Defense Secretary Mark Esper On 'Nested' Communications And Iran-Backed Militias
In the last two weeks the. US and Iran come closer to war than they've been in decades at the Pentagon secretary of Defense. Mark expert is navigating the military through this crisis. Crisis Are Co host Ari Shapiro just interviewed the Defense Secretary at his Pentagon office. Hey there are all right. You're just back from that conversation. What it what stood out to you. Well we asked him about all the big stories of the day. The Saudi cadets kicked off American military bases the administration's conflicting stories about intelligence indicating an imminent attack by Qassem. Awesome Sulejmani as you'll remember. The president said they were plans to attack four. US embassies on Sunday. ASPER said he hadn't seen that intelligence. So I asked him this. Do you agree that the messages have have been mixed at best from this administration. I don't think so I think They're nested in many ways. You know this is one of those cases where somebody says six and somebody else's a half dozen people people like to find some types. I'm just not sure exactly what you mean. What I mean is that the information builds upon itself whereas contained within a broader subset of things but ought to be answered that stood out to me. The most was one that he actually gave twice once during our twenty minutes. Sit Down and then again. After we left his office and his press secretary called back because he wanted to clarify clarify. What one of the most consequential decisions the US to make right now is what to do about militias in Iraq that have Iran's backing and they are attacking military bases in Iraq even today? Those militias have been firing rockets at airbase near Baghdad. So the question is what's the US going to do about this last week. The White House National Security Adviser Robert. O'Brien told our colleague. Steve INSKEEP that Iran will be held accountable. We've made it very clear that when Iranian proxies that are directed by Iran attack Americans that. We're GONNA hold the Iranians responsible. So I asked Defense Defense Secretary Marcus for what does holding the Iranians responsible meaning. Does it mean attacking Iran. How did he answer. Well I go around. He answered it by saying that the authorization for the the use of military force the F.. Let's the US conduct operations in Iraq. But not in Iran and as you'll hear he also mentions or two of the constitution. Which Establishes Presidential Power. The proxies in Iraq are are available targets for us under the under the AMF and under the Commander in Chief Authority for Article. Too and we are prepared and will stripe them in Iraq if they strike our forces and Iran Iran. We do not have the authority to strike the country of Iran for actions taken by proxy group. I've said that very very clearly in open testimony and I've said that privately the lawmakers so we finish the interview we packed up our gear and his press secretary comes and finds us and says the Defense Secretary Secretary needs to clarify his answer so we go back into his office a second time and I ask the question again. Do you believe the. US Has the legal authority to strike Iran for the actions of militias in Iraq. If it is consistent with commander in chief South authorities under article two to defend the nation are people in our interests. Yes we do. This is different from what you said earlier. which was we do not? I just want to know why you're no longer same. I said we do not have authority under the two thousand and two a math to strike Iran and so you're distinguishing between that and article two of the Constitution. That's exactly right. Those two very different legal authorities. One is limited to threats emanating from a rock. Doc and the one is the president's constitutional authority that many presidents have exercised for decades To protect America to protect our people and to protect sector force which it sounds like you're saying would allow the US to attack Iran in retaliation for actions by militias in Iraq. The president always says the right of self-defence to exercise an employee force under article two of the Constitution. Already give us the context for this distinction. He's trying to make this back and forth. I really captures the difficult needle. Desperate trying to threaten this moment you can tell that on the one hand he does not want to give Iran a green light to support militias that are attacking Americans and their allies and on the other hand he does not wanNA sound belligerent. Don't like you is threatening an attack on Iranian soil. And we're going to hear more of that interview with the Defense Secretary Tomorrow. Ari thanks for updating with us. You're welcome Ali.