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President Trump holds back on strike against missile site

President Trump holds back on strike against missile site


JUDY WOODRUFF: The weekend is beginning amid
a swirl of speculation about President Trump’s intentions toward Iran. He says he was on the brink of ordering airstrikes
last night, when he pulled back. Iran says it, too, is practicing restraint,
despite having shot down a U.S. military drone. Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin
begins our coverage. NICK SCHIFRIN: In Tehran today, the Revolutionary
Guard Corps showed off their catch, the charred remains of the U.S. drone they shot down. But as he invited camera crews to document
the destruction, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said yesterday could have been deadlier. GEN. AMIR ALI HAJIZADEH, Iranian Revolutionary
Guards Corps Aerospace Force (through translator): At the same moment when this aircraft was
being tracked, another spy aircraft called P-8 was flying close to this drone. That aircraft is manned, and has around 35
crew members. We could have targeted that plane. NICK SCHIFRIN: Six thousand miles away, in
an interview with NBC News, President Trump described discussing options with military
commanders, and also said yesterday could have been deadlier. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
They came and they said: “Sir, we’re ready to go. We’d like a decision.” I said: “I want to know something before you
go. How many people will be killed, in this case,
Iranians?” Came back, said: “Sir, approximately 150.” And I thought about it for a second. And I said, you know what, they shot down
an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it, and here we are sitting with 150
dead people that would have taken place probably within a half-hour after I said go ahead. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t think it was — I didn’t think it
was proportionate. NICK SCHIFRIN: Iran says it used this interceptor
missile to shoot down the drone. The U.S. military says it’s located here,
along Iran’s coast. Former senior military officials tell “PBS
NewsHour” the president was likely given options to attack that missile site, its command-and-control,
and its radar systems. And those former senior military and diplomatic
officials say the military strike options presented to the president would have included
casualty estimates from the very beginning. It’s not clear why the president received
that information so close to giving an order to attack. But those former officials say it raises questions
about the decision-making process. BRETT MCGURK, Former Special Presidential
Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL: Taking the president at his word today,
the key fact, how many people are going to die in this attack, apparently was not in
the president’s mind until really before moments before he was going to order the attack. So that suggests to me a breakdown of the
process. That should be one of the first facts that’s
on the table. NICK SCHIFRIN: Brett McGurk was a senior State
Department official until he resigned in December in protest to the administration’s decision
to withdrawal from Syria. He says the strike the president described
could have quickly escalated. BRETT MCGURK: An American attack that took
150 Iranian lives, particularly in response to an attack that took no American lives,
I think the Iranians would be in a position, just given how they think, that they would
have to respond to that. Therefore, there would be another reckless
provocation from the Iranians, which would then put the onus again on President Trump
to respond again. NICK SCHIFRIN: That fear was echoed today
by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): A strike with that amount
of collateral damage would be very provocative. And I’m glad the president didn’t take that. NICK SCHIFRIN: But some of the president’s
allies called his response weak. Number three in the House Republican leadership,
Liz Cheney of Wyoming: REP. LIZ CHENEY (D-WY): I think that we simply
can’t allow America’s adversaries to think that they can shoot down a U.S. military drone
with impunity. And we saw the damage that was done by Barack
Obama when he announced a red line and then failed to enforce it. The failure to respond to this kind of direct
provocation could, in fact, be a very serious mistake. NICK SCHIFRIN: The military remains ready
to respond. But after yesterday’s decision not to attack,
analysts say the ball is now in Iran’s court. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Nick Schifrin.


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