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Iran Retaliates At U.S. For Qasem Soleimani's Death; Analysts Don't Buy Trump's All Is Well Tweet; Iran Attacks Iraqi Base Housing American Troops; Interview With Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) About President Trump's Tweet After Iran Launches A Missile Attack On Two American Bases In Iraq. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired January 7, 2020 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Chris Cuomo, thank you very much. This is CNN TONIGHT. I am Don Lemon.
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TEXT: BREAKING NEWS.
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LEMON: And this is our breaking news. Iran fires more than a dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. troops, at two Iraqi bases, in retaliation for American air strikes, that killed a top Iranian General, just days ago.
Video from Iran's Fars News Agency reportedly shows the moment a ballistic missile hit the al-Asad base in Iraq.
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(FROM FARS NEWS, AL-ASAD AIRBASE, IRAQ, MISSILE STRIKE VIDEO)
LEMON: Now this video that you're looking at and you're hearing just moments ago. CNN cannot independently verify this video. But there are reports of casualties among Iraqis at the base. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps says that the attacks are hard revenge for the death of General Qasem Soleimani.
President Trump tweeting just moments ago at Chris Ruddy tease that "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."
It had been discussed that the president might make a statement tonight. He says he's going to make one tomorrow morning.
And take a look at this. This is a little more than an hour after the attack. A top Iranian official tweeting this image of the Iranian flag tonight. A pretty clear message to President Trump who tweeted an image of the American flag after the deadly U.S. drone strike.
It has been only five days since that attack. One that was meant to head off what was described as an imminent threat against Americans.
We are covering every single aspect of this very fast-moving story from Iraq and Iran to Washington. CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad. Frederik Pleitgen is in Tehran. Ryan Browne is at the Pentagon for us and Jim Acosta is at the White House. Also, Jim Sciutto is joining us here in New York this evening. Good evening to one and all.
Jim Acosta, I'm going to start with you at the White House where we just heard from the president via Twitter as well. So, Jim, he says so far so good, all is well.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, all is well is a message from the president. I doubt that there are very many people who in the nation's capital who agree with that assessment. All is not well tonight, Don. And I think the president understands that as well.
I think he's trying to turn down the temperature that frankly he cranked all the way up and he's been doing this for several days now. We heard this from the president earlier today in the Oval Office when he was sitting down with the Greek prime minister and vowing to retaliate if Iran strikes back for the killing of Qasem Soleimani. The President hasn't done that up until this point.
I did talk to a senior administration official just a short while ago who said listen, we are taking a more cautious approach tonight in the words of this official. Now is the time for patience and restraint. The question is whether or not that will continue here on out.
Obviously, the president is going to be hearing from some of his allies who are going to be pushing for him to retaliate in some kind of fashion. I was talking to a source close to the White House earlier this evening who said that essentially that the president has built everything up to this point where he now has no other choice but to respond with some kind of massive retaliation. And that he is going to look weak if he doesn't go down that road.
And so, the president has boxed himself in, Don, with his own rhetoric. We've seen this before. And the question is how the president responds at this point. He's going to do this address tomorrow morning. We understood that there might have been an address tonight. They were making some preparations. We saw some preparations underway here at the White House tonight.
Ultimately, they decided not to do it. And it sounds as though they want to give this a little bit of breathing space for the president makes another statement, Don.
LEMON: Let's go to Tehran and Frederik Pleitgen. Fred, this happened very quickly the retaliation at least. Iran is sending a very strong warning to President Trump.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
LEMON: Not to retaliate. I want you to watch this clip, it's of Iran supreme leader and then we'll discuss.
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AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, SUPREME LEADER OF IRAN (through translator): I said several years ago during another U.S. presidency's term, that president much like this one was ill-tempered, spoke nonsense and said many irrelevant things. And said several things against us. And I said during the speech at the time that the time for hit and run is over. If you hit, you get hit back.
KHAMENEI (through translator): They know this. They know that if they get themselves involved in confrontation with us and get entangled in a military way, they will get their feet trapped. They might harm us. But they will harm themselves many times more and they realize that.
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LEMON: Fred, obviously tensions are high and they are not mincing any words.
PLEITGEN: No, you're absolutely right. They certainly aren't. And the Iranians have said that they are going to retaliate well before this took place.
It's quite interesting, Don, because immediately after we heard that there had been those impacts on those two U.S. bases there in Iraq the Iranians immediately claim responsibility for it. It was interesting because it was the Revolutionary Guard that claimed responsibility for it. That's exactly the unit that Qasem Soleimani the general that was killed by that U.S. air strike in Baghdad was a part of.
The other really interesting thing about that, Don, is that the Iranians used ballistic missiles. It's one of the things that they say they have been working on a lot, they've improved those ballistic missiles. They can now fly further. They can now fly more accurate.
And the Iranians quite frankly have a lot more of them. And so today what the Iranians are doing is they're essentially saying look, if you're going to hit us, we're going to hit you back with our most sophisticated technology and we're going to do so across borders if we have to.
So, the Iranians definitely not mincing any words sending a very clear message. Also, interesting the minister for telecommunications here in Iran tweeted at the United States get out of our region. That's one of the things that we've heard from a lot of Iranian officials over the past couple of days, is that they want the U.S. to leave the region.
I want to share one more thing with you, Don. Because Iran's foreign minister literally just a couple of minutes ago came out with a tweet of his own. Essentially confirming that the Iranians were behind this and that the Revolutionary Guard was behind this. He said, quote, "Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in
self-defense under article 51 U.N. Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens and senior officials were launched."
Interesting in that where they said took and concluded. So that seems to indicate that Iran's revenge, Iran's retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani is now over if I'm reading it correctly.
He then goes on to say and this is probably going to be something that many folks in Washington will like hearing. "We do not seek escalation or war but we will defend ourselves against any aggression."
So, essentially are saying they want this to end here. It can end here. It's now up to the president whether or not it does end here. Don?
LEMON: Ryan Browne at the Pentagon. Let's talk a little bit more about the Iranian strategy here. Military officials giving CNN their first official assessment of the damage from the strike. And it seems like the Iranians may possibly have been trying to avoid hitting American troops. What can you tell us about that, Ryan?
RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Don, that's at this point quite unclear. I think we haven't heard anything really official from the Pentagon since that initial statement. In fact, it's absolutely nothing from them in terms of what the battle damage assessment was from the strikes.
But sources we've talked to said that the initial assessment is that there are no U.S. casualties. Again, these are big bases. There's a lot of forces stationed there so they're still doing the reviews. But at least the initial assessment is that, there is no casualties among the U.S. forces station there.
And that it appears that the missiles at least at Al Asad Air Base struck parts of the base that are not populated by U.S. troops. So, whether that was intentional or not, well you have to read the mind of the Iranian targeters. But it could be down to faulty technology, it could be down to attempts to intercept the missiles. We're not sure about that.
But at least where the missiles landed don't appear to be areas populated by the U.S. forces which of course minimizes the chances of U.S casualties occurring during this attack. So, it's possible that the Iranians were just sending a message and it's also possible that they just faulty weapons technology.
LEMON: Jim Sciutto, is that possibly for domestic consumption to say that they hit back to make it proportional?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Don, I think what you are seeing tonight is the two sides circling each other to a great degree. From the Iranian side it does appear there was deliberate effort not to hit U.S. forces here. That doesn't mean this was not a serious use of force. I mean, these missiles are big, they were dangerous that were fired
from some distance here. That said, it appears they did not strike U.S. targets there and you have a public message from Iranians that this maybe as far as they're going tonight.
I'm told by senior U.S. military officials that they are watching to see if this is the extent of Iran's response, its kinetic response as they will say. That it's military response here. And if there are no U.S. casualties, and if so, that gives the U.S. more freedom not to escalate further.
Now, at any point the president could decide otherwise and say that he wants to demonstrate strength again. But you do have both sides circling each other here in effect seeing calibrating their response and judging whether the response from the other side is done. That's the posture of the U.S. military tonight.
LEMON: I'm wondering if it's for them to be able to say to folks in Iraq and Iran what we have responded.
SCIUTTO: Of course.
LEMON: And so, therefore we don't need to respond anymore. We have taken action.
SCIUTTO: Each has a domestic political audience here. The Iranians have to satisfy their perception of what the Iranian public is demanding just as the man in the White House has to feel he has satisfied what Americans are demanding him.
LEMON: Let's go to Arwa Damon in Baghdad. Now, Arwa, are the casualties at the base and what kind -- are there casualties at the base and what kind of damage has been done?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were initially hearing that there were casualties. It was unclear how many or if they were killed or wounded on the Iraqi side, Don. Now we're hearing from two other sources that there may not have been any casualties.
It's very unclear at this stage. And that does understandably make sense given how chaotic the aftermath of these kinds of strikes can be.
But it's also important at this stage to talk about the fact that even though this standoff, this potentially very devastating standoff on the level of Washington and Tehran may have to a certain degree concluded if the U.S. does not retaliate.
At this stage you still have a very potentially difficult situation facing the U.S. forces here because killed alongside Qasem Soleimani let's not forget was also a key Shia paramilitary leader. The leader of a group that was one of Iran's main proxies on the ground. And you still have that demand among Shia parliamentarians voted on by
the Iraqi Parliament that the Iraqi caretaker prime minister himself had been pushing forward and that was U.S. forces, foreign forces needed to leave Iraq.
How is all of this going to impact that? We don't know just yet. But this is another aspect of the battle that is unfolding. Iran does also want to see an end to U.S. forces in Iraq. And these Iranian-backed proxies want to see that take place as well.
LEMON: Jim Acosta, I want to dig into something that you spoke about and that Jim Sciutto mentioned just moments ago. The Iranians appeared to be saying that they don't want further escalation.
LEMON: How does this very dangerous situation de-escalate? I mean, you have reporting, this reporting that the president doesn't want to appear weak. You said that he's backed himself into a corner. So, now what?
ACOSTA: I think that is a question, Don. I mean, I talked to a source who speaks with the president regularly. I was speaking with him over the holiday break. And described the president as somebody who is pleased with how he has handled this Iran situation so far. It has justified the killing of Soleimani by talking about some of the wounded at Walter Reed and some wounded veterans who are missing arms and legs and so on.
But that this is a president who is impulsive and doesn't think through the implications of his actions. Now that may work OK for the president when he is looking for a short-term political fix on the border, when it comes to brinkmanship with China on trade and so on. But this is a very different situation.
I mean, people are saying tonight well, maybe the Iranians intentionally meant to, you know, hit areas away from these soldiers. My goodness. What if the Iranians had not done that? And actually, taken out a lot of U.S. troops tonight. This could have been a massive catastrophe proportions that we just can't fully appreciate.
And so, this was -- this was a dangerous night at the casino for President Trump. And I think tomorrow morning's message, Don, is going to be critical. It is going to be critical and I think one of the things we have to watch for is whether or not the caution that we're seeing coming from the president tonight, coming from the president in his tweet tonight and the fact that he didn't make a statement tonight is reflected in the statement that he makes tomorrow morning.
If he goes back to the bellicose rhetoric talking about severe consequences for Iran and so on, it suggests that we are not out of this crisis. If he does lower the rhetoric perhaps it means, going back to what Jim Sciutto is saying, that perhaps both sides have gotten their hits in and perhaps both sides go back to their respective corners.
But at this point, Don, as you and I both know, the president is way too unpredictable to stay clearly what he intends to do at this point.
LEMON: All right. Jim Acosta, Fred, Arwa, Ryan Browne, thank you very much. We're going to be checking back in with you as our breaking news coverage continues here on CNN. Jim Sciutto, stay with me. We're going to continue to talk with you.
The missile attack on U.S. troops was launched from inside Iran. What does that tell us about their capabilities and what message are they trying to send to their choice of targets -- with their choice of targets.
We'll be right back.
LEMON: Here's our breaking news tonight. Iran fires more than a dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. troops at two Iraqi bases. Iran making it clear their attack was in retaliation for the American air strike that killed top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani last week.
Joining me now is retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, and John Sciutto is back with me. Good evening, admiral. I'm going to start with you. What is the first order of business at the Pentagon tonight in the wake of these attacks?
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: First thing is what we call BDA, Don, Battle Damage Assessment. They are going to be taking a survey of the facility there in Al Asad to see exactly what was damaged, how much it was damaged, and of course making sure that they can verify, you know, whatever casualties might have occurred, if any.
It doesn't look like we -- so far, we haven't heard any indication of them. But they'll be -- they'll be doing an assessment right now of the damage that was struck tonight. And some of that quite frankly, they won't be able to do a complete job until the sun comes up here in an hour or so.
LEMON: Yes. U.S. military official says that the initial assessment is that Iranian missile struck areas of Asad Base not populated by Americans? Could that have been deliberate?
KIRBY: Yes, it could have been. It is a sprawling complex, Don. Very, very big. Almost like a small city. And if they used these ballistic missiles that we think they used there is some guidance system in the systems that in these weapons that allow them to be more precisely targeted than say Iraq or mortar.
Now I don't want to overstate it because ballistic missiles are, you know, there's always -- there's always errors that can occur in the Iranian systems although they are better than they were, are still nowhere near as precise as ours. But, yes, it's so big that I can certainly understand where they could
have hit targets or tried to hit targets where they knew the Americans were not.
And remember, Asad in terms of American population I don't know how many troops are there. But we only have 5,000 total in Iraq. Not all of them are going to be at Al Asad. The numbers are much smaller there in terms of our presence on the ground at Asad than it were -- than we were when we were, you know, in the middle of the Iraq war.
LEMON: So, if it wasn't deliberate what does that mean?
KIRBY: Well, I mean, it could be. It could be that they are trying to send a message that hey, we can reach out and touch you. We know you used the base to go get Soleimani so we want to hit the base as a reciprocal, as a reciprocal target but didn't want to cause a large number of casualties or even any American casualties so as to not further escalate this anymore.
I mean, I just -- I just -- we just don't know right now until we get the full assessment and the Pentagon has the chance to really sort through, you know, the results of the attack.
LEMON: Jim Sciutto, what does it tell you that these ballistic missiles were launched from inside Iran rather than by Iranian proxies inside Iraq?
SCIUTTO: It's significant because it attacks up to this point Iran has deliberately done via proxies or with some degree a plausible deniability. When they attack tankers in the gulf it wasn't clear who had placed them. U.S. intelligence has said it was Iran but no one drove up there waving the Iranian flag as they did that.
When they attack the Saudi oil facilities a few weeks back. Again, these were drones. They were cruise missiles. They were not Iranian aircraft easily identifiable. When they attacked the U.S. embassy it was pro-Iranian forces inside the country opposed to uniformed Iranians.
Now the reason we're showing this picture on the air here is when the Iranians attacked those Saudi oil facilities a number of weeks back, those attacks were extremely precise. I mean, to use a football term, they dropped a dime on exactly the facilities they had a hit there to disable them.
That gives you some indication that Iran has the capability to target and may very well have used similar capabilities in this attack to target the base where the Soleimani operation came from. But deliberately not hit U.S. forces there.
Now I can tell you that the posture in the Pentagon tonight, and of course this could change, the president could change his mind or receive new information. But the posture in the Pentagon tonight is wait to see if this was the extent of Iran's response to the Soleimani killing. And if so, then react. And if it is limited to this, it gives the U.S. option -- the option at least not to escalate further. LEMON: As you were speaking there, Jim, I got some new information
that is coming in. And it says an Iraqi security official says no casualties at Iraqi base. Iraqi security officials are now telling CNN there are no casualties among Iraqi security forces following the attacks on the Al Asad Air Base and Anbar province and the attacks in Erbil.
LEMON: This is updated information the security officials following the initial assessment earlier Wednesday. An Iraqi security source tells CNN there were casualties among the Iraqis.
SCIUTTO: So that would show you, and again, if this was the Iraqi intention, that they made an effort not just to avoid targeting U.S. forces but Iraqi forces as well because there would be consequences to that.
I mean, clearly, a base of this size with the number of U.S. and Iraqi forces deployed there, Iran had the potential of causing a loss of human life. It didn't happen tonight. Was that a deliberate decision? We don't know for sure. But we do know that Iran has the capability to target and that did not happen tonight. And the Pentagon at least is assessing whether that was the intention. This is the limit of their response and then therefore calibrating their response.
I think that's worth emphasizing here. It's that, yes, Iran is aggressive nation. No question it. They've established that. They have not hesitated to use deadly force against U.S. forces in Iraq. But other times they have calibrated their response and this maybe one of those cases.
LEMON: Admiral Kirby, now what?
KIRBY: Well, now, I think, you know, the president is going to have options here. It looks like he is based on that tweet, he is trying to dial down the rhetoric, he's trying to maybe dial down the pressure. It looks like he's trying to find a way to de-escalate on his part.
But I also suspect that he was presented a menu of options available to him if they need to do something. And I suspect there was options that go from pretty low intensity to high and would probably include cyber options as well as something kinetic.
And so, you know, to Jim's point, there -- it sounds to me like they're taking a wait and see approach here to see if they need to actually do something more active in retaliation. I hope, and to your question, what's next. I hope that they do find a way to de-escalate.
And more importantly, not just from a kinetic perspective, Don, but to find a way to sort of open up some sort of dialogue with the Iranians because we've got to -- we have to get out of this cycle of escalation and de-escalation and this scene of tit-for-tat.
[22:25:06] If there has to be, and maybe because they don't have a strategy for Iran, I don't know. But there has to be a way to move forward with Iran in some diplomatic way so that we can avoid, you know, this kinetic back and forth forever. I just don't think that's sustainable.
LEMON: Admiral, thank you very much. Jim, stick around. We've got much more on tonight's breaking news. Iran firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops.
Next, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin joins us.
LEMON: We're back now with our breaking news tonight. Iran firing more than a dozen missiles at U.S. troops at two bases in Iraq. Iran calling the military action, quote, "hard revenge for the killing of General Qasem Soleimani last week in a U.S. air strike."
Back with Jim Sciutto now. And we're joined by Senator Ben Cardin, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thank you so much for joining us here on CNN this evening. Very important time right now.
I just want to get -- talk to you about the president -- what the president tweeted tonight following Iran's missile strike and here it is, it's up on the screen. It says, all is well, missiles launch from Iran in a 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.
The president is saying all is well and so far so good. That's President Trump's first message after Iran retaliates. What do you think of that?
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Well, Don, obviously this is a very serious situation. But I think what the president is reflecting is the fact that there's no known casualties to date. Which gives him a broader options in trying to deescalate the tension between Iran and United States. It's not in our national security interest to have a war with Iran, to have the shootings going back and forth.
So, we need to find a diplomatic way to cool the situation between our two countries. And I think that's what the president I hope was reflecting in his tweet tonight. It's always difficult to read the president. It's always difficult to understand his strategies, but we will have an all Senators briefing tomorrow in Washington and we hope that we will be getting information not only about what happened tonight. But also what the strategy is and end game in regards to the United States and Iran.
LEMON: Well, we do hope that this is a de-escalation. That this maybe the end to it, but I do have to ask you, you know, the president made it very clear that the U.S. would strike back if Iran retaliated. Do you believe the president will do that?
CARDIN: Well, I think the president will consider different options. The fact that there's no known casualties gives him greater latitude in the way that he response to this particular attack. I would hope that he would find a way so that we don't continue to escalate the tensions between our two countries. We need to find an off ramp. And I hope the president looks for one.
LEMON: What does the off ramp looks like? Because you're talking about minimizing the risk of further escalation. What does that off ramp look like?
CARDIN: Well, first of all, we want to protect our troops that are in that regions. So, we need to make sure that we are protecting our troop presence that are in these countries. Secondly, you know, we do have major concerns about Iran's nefarious action. We have to work with our allies. So, I hope, part of our strategy is to engage our traditional allies in a unified strategy in the Middle East including Iran.
LEMON: Are you surprised Senator, at how quickly Iran responded to the U.S. strike that killed Soleimani?
CARDIN: No, I'm not. It was clear that they were going to respond. I don't think we were surprised to see the speed of the response. I think that we are all holding our breath that there's no casualties. I think that's a critically important point. We clearly need to protect our troops. There's no question. We thank the men and women who are serving our nation. They are the front lines. They are our concern. We want to make sure they're safe.
But I was not surprised to see that Iran was going to respond. They had made that pretty clear that they were going to do that. The base that was attacked was where we initiated our attack against the general. So, it's certainly not a surprise to see what has happened.
LEMON: Listen, I know this is a hypothetical and you said that -- you hope that this deescalates. But what do you think happens in the next few days? And I know you are going to get your briefing -- the Senator's briefing tomorrow. But what do you think happens in the next few days because Iran is threatening to attack Dubai and the UAE, and Haifa in Israel, if Iran is bombed.
CARDIN: Well, we have to protect ourselves and we always know that Iran's activities are not predictable. So, we can't trust what they say. So we are going to have to make sure that whatever protections we take that we protect not only our troops but also our allies. But what we hope is that this is the end of the shooting between Iran and the United States. That we can find a diplomatic way to go over our concerns. And that we can try to find a way forward through diplomacy for the stability in the Middle East.
LEMON: Yes. I want to bring Jim Sciutto. And Senator, if you can standby for a minute, because I want to talk about Browne's reporting on Friday that part of the Intel behind deciding to kill Soleimani was threats to the Al-Assad airbase. So killing Soleimani didn't actually stop that attack, because it was attacked tonight.
SCIUTTO: It's an open question. Because, of course, the president's argument for killing Soleimani was in part (inaudible), about deterrence. Saying if you show American strength here then Iran will be cowed in effect and stop its aggressive activities. In fact though, thankfully there were no U.S. casualties in this attack, it was an escalation in Iran's tactics in that they didn't hide behind their proxy, right.
I mean, this were Iranian missiles that came from Iran. And they were vessels, they were not rockets and they were targeting the base with both U.S. and Iraqi forces there. That's a step up. Thankfully below the level of causing the deaths of U.S. soldiers on the ground, but still a significant. So, in terms of deterrence it didn't work. I have -- just out of curiosity, I have a question for the Senator, if I could ask, because from the Democratic side, the principled Democratic criticism of the killing of Soleimani was that this would lead to a great escalation, right?
And I'm just wondering, if Iran's response ends with this tonight, and Trump has removed from the battlefield a capable and aggressive Iraqi commander, a deadly one in Soleimani. Will you say in your view that was a good move?
CARDIN: Well, first of all, we don't share shed a tear in regards to the loss of the general. He was responsible for the death of many Americans. What our concern is the way in which the president went about this. He said there was imminent threat against the United States. We're not clear what that imminent threat was. We were not engaged with the president on a strategy. We don't know what the strategy, what the end game was in regards to this killing.
And certainly our allies were not brought into the strategy here also. So, we had a plan to isolate Iran with our allies so that we could put maximum pressure on that regime. And regards to not only the nuclear activity but non-nuclear activity. This administration by the way that they have responded has really weakened that coalition.
So, I think our concern is where's the strategy in regards to Iran? It's not a concern for the death of this general. It's a concern about how the president is going about foreign policy as it relates to Iran and the Middle East.
LEMON: All right, Senator, thank you very much. We appreciate your time. We've got much more on our breaking news. The former Director of national intelligence James Clapper, joins us next.
LEMON: Breaking news Iran firing more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. Ryan Browne is at the Pentagon and we have some new information about the missile attack tonight. Ryan, we're learning more about the moments before the missiles struck at the Al-Assad airbase outside Baghdad. What do you know?
BROWNE: Well, that's right, Don. Official telling CNN that there was some warning given to forces at that base prior to the missiles striking the base. So that they had some time to kind of get to the bunkers, get to their shelters prior to the missiles landing as it were. Though we are being told that the missiles struck in areas that were not populated by U.S. forces. So, U.S. officials telling us an initial assessment that there were no U.S. casualties. A big part of that may have been that they had this advanced warning. So, forces had been in high alert, having that advance warning that per likely saved lives.
LEMON: All right, Ryan Browne, thank you very much. Jim Sciutto is here with me again. Also joining us James Clapper. The former director of National Intelligence. Director, thank you so much for joining us on this very serious news story. It's a very important evening. What's your assessment of what you have seen tonight?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, Don, this strikes me more as messaging on the part of the Iranians to maybe three audiences. One, the home audience to address the intense forbore about the death of general Soleimani. I think it's clearly a message to us to deescalate and I think the temperance of the statement that the Iranians made seems to (inaudible) that. And I think as well as the message to the Iraqis to reinforce the notion that having U.S. forces present in their country is not a good thing.
So to me this is actually a good thing. And I think, you know, the fact that the president didn't make a statement is actually a good thing until there's time to assess the damage, such as or has been. If there's no casualties that's a good thing obviously. I think if the Iranians really intent on destruction or casualties, they could have upped the ante a lot more than that did. So, again, to me bottom line, this is a more about messaging than actual substance retaliation.
LEMON: Can you talk to me a little bit more about what you just said? You said that Iran may have acted for its own domestic audience? Why?
CLAPPER: Well, they had to do something. To some action in response to the killing of General Soleimani. He's larger than life figure, iconic. At least not by all, but many Iranians. So, they had to do something to placate the home crowd. And I guess they decided that what they did was sufficient for that.
LEMON: It should be noted director, we currently have no Director of National Intelligence. No Homeland Security Secretary. No head of CPB or ICE. No State Department undersecretary of arms control. No Navy secretary. Those are critical positions at a time like this.
CLAPPER: Well, if the situation doesn't get any worse, than what we have seen tonight, then, you know, the administration will have skated by another one. The concern has been from the get go, I think, since this administration started about you know, process, inner agency process. Having in those positions a call forth, Senate confirmed officials who are used to working with each other? [22:45:06]
And the other thing that is concern to me is just, you know, the constant turnover of senior officials. So they may have dodged a bullet here. If this doesn't get any worse than what we have seen, but if it does get worse and you know, that national security crisis that people are anticipating which this administration really hasn't faced yet, then having not having permanent confirmed people in a lot of acting people within all the turnover is not good.
LEMON: Director, thank you for your time. We really appreciate having you on a night like this. Thank you so much.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: And thank you Jim Sciutto. Jim is going to be back tomorrow morning with much more on this story, 9:00 a.m., right, right here.
SCIUTTO: Just a little bit of news to cover.
LEMON: We will see you back here tomorrow morning on CNN. And Fareed Zakaria is here with some perspective on what it all means. He's next.
LEMON: Our breaking news tonight. Iran fires more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops -- U.S. forces I should say. Iran says the attack was revenge for the American airstrike that killed top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani last week.
Joining me now Fareed Zakaria, the host of "Fareed Zakaria GPS."
Fareed, thank you so much for joining us. You know, this is all happening, a very short span of time. It's hard to believe that the president was impeached in the House less than three weeks ago. One week ago, tonight, he was in Mar-a-Lago for New Year's. I mean, this has all happened extremely fast.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, but, you know, it's a predictable consequence of the president's Iran policy, or really the lack thereof. If you step back here, what you have is a fundamental breakdown in American foreign policy which has caused this.
The Iranians were abiding by the terms of a nuclear deal, which had essentially stopped them for at least 15 years on a pathway to a nuclear weapon. They were engaged in the region, as they have been for 20 years, but they were no longer by the way engaged actively in hostilities with the United States. People often talk about Qasem Soleimani's role in having the blood of Americans on his hand. Absolutely true, and you know, egregious and horrific.
But that was all during the American occupation of Iraq. So, when Trump comes into office, Iran is abiding by the nuclear deal. It's engaging in some activities in the region. Trump decides to rather than deal with the issue of Iranian involvement in Syria or Yemen, to pull out of the Iran deal, squeeze Iran much more tightly, and the fury behind it was presumably that this would get a better deal. Except they never -- the Trump administration never asked for a better deal.
So all you got was maximum pressure, putting Iran in a box without any end game, without any objective other than seemingly regime change. And as a result of that, the Iranians start to lash out. We have no policy. We have no strategy toward it. Our allies in the region and in the world have not been alerted to it.
So where are we now? Iran has pulled out of the nuclear deal completely. So we are now in a situation where it could be one year away, maybe even less for a nuclear weapon. Our allies in the region are stunned because they're not sure where to go. Even the Saudis and the UAE that are anti-Iranian are stunned. The Europeans have not supported us. What have we achieved in this process? We've escalated situation militarily. We have gained nothing politically.
LEMON: Yes. America first seems to be America alone. So with that said, he's caught, you know, right now between having promised to bring troops home from the Middle East and having drawn a red line when it comes to Iran. So how does he navigate that?
ZAKARIA: Well, this is the fundamental contradiction in Donald Trump's approach to foreign policy. On the one hand, he is something of an isolationist. On the other hand, he loves the bravado and the machismo of wielding this enormous stick which he keeps talking about the greatest military in the world, which it is.
And so, you know, it seems like sometimes he wants to get the hell out of the world, but bomb it to smithereens on the way out. It's, you know, essentially is incoherent. And I can tell you, having been in the Middle East recently, even people who would support Donald Trump's policy, that is to say even people who are very anti-Iran in the gulf are very disconcerted by the erraticism, the lack of clarity, the not being sure whether or not, you know, there is a consistent policy here, and they're increasingly in countries like the UAE and Jordan, wondering do they just have to take matters in their own hands?
Because they can't trust the Americans. They can't trust the Trump administration to follow through with what it says. Everything instead is erratic, emotional and impulsive. You know, what is going happen tomorrow? We don't know, because it's all -- you know, it all depends on the whims of one very impulsive man.
LEMON: What about the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo? I mean, he is known for anti-Iran, his anti-Iran stance, and he is the president's ear in this conflict. What impact do you think he has had in this conflict?
ZAKARIA: I think it's a very good question, because as far as we can tell, Trump's basic instinct is more to pull back. You know, he's criticized the endless wars. He doesn't want to keep troops in Syria, even in Afghanistan.
And so it's puzzling as to why he has ratcheted up the pressure on Iran so dramatically at a time when things, as I say were perfectly manageable with the Iran nuclear deal. And it does appear that on the first he wanted to undo something that Obama had done, that was just a kind of anti-Obama instinct.
Secondly, the people he seems to trust, and that is Bibi Netanyahu in Israel and Mike Pompeo are very anti-Iran and very hawkish. And in the absence of any formed geopolitical views on his own, he has essentially sort of adopted those. But at the end of the day, whatever the reason and whoever advised him, he is the president, and he takes responsibility for this disarray of policy.
LEMON: Yeah. We've got to run. Thank you, Fareed. I appreciate your time. And thank you so much for watching, everyone. Our live coverage of tonight's breaking news continues with Anderson Cooper.