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As U.S. considers a response to deadly drone attack, Rep. Waltz has suggestions

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Biden administration has vowed to respond to Sunday's deadly drone attack on U.S. military members. Here's Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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ANTONY BLINKEN: We will respond decisively to any aggression. And we will hold responsible the people who attacked our troops. We'll do so at a time and a place of our choosing.

MARTÍNEZ: The attack that's been blamed on Iran-backed militants killed three service members and injured dozens more. Republican Congressman Mike Waltz of Florida joins us now. He has said that, quote, "Iran does not believe the Biden administration will hit back in a way that they'll care about." Congressman, so how does the U.S. respond, then, in a way that Iran would care about?

MIKE WALTZ: Yeah, hi. Well, thanks and good to be with you. And our prayers certainly go out for the families of the fallen today. I hope the administration appreciates and realizes that deterrence has failed. Its Iran policy is failing, with now 160 attacks on our service members since just October. That was on top of another 80 since President Biden has come into office. And Iran is flush with cash because of the administration's attempts to enter into the Iran deal, with increases in its foreign currency reserves from 4 billion now to 70...

MARTÍNEZ: So, Congressman, what should they...

WALTZ: So I think my point, to set the stage, is hitting back on Iran's proxies in the region has not worked and will not work because Iran will trade proxy casualties for American casualties all day long. And that's a good deal for them. So three things that I would like to see - one, hit the actual IRGC. That does not have to be in Iran proper. For example, IRGC head Soleimani's replacement we know is moving around Syria, Iraq, Yemen coordinating these attacks.

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No. 2, dry up the cash and actually enforce the sanctions. And then No. 3 - this is a broader term issue. But, you know, we've had a series of uprisings inside of Iran, the most recent being schoolgirls that don't want to wear headscarves, the hijab. Let's support the Iranian people as they push back on a regime that's brutally repressing them. So - but I think in the very near term, whether it's oil refineries, Iranian naval assets, as Ronald Reagan hit, or actual Iranian operatives across the Middle East, as President Trump did, there are ways to make Iran itself feel the pain.

MARTÍNEZ: So - OK.

WALTZ: And sometimes - just to use a basic analogy...

MARTÍNEZ: Right.

WALTZ: ...Sometimes you have to punch the bully in the mouth to kind of restore peace on the schoolyard.

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MARTÍNEZ: But, Congressman, OK, considering - I mean, you were a Green Beret. You served in combat in the Middle East. Considering what's going on in Gaza right now...

WALTZ: Right.

MARTÍNEZ: ...What are the chances that a more powerful U.S. response here sparks something even bigger, maybe even something worse?

WALTZ: Look, I think the opposite has shown to be true in the sense that the administration's attempts to not escalate, to deescalate, which you hear - every administration official that speaks about this has actually invited escalation. Iran, its terrorist proxies and others interpret that as an opportunity to do more, that the United States is not going to hit back in a forceful way. And as you mentioned, as a Green Beret that served all over that region, in that part of the world, they respect strength. And they understand consequences. And as long as they believe there's not going to be serious consequences, then they're going to push further. So I think the administration has to reverse course and hit back in a way that Iran cares about.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's Republican Congressman Mike Waltz of Florida. Congressman, thank you very much for taking the time.

WALTZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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