LEILA FADEL, HOST:
While there has been much criticism of the move to target Iranian General Soleimani, there are many foreign policy experts that welcome the news. Danielle Pletka, senior vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, is one of them, and she joins us now from Australia. Welcome, and thank you for talking with us. I know it's very late there.
DANIELLE PLETKA: It is not so much late as early, but yes. Happy to be here. Thanks, Leila.
FADEL: Thank you. So two previous U.S. administrations had General Soleimani on their radar and chose not to target him. Why do you think now is the right time?
PLETKA: Look; you know, it's not just two previous administrations. It's even more than that. Qassem Soleimani has been a pivotal figure in Iran for decades and instrumental in Iran's regional and global reach for almost as long.
I suspect now - because now was the moment of opportunity, now is the time when he has been behaving - if I can say this, you know, with some perspective - most brazenly. He has been parading around Iraq as if it is a province of Iran. He has been directing Iraqi militias as if they belong to Iran. He has been ordering attacks against American targets as if he is the ruler of Iraq, and that's been a big problem.
FADEL: Ms. Pletka, though, also, he was - these Iraqi militias that are influenced by Iran are also militias that were fighting ISIS in Iraq, right?
PLETKA: Of course. Look; what we're talking about now is what is - what are called the Hashd al-Sha’bi, the popular mobilization unit that rose up in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal in 2011 to fight ISIS, al-Qaida and - what used to be al-Qaida in Iraq. For sure, but the trope that the notion - the trope that the enemy of my enemy is my friend doesn't work here. Just because they were fighting ISIS doesn't mean that, given the opportunity, they wouldn't kill Americans. They have.
FADEL: Now many of your colleagues in the foreign policy establishment have raised alarms, saying they think the consequences for the U.S. and the region could be dire. What do people say - what do you say to people that say this makes the U.S. less safe, it will further destabilize the region?
PLETKA: That's always going to be the case. Anytime a hard call gets made, there are people who believe that it was the wrong call at the wrong time. And there are lots of arguments to be made that we should just ignore everything that's going on in the region, wait for it to come to the United States. You know, why not? After all, why shouldn't half a million people die in Syria? Why shouldn't hundreds of people die in Iraq? Why is that our business? My view is that these problems need to be dealt with before they become problems in New York, in LA, in Washington. It's a difference of perspective.
FADEL: But most people would say that the people who would pay this price would be the people in the region. And many of the - the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq, a lot of that can be put on the U.S. and not Iran, correct?
PLETKA: I don't think that the number hundreds of thousands in Iraq is actually a correct one. The place where we can really talk about a half a million people dying is in Syria. And we can thank, among others, Qassem Soleimani for that, not to speak of the many others, including hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. soldiers who died because of him.
It is really hard to underestimate his importance. And while he's not a name that is on everybody's lips in the United States - and I understand that - he is somebody who has been at the forefront of every single bad thing that Iran has done for the past two, three decades.
FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, what if the calculation is wrong here? What if - you know, Iran has promised vengeance. What if it doesn't back down?
PLETKA: If Iran doesn't back down, then they will put the United States in the position of having to deal with them. They know very well what the consequences of that will be.
FADEL: Danielle Pletka, thanks for speaking to us today.
PLETKA: Thanks for having me.
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