'Buckle up, a big range of options' for Iran's response: Adm. James Stavridis

On "This Week," former NATO commander Adm. James Stavridis, Iran expert Karim Sadjadpour, and former Bush administration official Meghan O'Sullivan discuss tensions with Iran.
8:34 | 01/05/20

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Transcript for 'Buckle up, a big range of options' for Iran's response: Adm. James Stavridis
Let's get some analysis now from our expert panel. Karim sadjadpour, Meghan o'sullivan, and retired James stavridis. Who served commander of nato. Admiral stavridis, let me start with you. You heard secretary of state Pompeo say the world is safer today. Do you agree with that? What should the American military be braced for right now? I think tactically it's correct to say that the world is safer because soleimani is dead. That's a tactical function. I think strategically, however, we are entering a period in which almost certainly, George, we're going to see a continuing ladder of escalation. So, tactically we're safer for taking that particular chess piece off the board. I really don't see where our strategy in that chess match is going to take us, other than into increasing levels of violence, unfortunately. What should the U.S. Military be prepared for? I would start by saying, worry about what's at sea, our ships in the Arabian gulf. They have cruise missiles, they can use mines, that's a potential strike point. Secondly, the use of proxy forces around the region against U.S. Forces from Afghanistan, all the way to the shores of the mediterranean sea, and I think thirdly, George, I'd draw a line under cyber. I think that the Iranians have significant capability here, they can use it to degrade our military command and control but they can also go after domestic targets. Lastly, we got to be very concerned what the Iranians will say is a porportional action, a senior U.S. Military officer not just one in the region. We have many, many for example in Europe. Much softer targets than in the Middle East. So, buckle up, a big range of options. Meghan, we also heard secretary of state made the opposite calculation of both presidents Obama and bush who you served with. I think it depends on the assessments of the pros and the cons in the bush and Obama administrations. Clearly outweighed -- the cons outweighed the risks here. The trump administration in making this assessment, we have to wonder do they not fully assess all the risks, or all the ways in which U.S. Power and our ability to achieve goals would be jeopardized? Or, did they overstate the benefits? Clearly, there are huge counterterrorism benefits as admiral stavridis mentioned. But at the same time, I'm concerned that they may assessed the Iranian regime to be very weak, to think that this could actually catalyze something greater inside the regime, they're looking at a period where Iran had been experiencing widespread protests, is under a lot of economic stress. Maybe they made an assessment that the benefits of doing something so dramatic and so potentially destabilizing would make this calculation more sensible than it was under presidents bush and Obama. How much does this hurt them? Iran is a very polarized society. I think what this does is you have a passionate minority of folks who support the regime. You have a silent majority who aren't fans of soleimani's world view. This really energizes the passionate of majority of regime supporters. When you look historically at the collapse of authoritarian regimes, you need pressure from below but you also need divisions at the top and what this assassination has done is it's unified Iran's politics. How should we think about measuring the Iranian response? I was struck by the observation of one analyst, in all these eulogies, the word vengeance was matched with patience. Iran's supreme leader is 80 years old, he's been ruling for 30 years. He wants to die as supreme leader. He's working in careful parameters. On one hand if he doesn't respond to this assassination he risks losing face. If he responds excessively he risks losing his head. So I think it's going to be a drawn-out response that's going to happen over the course of many months. And admiral stavridis, this may be drawing the U.S. Back in the Middle East. We know that president trump promised to draw America out. 3500 more troops heading toward Iraq. What does that tell you and what does this mean in the fight against ISIS? It's going to degrade our fight against ISIS in the sense of, we're going to have to put so much military emphasis on our defensive postures. More missile defense units, George, more use of defensive cybermeans. Focusing on our intelligence network on Iran. When we ought to be using to continue the conflict against the islamic state. The islamic state is kind of like embers in a forest fire those could re-flash. The worst part about it is if our troops are indeed forced to leave Iraq, that's where 5,000 U.S. Troops are focused on ending what's left of ISIS in the physical realm. There are real downsides to shifting the lens if you will over to Iran. That's a second order consideration. But I think a significant one. It gets back to this idea of, do we have a strategy? Have we put in place all the right moves? The international. Interagency. The private, public. Our strategic narrative. We're really good at launching missiles, George. We could get better at launching ideas. Meghan, we saw the Iraqi parliament put off calling for the withdrawal of the U.S. Troops. Is that inevitable? I'd say, what's inevitable the nature of American presence is going to change. Certainly it's possible that the Iraqi parliament and Iraqi government could ask the U.S. To leave. We'll have no choice to leave in that instance. But even if that doesn't happen, and I agree with admiral stavridis, is that we really want to avoid that because that would have big implications in the fight against ISIS and regional stability. If forces stay they'll be much more vulnerable in Iraq and this is because now Iraqi forces, Iraqi political forces are much more ambivalent about the U.S. Presence. It's important to remember that soleimani wasn't viewed as we view him I think rightly so as a terrorist leader, in Iraq he was viewed by many, many people as the first person who gave to their defense. He was seen as a friend of Iraq. Now we see people like al-sadr call out the Mahdi army. That really posed a major challenge to the U.S. And Iraqi government before the surge. For the first time since the surge in Iraq almost ten years ago, Al sadr called on the army to be ready to defend the country. I think the U.S. Forces, if they do find a way to stay are going to be under major threats. Some even predict another insurgency against U.S. Forces but one that's shia led rather than sunni-led in the past. The possibility of tactical alliance between enemies. Al shabaab and other ISIS groups and now Iran because they have a common enemy, the united States. Certainly the enemy has been the United States and they've been willing to work against the United States. I think Iran is going to be very motivated to make Donald Trump a one-term president. I think the hostage crisis made Jimmy Carter a one-term president. It's going to put Donald Trump in a difficult position in 2020. If he doesn't respond to Iranian provocations he looks weak. If he does respond he risks conflict. Great insights. Thank you all very much.

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

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