Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta on Friday warned the U.S. is now closer to entering a conflict with Iran than it has been for decades following the President Donald Trump-authorized airstrike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
Panetta, who headed the Pentagon under President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2013, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer “the real question” about the killing was not about if he agreed with the strike but “whether or not this action has given us less of a chance of going to war or increases the chances of war.”
“And I think right now we are closer to war with Iran than we’ve been in the last 40 years,” he said in video shared by Mediaite. “And that is a danger that we have to pay attention to that was not dealt with with one act.”
Congressional Democrats have also warned the attack may spark a war.
Panetta described Soleimani as “a bad actor” whose death should not be mourned. He also explained why the general’s name was not, during the Obama administration, on a list of direct targets that included al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“I think the reason was that he was a general in Iran who, along with the leadership of Iran and other generals that were involved in Iran, all were involved in planning what Iran was doing,” said Panetta.
“And it was difficult to say that we ought to pick one general to go after and try to execute in some way when you’re dealing with the entire country as a threat to the United States,” he added. “That’s what the United States needed to focus on, was the threat from Iran, not just one particular individual.”