Former CIA Director Brennan: 'No Reason' for Obama to Target Soleimani

By Susan Jones | January 7, 2020 | 10:51am EST
Former CIA Director John Brennan (Photo David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
Former CIA Director John Brennan (Photo David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

( - Former CIA Director John Brennan said on Tuesday that he never heard any discussion about targeting Qassem Soleimani during Brennan's time in the Obama administration -- even though Soleimani "was my principle nemesis," Brennan told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

MSNBC's Willie Geist noted that the Obama administration "had its opportunities" to kill Soleimani:

"This guy wasn't exactly bin Laden hiding in caves and being protected in secret compounds in Pakistan," Geist noted. "He was out in the open. So tell me about the decision from your vantage point in the Obama years not to take out Soleimani. What was the calculation there?"

"Well, it wasn't really a decision, Willie," Brennan responded.

Because I don't see what the -- either U.S. or international legal basis would be to strike and assassinate a senior government official of a sovereign state.

And so I think, you know, in the Obama administration we were trying to be as lawful as we could be in the prosecution of these efforts. But more fundamentally, I think from a strategic standpoint, there would have been no reason to go forward with this if in fact the calculation was that by assassinating Soleimani you only increase the Iranian ire and it's a likelihood they're going to use the capability against us.

So again, we tracked him, we tried to frustrate his efforts, but there was never a discussion in my experience during the Obama administration to target Soleimani for an assassination.

Earlier in the interview, Brennan described Soleimani as "my principle nemesis during my four years as President Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser and four years as CIA director."

Brennan argued, however, that Trump's strike on Soleimani has "increased the impetus" for Iran and its proxy forces "to lash out at the United States."

But the Obama administration was not hesitant to use drone strikes to kill "high value" al-Qaida targets, including some American citizens, in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In fact, on April 30, 2012, Brennan justified Obama's controversial drone strikes in a speech at the Wilson Center in Washington.

"Now, I want to be very clear," Brennan said. "In the course of the war in Afghanistan and the fight against al-Qaida, I think the American people expect us to use advanced technologies, for example, to prevent attacks on U.S. forces and to remove terrorists from the battlefield.  We do, and it has saved the lives of our men and women in uniform.

“What has clearly captured the attention of many, however, is a different practice, beyond hot battlefields like Afghanistan, identifying specific members of al-Qaida and then targeting them with lethal force, often using aircraft remotely operated by pilots who can be hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.  And this is what I want to focus on today."

Brennan said the drone strikes were "in full accordance with the law" and intended "to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives."

"First, these targeted strikes are legal," Brennan said. "To briefly recap, as a matter of domestic law, the Constitution empowers the president to protect the nation from any imminent threat of attack." Brennan also invoked the Authorization for Use of Military Force against al Qaida passed by Congress after the September 11th attacks.

Second, Brennan argued that the drone strikes were "ethical."

"Targeted strikes conform to the principle of necessity, the requirement that the target have definite military value. In this armed conflict, individuals who are part of al-Qaida or its associated forces are legitimate military targets.  We have the authority to target them with lethal force just as we target enemy leaders in past conflicts, such as Germans and Japanese commanders during World War II," he said.

And Brennan told the gathering, "Targeted strikes are wise...They can be a wise choice because of time, when windows of opportunity can close quickly and there just may be only minutes to act. They can be a wise choice because they dramatically reduce the danger to U.S. personnel, even eliminating the danger altogether. Yet they are also a wise choice because they dramatically reduce the danger to innocent civilians..."

Brennan's full defense of the Obama drone strikes can be found here.


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