CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — U.S. Sen. Jack Reed’s phone rang at about 11 a.m. Thursday. He was being summoned to a meeting with President Trump and fellow congressional leaders in the Situation Room.
In an interview with Eyewitness News on Friday, Reed said he knew what the topic would be – the shooting down of an unmanned U.S. military drone by the Iranian government – but he didn’t know what the meeting would entail.
“It’s very unusual,” Reed said of being called for such a meeting. “There are meetings with the president on specific topics of legislation, but to get a call for the entire leadership of the Senate and House, bipartisan, including the defense committees, is unusual.”
Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, wondered if he was about to be briefed on the president’s plans for Iran, or would be entering into an open dialogue where cabinet members and congressional leaders could ask questions and make suggestions. It was the latter.
During the more than hour-long meeting, Reed said he cautioned the President twice about authorizing a strike on Iran.
“The president was not specific about what he intended to do,” Reed said. “He made it clear that he had a list of options. He did not specify those options, but from the context they ranged from less kinetic to very kinetic, perhaps even a strike on the mainland of Iran.”
On Friday morning, President Trump confirmed on Twitter that he had called off a military strike on Iran just minutes before it was carried out.
“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it,” the president tweeted.
The president said the strike would have been a disproportionate response to the takedown of an unmanned drone. He said if there had been American casualties, the situation would have likely been starkly different.
Reed said he learned about the strike and it being called off through a report in The New York Times; if a strike had gone forward, Reed said he would have received a call from the White House alerting him that military action was underway.
On Thursday President Trump said he believed the Iranian missile strike on the drone was a mistake, noting that it was flying over international water.
“I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down,” he told reporters.
“Having declared it a mistake and then taking very, very strenuous military action would not be perceived by the world community as something proportionate,” Reed said.
Reed believes the president listened to his message, which he said was one echoed by military advisers. He said the president made the right decision and believes a strike could have reverberated through the region, triggering an Iranian response from Afghanistan to Lebanon and escalating the possibility of reprisal.
Now he wonders what the strategy will be going forward.
“We can’t accept this, we can’t accept their rules of engagement,” Reed said.
He added, “What we don’t want is to rush into a conflict. That would be the worst thing, and any type of conflict – from the briefing I received – would be very arduous for both sides, including the United States.”