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Rep. Adam Kinzinger On Iran


This week, President Trump set in motion an attack on Iran after a U.S. drone was shot down, but says he canceled the missile strike with just little time to spare. Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois called that decision a mistake. Congressman Kinzinger was also an Air Force pilot and a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee. He joins us now.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

ADAM KINZINGER: Yeah, you bet. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: What do you see as the risks of the president reversing himself?

KINZINGER: Who look at - you know, the president has every right, obviously, to not strike and to make whatever decision. I disagreed with the decision to not strike. I think, you know, we have to put it in context - this wasn't a drone that your uncle's flying in the backyard at, you know, July Fourth. This is a $200 million asset. If Iran would've misidentified, which is easy to do, this easily could've been an airplane with 30 American soldiers on it, American airmen. And it's the cost of losing, basically, 10 at 16. That's what it is to us.

So I thought he should've struck. That said, the problem yesterday wasn't that he didn't as much. It was how he played this out so publicly. It was this idea that, I had made a decision, and then I found out about the casualties and I reversed myself. Everybody knows casualties are put up very front of the strike package. And so there was a lot of question, and it seemed like indecision. And so that's where I think, more than the not striking, there's the risk of, frankly, inviting further aggression.

SIMON: But are you saying that indecision is worse than making a bad decision?

KINZINGER: I think so. In this case, I think - not - he could've waited. He could've, you know, paused. He could've looked at all the options. There's nothing wrong with that. Obviously, you want a president that takes his time to think through these issues.

But where the concern is - it looks sort of - I don't know - whipsaw to basically take it up to 10 minutes before, then find out, you know, 150 people up to - I think that's actually a pretty high number, quite honestly, you know, on what I know about service there.

SIMON: But - well, let me - but let me...

KINZINGER: Go ahead.

SIMON: Let me follow up on that. Whether it was - whether the estimate was 150 or 15, a loss of human life, of an Iranian human life, which you know is possible anytime there's a missile strike...


SIMON: ...That would increase the strikes greatly. Wouldn't it conceivably inspire, if that's the word, Iran to feel that they've got to strike back and inflict U.S. casualties? And next thing we know, there's a shooting war.

KINZINGER: It's possible, but that's why you do a strike that's proportional, which - by the way, the Pentagon has to certify a strike package as proportional. The president has a right to decide if, in his mind, it isn't proportional. But according to law of armed conflict, this would've been a proportional strike if it was presented. So you have to look at what is a proportional response.

And the key is to have much more combat power held back to deter Iran from reacting to that. Iran knows, then, if they react to - basically - let's keep in mind what this was going to be. This was going to be losing the exact assets, more than likely, that they used to take down this plane. It wouldn't have gone beyond that. It sounded like a surface-to-air missile site and a couple of radar sites which are used to target. So this isn't going beyond saying, you use it, you lose it, in this case.

SIMON: Isn't one of the utilities of drone warfare the fact that they're not manned and that there aren't human casualties, whereas a missile strike like this could well inflict human casualties and, to repeat myself, increase the whole tempo of the situation and the stakes involved?

KINZINGER: Yes. And look. That's a risk that Iran, when they know they target American military equipment or people or personnel or anything in international waters - know they risk. And frankly, if you sit there and you work a radar site, on a surface-to-air site, and you take down a $200 million asset that - and I can't stress this enough. And what I know about flying and stuff - I do this on the side, too, as a - still, as a reservist.

SIMON: Yeah, Air Force pilot. Yeah.

KINZINGER: They don't necessarily know that it is an unmanned drone. And then the fact that they even say after that they could've targeted an airplane with 35 people on board - that shouldn't make anybody relax because they said they could've. It should make us realize that if there is a point of no response, they very well may take that to the next level. But my point isn't as much that the president should have done it - I think he should've - but is that how it played out yesterday, I think, actually did more damage.

SIMON: Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. Thanks so much for being with us.

KINZINGER: You bet. Take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.