock market. And that caution is playing out through this sell off in the stock market.

Investors asking how this will impact political and economic stability around the world.

One of the biggest overhangs, I'm finding, in the market, is the concern about what will Iran do. What is Iran's next move going to be?

That uncertainty we're seeing play out in the oil markets. Oil prices spiking up 2.5 percent, sitting at about $63 per barrel. We're also seeing investors run to safe havens like gold. Gold is up 1.5 percent. Investors also piling into bonds.

Back to oil. The analysts are mixed on whether oil prices will remain elevated. Some believe that they won't remain elevated, because the International Energy Agency reported recently there will be a surplus of oil supplies this year.

Others believe we could see these elevated oil prices for weeks to come, because what the air strike does, it increases tensions in the Middle East where major oil-producing countries are, major oil supply routes are, and that that tension could continue to keep oil prices higher -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Alison, thank you so much.

And still ahead, new details on how the U.S. was able to track General Soleimani to Iraq and what he was doing there.


And we expect to hear from President Trump this afternoon about his decision to launch this air strike that killed Soleimani. We'll bring you his comments when they happen.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.