'This thing could spin out of control': Adm. Mike Mullen on Iran tensions

On "This Week," Martha Raddatz discusses the high stakes standoff stemming from tensions with Iran with former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.
6:32 | 06/23/19

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Transcript for 'This thing could spin out of control': Adm. Mike Mullen on Iran tensions
And we're joined now by former chairman of the joint chiefs, Mike mullen, who served as principal military adviser to two presidents, Obama and bush. He spent his life commanding warships from the persian gulf to the pacific and knows every weapon system. Admiral mulen thanks for joining us this morning. And I want to start, the president said he called off the strikes when he heard about the possible casualty count of 150. He called it off minutes before launch despite reports he knew broadly about the casualties from previous briefings. Is this the way it should happen? Well, you're very concerned that it would happen so near to execution. Obviously the process that actually routinely assesses and looks at collateral damage specifically or how many people could possibly be killed is fairly normal. It's very, very unusual, not unprecedented that a strike would be called off so closely to its execution. Could or should the military then have given options to the president where there were fewer possible casualties or maybe none at all? We know the military, as you said, always has these different scenarios planned. Well, I think in this crisis you -- as in many, you look at a proportional response and you've heard that term used and so you want to do something typically that is related to what has happened, and these missile batteries were tied very specifically to the shoot-down. You want to focus on that in terms of targeting, and then you do the assessment for how many people are there. As I understand it, this was going to be a very early morning strike, so you work to minimize that certainly for a proportional response. I think that's the relationship. We had had a drone shot down by a missile system and at least as I understand it the intention was to take out three of the sites that were involved in that kind of capability. There are numerous reports, including here at ABC, that John Bolton and Mike Pompeo were advocating to go ahead with that strike, and Bolton is saying in Israel this morning, Iran should not mistake U.S. Prudence and discretion for weakness. Do you think the president is being pushed towards a confrontation by John Bolton? It appears that we're certainly headed in that direction. Certainly John Bolton has that reputation. He's been hawkish forever and very focused on regime change in Iran. My biggest concern is the president is running out of room, running out of options, and while the rhetoric goes back and forth and how close we came to hitting Iran just the other day, that this thing could spin out of control. The last thing in the world we need right now is a war with Iran. I really would like to know that the American people who feel we should not go to war with Iran are pressing their congressmen, their senators and everybody in the public domain to make sure that no matter what happens with respect to where we are with Iran right now, that we do not go to war. That's our system here and I think the politicians need to figure out a way to achieve the objective which is Iran without a nuclear weapon, without -- and from my perspective without regime change without going to war. But how do you do that? What if they get a nuclear weapon? No war? Well, I think, again, it's been pretty clear for some time the objective is to have Iran without a nuclear weapon. If you can't make sure that that happens diplomatically, we're back to the future in many ways because we should recall that when the nuclear deal was signed, Iran was within about three months of having enough nuclear material to put a weapon together. I suspect they wouldn't be more than a year or a year and a half away of getting back to that position. They've already started to enrich uranium and Iran with a nuclear weapon would start to proliferate nuclear weapons in the Middle East which is incredibly dangerous. Other countries would then probably generate that kind of capability. The Middle East has got a lot of problems and we don't need more nukes. The other way you go at it is, if they have one, you attack them militarily. I can tell you those -- attacking them militarily is a very, very difficult task to actually make it happen. I know John Bolton is in Israel this month -- I'm sorry, this week -- and the situation in Israel has moved to a more aggressive stance politically and I worry a great deal that if Iran gets to a point where they start to enrich again and it looks like they're going to develop a weapon, that certainly Israel would strike them. And what about these cyber attacks that have been reported? Is that enough? It's hard to know exactly what is enough. Certainly you could argue there's some proportion there, particularly as reported, if they affect the systems that actually executed this shot against our drone. That said, one of the things that's happened in the last six, seven years is Iran has developed a very, very capable cyber system, cyber capability, cyber expertise. So, given what happened in the last couple of days with us attacking their systems, I would fully expect that they would respond in some manner in the cyber way. Again, that's -- in many ways that's a new domain. Sometimes it's easily contained. Sometimes it gets out of proportion or out of control very easily. I think we all have to be very, very careful. What I would hope would happen, Martha, is that the leaders of these two countries send the signals to stand this down so that we can figure out a way to get where we need to go. Thanks very much, admiral mullen, for adding your perspective.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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