General David Petraeus gave an interview yesterday on the significance of the killing of Qasem Soleimani. It is well worth reading:
Marco Werman: How did you know Qasem Soleimani?
Gen. David Petraeus: Well, he was our most significant Iranian adversary during my four years in Iraq, [and] certainly when I was the Central Command commander, and very much so when I was the director of the CIA. He is unquestionably the most significant and important — or was the most significant and important — Iranian figure in the region, the most important architect of the effort by Iran to solidify control of the Shia crescent, and the operational commander of the various initiatives that were part of that effort.
So why do you suppose this happened now, though?
Well, I suspect that the leaders in Washington were seeking to reestablish deterrence, which clearly had eroded to some degree, perhaps by the relatively insignificant actions in response to these strikes on the Abqaiq oil facility in Saudi Arabia, shipping in the Gulf and our $130 million dollar drone that was shot down. And we had seen increased numbers of attacks against US forces in Iraq. So I’m sure that there was a lot of discussion about what could show the Iranians most significantly that we are really serious, that they should not continue to escalate. …
Would you have recommended this course of action right now?
I’d hesitate to answer that just because I am not privy to the intelligence that was the foundation for the decision, which clearly was, as was announced, this was a defensive action, that Soleimani was going into the country to presumably approve further attacks. Without really being in the inner circle on that, I think it’s very difficult to either second-guess or to even think through what the recommendation might have been.
Again, it is impossible to overstate the significance of this action. This is much more substantial than the killing of Osama bin Laden. It’s even more substantial than the killing of Baghdadi.
Two short questions for what’s next, Gen. Petraeus — US remaining in Iraq, and war with Iran. What’s your best guess?
Well, I think one of the questions is, “What will the diplomatic ramifications of this be?” And again, there have been celebrations in some places in Iraq at the loss of Qasem Soleimani. So, again, there’s no tears being shed in certain parts of the country. And one has to ask what happens in the wake of the killing of the individual who had a veto, virtually, over the leadership of Iraq. What transpires now depends on the calculations of all these different elements. And certainly the US, I would assume, is considering diplomatic initiatives as well, reaching out and saying, “Okay. Does that send a sufficient message of our seriousness? Now, would you like to return to the table?” Or does Iran accelerate the nuclear program, which would, of course, precipitate something further from the United States? Very likely. So lots of calculations here. And I think we’re still very early in the deliberations on all the different ramifications of this very significant action.
The interviewer tries to get General Petraeus to criticize the Trump administration, but Petraeus declines to do so:
Do you have confidence in this administration to kind of navigate all those calculations?
Well, I think that this particular episode has been fairly impressively handled. …
The whole thing is well worth your attention.