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Retired Military General Officer reacts to U.S. air strikes in the Middle East

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

And for more analysis, let's bring in retired military general Officer Michael Nagata. General Nagata, welcome.

MICHAEL NAGATA: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

MCCAMMON: I'll just start here. What was your first reaction to the news about these strikes?

NAGATA: My first reaction probably mirrors the reaction of many people across the region. Will this have the effect the United States is seeking? As we've already heard, the United States does not want a wider war, but it obviously felt compelled to conduct a reprisal attack. Does this make anything better? I don't think we were going to know that for at least several days, maybe longer.

MCCAMMON: How will you start to form an opinion about that? What will you be looking for?

NAGATA: I guess I'd be looking for several things. First and foremost, I'd be looking for a change in Iranian behavior that is beneficial to the U.S. and its allies in the region, whether it is behavior by the Iranian state and its organizations like the Quds Force or the IRGC or its proxies, of which there are very many proxies. If we see a behavior change that is beneficial to us, then we'll know. If we don't, then we'll know something else, which is that it's not having the effect we want.

MCCAMMON: You've said the administration doesn't want a wider war. How would you define the goals here? What are the administration's strategic goals?

NAGATA: Beyond the statement, we don't want a wider war, which I certainly sympathize with, I'm unaware of any more granular description of what that means that has come from any senior U.S. policymaker so far. So it could mean a lot of things. It could mean something as extreme as a complete capitulation and reversal of Iranian behavior in the region. That is something I do not expect to happen. It could be something much more modest, such as a slight reduction in attacks on U.S. and allied shipping and personnel. That's an effect, but it's not a particularly satisfying event - effect.

MCCAMMON: After the news of these three soldiers' deaths, President Biden said that the United States would respond. It is responding. What do you make...

NAGATA: Yes.

MCCAMMON: ...Of the administration's calculus here about how to respond?

NAGATA: Well, I suspect that its choices were fairly constrained. I seriously doubt anybody wanted to countenance a major land incursion of any kind, particularly given the enormously sophisticated ability we have to conduct airstrikes or missile strikes. So that was the low-risk option that I'm sure many policymakers and other senior leaders in the government were attracted to. I probably would have been attracted to it as well. But, again, will it have the effect that we hope for, which is both making Iran pay a price for what they have done to our three service members on all the other attacks? But most importantly, will it change their behavior or the behavior of its proxies? As I've already said, I don't think we're going to know for some time. I will tell you I am personally dubious.

MCCAMMON: Briefly, how concerned are you about a broader spiral of violence?

NAGATA: I am concerned. I can't really quantify how concerned I am because this region is not only so complex and volatile. It also has the dimension of being highly unpredictable. Most external actors - whether it's the U.S. or in Europe or anywhere else in the world, most actors around the world don't do a particularly good job of predicting what the future trajectory of actors in the Middle East is going to be. I think that hard reality will play out again here.

MCCAMMON: Retired military general Officer Michael Nagata giving us analysis of today's retaliatory airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Thank you so much for your time.

NAGATA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.