Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) Is Interviewed About The Current Situation Of The United States Against Iran; Iran Sends A Message To The U.S.; Pentagon To Assess The Damage In Iraq's U.S. Facility; Iran Launched Ballistic Missile Attack At Two Iraqi Bases; Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) Is Interviewed About Iran's Missile Strike At Two Military Bases, President Trump, And How U.S. Should Respond To The Attacks. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired January 7, 2020 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. Good evening. It's been about five and a half hours since Iranian missiles fell on American forces at two bases in Iraq.
And now that the immediate rush of developments has started to calm down a little bit, we want to bring you up to date on everything that we know has happened, as well as bring you the best reporting we have on what might happen next.
Late tonight, President Trump went on Twitter and said all is well. He did not address the nation tonight. There was no White House spokesperson briefing the public, just the presidential tweet.
It reads, quote, "All is well. Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties and damages taking place now. So far so good. We have the most powerful and well- equipped military anywhere in the world by far. I will be making a statement tomorrow morning."
Now the missiles, more than a dozen of them, ballistic missiles hit two bases, one in Al Asad in the west central part of Iraq, the other in Erbil. It was a country to country attack aimed at Iraq, but directed at the United States, retaliation for the killing of Iranians General Qasem Soleimani last week in a U.S. drone strike. He was buried shortly after tonight's attack.
Iran's foreign minister on Twitter, as well as tonight apparently signaling restraint, quoting now, "We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression."
At the same time the Islamic Revolutionary Guard is warning of further bloodshed if Iran is bombed, threatening to target Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
It is certainly a very tense situation all around. We have reporters on every angle tonight on late development inside the White House, in Tehran and Baghdad. CNN's Pamela Brown starts us off. What's the reaction over at the White House? PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson,
the administration sources say they're waiting for a full battle damage assessment as they weigh potential response options.
One official I spoke to tonight said it's no surprise Iran chose to target the air bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces. They have been viewed as a possible Iranian target for many months.
The initial assessment, Anderson, is that the Iranian missiles struck areas of the Al Asad base not populated by Americans. And a source familiar says that U.S. personnel had enough early warning of the missiles so that they could get out of harm's way and go into bunkers.
Now one theory White House officials are floating tonight is that Iran was trying to perhaps send a message more than inflict harm on the U.S. But it's still too premature we should note to know Iran's intent. And we still don't have a full picture of the battle assessment.
Now the president tonight appears to be minimizing the strikes, tweeting that all is well, that so far so good in response to the assessment, as you pointed out with that tweet.
Just a few days ago, Anderson, you'll remember the president drew a red line, saying if Iran struck any Americans or American assets, that Iran would be hit hard and hit fast. At the same time, this president has campaigned on getting out of foreign entanglements. The administration has said it does not want to go to war with Iran.
So, we'll see if the president follows through on the red line he drew for himself, or whether he de-escalates the situation.
COOPER: We saw both the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Esper and the chairman of joints chiefs at the White House tonight. Do we know much about their visit? I think it lasted about an hour or so.
BROWN: It did. Yes. So shortly after the Iranian strikes, the president's top national security officials, Defense Secretary Esper, Secretary Pompeo arrived at the White House to meet with the president in the Oval Office. They were there for about an hour.
An official tells me that they discussed the strike. They looked at different response options that had already been worked up. But of course, the administration had been preparing for retaliation.
But ultimately, the decision was made to take a more cautious approach, learn more about the fallout from the Iranian strike as they weigh these responses. Both Esper and Pompeo, and other top national security advisers we should note were all proponents of the initial strike against Soleimani that led to this counterattack from Iran tonight. Anderson?
COOPER: And the president said he is going to make a statement in the morning, or the White House said he will. BROWN: That's right. And we don't know exactly what he is going to be
saying in that statement, what it will entail, whether he'll discuss any possible retaliation from the U.S. side.
By that time, a battle assessment, battle damage assessment should be made because there will be plenty of hours of daylight in Iraq so the U.S. will have a much better understanding of the missile strikes coming from Iran tonight.
COOPER: All right. Pamela Brown from the White House. Thanks very much. I appreciate it, reporting on the White House tonight. Let's go to Fred Pleitgen who is in Tehran for us. Fred, what else are you learning about the attacks?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Iranians, Anderson, seem to be confirming that this was their retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani.
And apparently, at least from what we're reading into this, it seems to be that this is it and the Iranians are saying it does not have to go any farther than that. You've already mentioned a little bit of the -- of what the Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted. I want to get the early part of that tweet because I think some of that is actually key as well.
He tweeted, Iran took and concluded for a proportionate measure in self-defense under article 51 of the Charter, U.N. Charter targeting a base which cowardly armed attack against our citizens and senior officials were launched.
So essentially what the Iranians are saying that at least according to their assessment, they attacked the base from which the drone, or the plane whatever hit Qasem Soleimani took off of.
So, the area from where the U.S. attack originated, that's what the Iranians wanted to hit. I think a key word in what Javad Zarif said there is concluded. So, the Iranians are saying that they have started their counterattack, and now they have concluded it. So essentially, they're saying none of this has to go any further than this.
It is now all in President Trump's hands. Whether or not it stays this way or whether it escalates any further.
Another thing that was really remarkable is that the Iranians used their ballistic missile program really for the first time, certainly against U.S. targets to conduct these strikes. And that's something that in itself is probably a good deal of messaging by the Iranians towards the United States, but also towards the audience here at home as well.
One of the things that the Iranians have been telling me, have been telling others who have been watching this new crisis unfold is they say look, if the U.S. is going to start escalating against Iran, they need to be aware of two things. First of all, Iran controls a bunch of proxy forces, we know that in
the Middle East. But the second thing they've always talked about has always been their ballistic missile program.
They've always said how much they've advanced their ballistic missile program, how much further their missiles can fly now, how much more accurate they are than they were before. And tonight, they certainly have showed that they at least can hit fairly accurate targets that they pick out and that that ballistic missile program is certainly quite dangerous.
So, the Iranians were essentially saying, look, if you want to escalate this whole thing even further, the Iranians don't only have to rely on their proxy forces that they have in this region, but also on their ballistic missile program as well.
And of course, the one thing that they emphasized also shortly after the first hits on that American base, Al Asad in Iraq took place is that it was the IRGC, the Revolutionary Guard Corps that conducted this operation. That of course is the unit that Qasem Soleimani was a part of.
PLEITGEN: In fact, the leader of one of the branches of that unit. And so that in itself is very important messaging from the Iranians, Anderson.
How much weight should be put in the statement that you read out you think? Because clear -- I mean, one way to read that, as you said, he's clearly seems to be indicating, you know, they've said proportional, explained why it was that base, and said it's concluded.
COOPER: Now is that something that the U.S. would put much faith in? Because it doesn't seem like there is a lot of other lines of communication open between Iran or certainly directly between Iran and the United States. Maybe there is through Switzerland or other forces.
PLEITGEN: Yes, you're absolutely right. I mean, Twitter, other forces, and actually us as well. I think -- I think it certainly appears to be the case that possibly the Iranians are trying to message that this can be it if President Trump doesn't escalate any further.
One of the reasons I say that, Anderson, is because it's the kind of messaging that we've actually been receiving from the Iranians over the past couple of days.
I had an interview just two days ago with the main adviser to Iran's supreme leader in military affairs, and that adviser also told me that the Iranians are going to strike with their military. They're going hit military targets, and that they don't want things to escalate any further than that. They also used exactly that same wording, proportional counterstrike
to what the U.S. conducted. And they certainly very much emphasize the point that it doesn't have to escalate any further than that.
I had an interview earlier today with Javad Zarif, with the foreign minister. He also said the Iranians are going to take action. It's going to be proportional action, and it can end there if President Trump chooses to have it end there.
I think one of the things also that was key for the Iranians and that I think might be overlooked sometimes, Anderson, is the Iranians were very angry about the fact that the Americans actually took responsibility for killing Qasem Soleimani.
They said to me, look, this is the foreign minister talking, he said look, they killed one of our main generals. They admitted that they killed one of our main generals that makes that an overt act of aggression they said against Iran, and therefore the Iranians felt that they had to retaliate.
And now it seems they're saying look, it can end right here if President Trump doesn't want to take it any further, Anderson.
COOPER: Interesting. Fred Pleitgen, I appreciate it. Thanks. More now on whether this escalates or doesn't, what happens if it does and the competing pressures on the president for and against exercising restraint.
Joining us for that CNN's Chief National Correspondent, John King, CNN Global Affairs Analyst, Max Boot, and CNN's Military Analyst Retired Army General Mark Hertling.
John, you see the president's tweet, the tone he is taking. Senior administration officials also saying tonight that, quote, "now is the time for patience and restraint." What does that tell you about a possible U.S. response?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One thing we have learned, Anderson, in the last three years is the president's mood and his words and his tone on Twitter can change pretty quickly.
But what it tells you tonight is the administration is taking a breath. They're waiting for the battle damage assessment. At this moment they believe there were no American casualties, which is hugely significant here.
And what a lot of administration officials, especially Pentagon officials are saying privately is Iran is capable of throwing a much tougher punch if it wanted to.
So, they're trying to sort all this out. Was Iran doing this for domestic political purposes? Was Iran being very careful here? Can Iran be trusted? Your point with Fred just a moment ago about Javad Zarif. We will hear
from the president tomorrow. Here is the challenge, his own words, he's on the record in the last 72 hours saying if Iran does anything, anything, and Iran did something, he would fight back. He would retaliate. He would push back.
That was -- those are his words in the last few days. But his instincts as a candidate and as president have been to not get involved. He called his predecessor stupid for getting into endless wars in the Middle East and said he wanted to have no part of it. So, the president has to have a conversation with himself before he delivers that statement tomorrow.
LEMON: General Hertling, earlier tonight you referenced that, you know, the (Inaudible) that it's very easy to stumble into a war and a whole lot more difficult to get out of one. I wonder what your perspective is on where things stand at this hour.
And each if Iran is saying it's concluded, there are also proxy forces that Iran has influence over but may not fully control that could potentially threaten U.S. troops in Iraq.
MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I'm very concerned about that, Anderson, because I think what we're talking about is a ballistic missile fight. We used to call it in the old days counter artillery and artillery batteries. But this is a much more significant from the standpoint of what Iran has with regard to weaponry.
But it appears to me from a military analyst standpoint is they are definitely sending a message. Not only a message to the United States of hey, it's time to back this thing down. Let's have a little bit constraint.
They are also, make no mistake about it, sending a message to the Iraqi government and I'd add even though we haven't focused as much attention on the strike in Erbil, they're sending a message to the Kurdish regional government as well.
These are both governments, both the Iraqi government and the Kurdish government have said hey, the Iranian military has been contrary. Their paramilitary forces have been contrary to what we've been trying to do within Iraq to bring nationalism to that country, even though they have contributed to the fight against ISIS.
This is all very confusing, but I think the message being sent is if you keep Americans on your soil and you allow them to strike Iran from either Al Asad or from Erbil, there are going to be repercussions against you as an Iraqi government and you as a Kurdish government.
And that's problematic in my view that even though we haven't heard a whole lot about the effect of the strike in Erbil, that's as important as the one on Al Asad.
LEMON: Interesting. Max, I mean, the fact that as far as we know there were no U.S. forces casualties, still unclear also on Iraqi casualties, and again, we're still kind of, you know, what five or so hours into this. So, who knows what the information will be in the morning?
But if there are no casualties, no fatalities, does that give the president, this administration an easier time? It would seem to give them an easier time to de-escalate if that's what they want to do.
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, no doubt about it, Anderson. Because Trump's primary red line has been about taking American lives. And he reacted very strongly when a contractor was killed in an earlier attack.
Now of course, he has also said that he would hit back very hard and very fast to any attack on any U.S. base. But I would hope that this would allow him to show some courageous restraint.
And I'm mildly relieved to see the tone of his tweet tonight which did not include any further bellicose threats, and clearly the Iranians are signaling that they want to be restrained because they could have mounted a much larger scale attack. And they're basically saying that if there is no further retaliation from the United States, we will let it lie.
And so I would hope that President Trump would take this opportunity, because, you know, a few hours ago, I think I and the rest of the world, everybody was very alarmed that we were really on the knife edge of an all-out war with Iran, and I think that would have been much more likely if there had been U.S. or Iraqi casualties.
And the fact that there have not been any is of course a good thing in and of itself. And thank goodness that our personnel in harm's way were not harmed. But the larger good news here is that this allows us a way to de-escalate and avoid an all-out war, at least for the time being.
COOPER: Yes. John, CNN Historian, Garrett Graff made an important point tonight, earlier tonight as the situation unfolds, there are only acting officials in some key post, including national director of intelligence, homeland security secretary.
At this point, I mean, who really has the president's ear? Is it mainly the vice president? Secretary Pompeo and Defense Secretary Esper?
KING: Two sides to this coin, Anderson. There is no question from the early days of the Trump administration, the failure to fully staff up the government and then the turnover that lead you with an acting homeland security secretary, for example, is no good. There is no good way to spin that.
Although the acting Homeland Secretary Chad Wolf was briefing members of Congress today about what he says are protections here in the homeland in case Iran decided to try to project somehow inside the United States.
So, the administration insists it's working, but anyone else would tell you it's by far not perfect to have vacancies in turnover and acting as opposed to Senate confirmed officials.
The flip side is if you go back to the early days of the Trump administration, even the second year of the Trump administration, there is a lot of talk about inconsistency, back stabbing and infighting among the top members of the national security team, the very top members.
Now you hear with the new national security adviser O'Brien, Secretary of State Pompeo, his deputy is now -- -- his former deputy at the CIA, Gina Haspel is the CIA director, Mark Esper, the new defense secretary, General Milley, the relatively new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, what you do hear people at home might not agree with their decisions, some people watching.
But what you hear from all quarter, members of Congress, people inside those different agencies is that there is much more cooperation, coordination, continuity and effective management of the national security team at the top.
That doesn't mean you don't have some issues when you don't have the worker bees in the second, third and fourth layers of government. But at the top, think about the Rex Tillerson days, think about the Jim Mattis days. Much less infighting of the people who are closest to the president.
And to your point about who has his ear, there is no question that Mike Pompeo has been a driving force in the Iran policy in recent weeks and months.
COOPER: John King, Max Boot, General Hertling, I appreciate it. Thank you.
Coming up next, we're going talk to a congressman who served in Iraq about the attack and how best to respond. Also, ahead, a live report from Baghdad where it appears to say there are mixed feelings about American forces right now and their commander in chief. We'll be right back.
COOPER: President Trump says he'll be making a statement tomorrow morning about tonight's missile strikes. We did not use the kind of -- or he did not use the kind of bellicose tone that he has in earlier statements and tweets. Instead, as we showed at the top of the broadcast, he sent out a tweet starting the words, quote, "all is well."
Well, certainly is a good thing that no American, Iraqi or coalition forces were, as far as we know, hurt or killed in the attacks. There has been conflicting reporting on some Iraqi forces, but we're waiting to see official statements on that from Iraq and from the United States.
It also remains to be seen whether all truly is well and what happens next. Perspective now from someone who served in Iraq and currently serves in Congress on the House Armed Services Committee, Massachusetts Democrat Congressman Seth Moulton. Congressman, thanks for being with us.
Just as an Iraq war veteran yourself, I just want to get your initial reaction to what's happened tonight.
REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): You know, first of all, I'll just say, Anderson, that I remember what it was like to be in the desert in Kuwait on the brink of war with Iraq. And subsequently, later to learn how hard it was on my parents back here at home, worrying about that war. And on the brink of a war that could far more devastating for our troops for our American families, I'm thinking of them tonight.
And I'll tell you what, I also fought Iran on the ground in Iraq. I fought Iranian proxies in Najaf. And as someone who has been willing to fight them and frankly, is willing to go fight them again if necessary, I'll tell you right now this war is not necessary right now.
It is not in our strategic interests to go to war with Iran. So we have to talk about how we prevent that from happening.
I think the first thing is that we got to stop this escalation. Take the opportunity that Iran has presented us to not escalate at this any further. It's not in our strategic interests in the Middle East. It's not in our strategic interests globally to get bogged down in a war with Iran.
The second, we've got to rebuild our relationship with Iraq before it's too late, because they do provide a very important base for us in the Middle East to continue the fight against ISIS. We have a lot of work to do to rebuild our work -- our relationships with our allies to get Iran back in the nuclear deal to stop them from building a nuclear weapon.
So those are some of the steps we can start to think about tonight. But the first thing is to prevent outright war from breaking out. We're clearly on the path to war, and I think it's time to find an exit.
COOPER: In the way that Iran chose to strike, ballistic missiles clearly coming from Iran, you know, claiming responsibility right away, just as the U.S. did for the killing of Soleimani, in terms of the targets that they picked, how they went about this, you see an opportunity for de-escalation, that this was -- you know, there is one statement from an Iranian official saying, you know, this was a proportional response, and it's concluded. That's a signal, do you think?
MOULTON: I think it is. I mean, I don't know any Americans aside from maybe Mike Pompeo who truly want to go to war with Iran. I don't think that most of the Iranian people relish a war, an outright war with the United States.
But we've gotten ourselves into a box here with a president who has promised to start this war if he seems it's -- if he thinks it's necessary, who has already escalated things dramatically, much more so than any other president certainly in my lifetime with Iran.
And, of course, the reaction to killing Soleimani in Iran was to unite everybody behind him and behind the hard-liners, exactly the people that we don't want to empower.
I mean, if you step back for a second, you know, just a week ago, there were mass protests in Iran against people like Soleimani. They had a real problem on their hand after his security forces killed hundreds of Iranian citizens.
And at the same time, there were protests in Iraq against the Iranian presence. Both of those things were in our interests. That was a helpful -- those were helpful developments.
Well, the president's strike has reversed all of that progress, because now Soleimani is a martyr. He is a hero back at home. Iraq is now in Iran's pocket, not in ours. They're trying to kick American troops out of Iran -- sorry, they're trying to kick American troops out of Iraq, not protest Iran's presence.
So, we've really taken some serious steps backwards, and we've got to reverse course because ultimately, what the president has done is not in the national security interests of the country.
As bad as Soleimani is, he is a bad guy. He's killed Americans. He has American blood on his hands. We all know that. But this was not smart.
COOPER: It just -- the very thing that Soleimani and, you know, his cronies in Iran wanted from the beginning has been the U.S. getting out of Iraq.
COOPER: So, they have unfettered access to it and dominance of it. That's the very idea that that might actually result from what's happened is -- I mean, it's kind of -- I think I said early, it's sickly ironic.
MOULTON: Well, Soleimani himself has literally been fighting to achieve this goal of getting America out of Iraq. For the last -- ever since we got there, for the last 15 years. So, it's ironic that his death might actually achieve that goal. And it just shows how stupid the administration's strategy is.
You know, let's just think -- let's just think about this for a second from the administration's perspective, because they've been very clear about what they want to achieve with their Iran policy.
The first thing they say is to deter regional aggression, to stop Iran from attacking us and our allies. Of course, they've done the exact opposite. They've escalated that aggression. Number two, they say they want to prevent Iran from developing a
nuclear weapon. Well, Iran has restarted its nuclear program in full because of the president's strike.
And number three, they say they want to bring Iran to the negotiating table. I'll tell you what, Iran has never been farther away from the negotiating table in my lifetime, thanks to the president's actions. So even if you just take the administration's strategy at face value, they're failing miserably.
COOPER: Congressman Seth Moulton, I appreciate your time tonight. We'll see what happens in the morning, also from what the White House says and what the president says. Thank you.
The sun is up in Baghdad now after a very tense night. We'll talk to Arwa Damon who is there, next.
COOPER: The afternoon began with President Trump saying that now is not the time to pull troops out of Iraq. He also threatened to impose sanctions on Baghdad, our ally, if the Iraqis did not treat the U.S. fairly. The afternoon ended with Iranian missiles falling on Iraq, two bases, and the evening ends here with President Trump tweeting that all is well.
A new day has begun in Baghdad. Arwa Damon is there now. What is the latest you're hearing about the attacks and how it's being received in Iraq?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, at this stage, we are still trying to piece together a lot of information. We had earlier just after these strikes took place spoken to an Iraqi security source who had said that they believed that there were casualties among the Iraqis at the base, although exactly how many or if there were wounded or killed is unclear. Now we're hearing from two other sources that there were no casualties.
We still have not heard, though, anything officially coming out from the Iraqi government or from the Iraqi military. Presumably, they too are trying to figure out exactly what happened, what was damaged, if there were any casualties, and then what their response should be because this is not at the end of the day just a military response that we're talking about or just a military confrontation that's unfolding. Iraq is stuck in the middle of all of this. And for Iraq, Anderson, this is still very political as well.
COOPER: And these two bases, how significant are they? Also just the location, one is in Erbil.
DAMON: Yeah, one base is in Erbil, which is in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq. That part of Iraq was always sort of considered "the other Iraq." It was spared much of the violence that had plagued the rest of the country. The base there is very close to the airport. The other location that was targeted is the al-Asad Air Base, this massive sprawling base in Al Anbar province that was once the heart of the Sunni insurgency.
Both of these locations are very key central to the U.S. military's operations both in Iraq and Syria. Remember, the U.S. has temporarily suspended its anti-ISIS operation, suspended its training of the Iraqi security forces, but both of these locations most certainly are very central to that effort.
COOPER: All right. Arwa Damon, be careful. Thank you. Qasem Soleimani's remains were brought back to his place of origin in Iran. The question, what comes next, of course, remains uppermost. Just ahead, I'll talk with two veteran journalists with incredibly extensive knowledge of the region, one of whom was held captive in Iran, to get their take on the next hours and days.
COOPER: It's been quite a night as we learned more about what happened in Iraq tonight. We wait for the next developments, of course. Here to help us sort through it all, Dexter Filkins of The New Yorker has reported extensively on the region for years and Washington Post opinion writer and CNN global affairs analyst Jason Rezaian who was the Post's Tehran bureau chief until his arrest and imprisonment back in 2014. He writes about his ordeal in his book "Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison."
Dexter, you said when we talked earlier in the 8:00 hour, you said that you thought this was -- the strike, when you looked at it, when you looked at the weapons used, the targets, the other options that they had at their disposal that were not used, that this was in large part for political domestic reasons in Iran. Do you still feel that way?
DEXTER FILKINS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Yeah. I mean, we're reading tea leaves, you know.
FILKINS: So we're speculating a bit. But the tea leaves we have suggest that this was done -- it's kind of theater and it was done for the Iranian people. And look, we hit them back. We took action. We killed some people. We restored our pride. And now the indications are, if you look at the statement that Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, just gave, he looks like he's heading for the off-ramp.
FILKINS: He does.
COOPER: As you know, things can always change. You think back to hurricane Katrina, you know, all the headlines, New Orleans dodged a bullet, dodged the storm, and then the levees broke, you know, later on.
COOPER: You know, totally different situation, but you never know what's going to happen 12 hours from now.
FILKINS: Yeah. And I think, you know -- I don't think the Iranians are going to stop. I think that their ultimate goal or if not their short-term goal, their medium goal is to get the Americans out of Iraq. They're certainly going to keep working on that.
FILKINS: And if that works, probably out of Afghanistan as well, and they have a lot of influence in both of those places. Yeah, so I think if even if the shooting stops, there is going to be a lot of conflict.
COOPER: Jason, you have first-hand knowledge of how the Iranian regime tries to leverage geopolitical flashpoints. You said tonight was a measured response designed to draw a line. Can you kind of explain that?
JASON REZAIAN, AUTHOR, GLOBAL OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, I really agree with what Dexter just explained. I think that there was a possibility that Iran could have done a lot more. They have the know-how and the lay of the land in that part of Iraq to inflict a lot more damage.
But, you know, they had to do something. It's not about placating the Iranian people. It's more about showing the Iranian people that they're capable of responding. If you remember, it was just six weeks ago that there was massive protests throughout Iran. We can expect more that of in the future. And if they just kind of lay down and took this, it would have shown a great weakness on their part.
Ultimately, I also think that President Trump isn't really looking for a larger conflict with Iran, although I think his top advisers, certainly Secretary of State Pompeo and others at the State Department are, but for the moment, it seems like the president got the cooler head. I know that's not always the case, but it seems to be that way tonight.
COOPER: How much, Dexter, do you think it depends on the after-action reports, no U.S. casualties, how the Iraqis view, you know, Iraqi casualties, if any?
FILKINS: Well, I don't -- you know, we don't know what the intentions of the Iranians were. But if in fact they didn't kill any Americans, you know, then we all got lucky. I don't -- if those missiles that went into those two bases, if they had killed Americans, I think we'd be having a different conversation.
FILKINS: I think the pressure would be to -- the pressure would be that much greater on the president to respond.
COOPER: Yeah. And there has been no official statement either from the U.S. or from Iraq about any wounded, any casualties, the like. Jason, what about the Iranian people? It's hard from this vantage point to sort of say what their reaction is, what people, you know, think privately, what people -- how people demonstrate publicly.
REZAIAN: I think we always have to remind ourselves that no country is a monolith, even if they're led by authoritarians the way Iran is. There is a small cadre of people, a small percentage of people that are hard-core loyalists to the regime, and there is small percentage of the people who want nothing more than to see the end of the regime very quickly by any means necessary. And then there are the vast majority of people who may have feelings one way or the other, but aren't necessarily looking to get overly involved.
And the role that General Soleimani played in this context for Iranians was that of somebody who was able to keep some sense of security within Iranian borders. While the rest of the region was, you know, on fire in all the countries around Iran and often at the hands of the IRGC and the Quds Forces that he commanded, Iran was pretty immune from that sort of attack on its soil for years. So there is some anger there.
And there is also, as you well know, a love and pride of country. It's a nation that charts its history back thousands of years. And so any attack is going to elicit a very emotional response. Ultimately, though, I don't think we can say that the people are rallying around the flag in the way that some people have implied. But there is a strong sense that you want to defend your homeland. That's natural.
COOPER: Yeah. Dexter, just in terms of Iraq's -- Iraq parliament has voted to expel U.S. forces. What does it actually mean in Iraq? There is still the cabinet to discuss this.
COOPER: There is -- they don't have the final say.
FILKINS: No. And in fact, I mean, the prime minister, Adil Abdul- Mahdi, pro-western guy, I can't imagine wants the Americans to leave. He announced his resignation over a month ago and he is still there. It's really hard to know. I mean, I think we should take no statement as definitive.
FILKINS: And I -- my sense is that prime minister doesn't want this. He didn't want the Americans to leave, because then he is powerless against the Iranians. He is totally vulnerable. So they need the Americans to basically be a bulwark against --
COOPER: And traditionally, that was part of U.S. policy. It wasn't just to fight ISIS. It was also to be a bulwark against Iran in the region.
FILKINS: Yeah. I mean, look, one of the -- you know, one of the many ironies of the American invasion of Iraq is, you know, we spent trillions of dollars and lost several thousand lives. But the people that emerged with the greatest influence there at the end were the Iranians.
COOPER: Dexter Filkins, thank you. Jason Rezaian, I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
COOPER: Next, I'll talk with a senator who was wounded on the Iraq battlefield about her reaction to tonight's missile attack.
COOPER: Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth certainly knows the price Americans pay in service to their country during wartime. She was critically wounded on the battlefield in Iraq. I spoke with her shortly before airtime to get her reaction to tonight's Iranian attacks.
COOPER (on camera): Senator, you're a vet from the Iraq war. I'm wondering what you make of the missile strike by Iran tonight?
SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): Actually, Anderson, not only am I veteran of the war, I have flown into al-Asad Air Base in a black hawk myself. So, it's a fairly sprawling base. You know, look, they had to do something and I know that, you know, I was expecting the Iranians to make some sort of an effort. They have to do it for the Iranian street, you know, in order to maintain their legitimacy with their people.
Right now, we didn't see if there are any casualties. So far, I haven't heard if there are any. But I was expecting this. As soon as I heard that the president ordered the killing of the general, you know, I knew what he had done was made America less safe.
COOPER (on camera): Is this -- that's how you see it, that this is a move by the Iranian regime essentially for domestic politics at home in Iran, because if it is, then there's a chance of de-escalation from this point.
DUCKWORTH: I think there is chance of de-escalation. Now, the question is, do we have the people, the competence here on our side in the White House to work towards de-escalation? I don't know. I mean, this president ordered this killing without actually planning for any of the consequences, has so badly handled the next steps. What do you do after you kill the man? I don't even have any confidence that they can handle de-escalation at this point.
COOPER (on camera): Senator Lindsey Graham said tonight on another network, I'm quoting, if you're watching television in Iran, I just got off the phone with the president. Your fate is in your own hands in terms of the regime's economic viability. If you continue this crap, you're going to wake up one day out of the oil business. I'm wondering how you interpret that.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I think what this situation needs is a lot less chest thumping and actual diplomacy to be put into place. My focus is on the security of the American people, of our troops who are overseas, on our national security. And frankly, riling up Iran and their proxies and all of the terrorist groups that look to Iran for leadership does not make America more safe. If anything, it risks our national security.
And so all of us here who are in Washington owe it to do our jobs and actually try to protect American people. And thumping your chest and making these statements, frankly, is amateur hour.
COOPER (on camera): How do you think the U.S. should respond to this?
DUCKWORTH: I think we need to have a measured response. First and foremost, I want to know what the administration's plan is. So they killed this general. Now, what are they going to do? They have shown in the last several days that they have no plans for handling the aftermath. What are they going to do next?
They couldn't even stop a letter from the Department of Defense over to the Iraq parliament to say hey, we're going to pull out troops. They didn't know they were doing that. You know, you got the general in the field doing something while the people in the Pentagon are doing something else. I want to see some sort of cohesiveness coming out of this administration. Frankly, I haven't seen it so far.
COOPER (on camera): The White House has said the president has said in the past, you know, he's open to talk without conditions. It's not clear to me exactly what the U.S. policy is right now in terms of what this administration wants from Iran.
DUCKWORTH: I don't think it's clear at all, Anderson. I don't think they have an idea because I think there are many factions within the administration so far, and I think that a lot of this has to do with the president's absolute lack of impulse control when he makes these decisions.
I think that he thought that he got good press from the al-Baghdadi raid and he thinks that maybe doing something like this is going to give him some positive coverage. Well, you know what? It didn't work out and he made America less safe. In fact, what he has achieved is to give Iran everything they want in the end.
They want less American influence. They want America out of Iraq. They wanted to turn the tide of protests against Iran, which happened all summer long in Iraq and throughout the Middle East and turned it into a protest against Americans. They have done that. I don't think they wanted their general killed. I certainly don't (INAUDIBLE) for this man. But at the end of the day, the Iranian regime got what they want which is greater influence in the Middle East and less American presence.
COOPER (on camera): The president tweeted tonight. I'm quoting. "All is well. Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties and damages is taking place now."
COOPER (on camera): "So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far. I will be making a statement tomorrow morning." Is all well, do you think?
DUCKWORTH: All is not well. I think that we need to be very much on alert for threats to American assets, American troops, American personnel and even Americans who are traveling around the world right now. Remember that a lot of these groups that the Iranians are supporting are not directly controlled by Iran.
We have no idea if some rogue group that is funded by Iran may not actually target American interest acts throughout the Middle East. So America national security right now is in a worse shape than it was before the president launched this attack.
COOPER (on camera): Senator Duckworth, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
DUCKWORTH: Thank you.
COOPER: We'll be right back with more ahead.