ABC News Exclusive: Gen. CQ Brown, America’s top military official, talks Iran, Israel, Trump and more

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Gen. C. Q. Brown Jr., the nation’s most senior military officer, is an experienced fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force who has overcome many challenges in a career spanning nearly 40 years, including once having to jump from plane and landing in the Florida Everglades, an experience that earned him the call sign “Swamp Thing”.

“I didn’t see any alligators, so that was good,” Brown said with a smile as he recounted the incident to ABC News’ “This Week” anchor Martha Raddatz in an exclusive interview that aired Sunday, as Brown looked back. On his work so far – and what lies ahead.

“That must have been an amazing experience,” Raddatz told Brown when I asked her about what he experienced as a young commander in January 1991, when the F-16 he was flying over Florida caught fire after being struck by lightning.

“A little,” the general replied. “But all your training starts and the checklist says if the fire continues – eject. It was a very easy decision.”

Brown continued to rise through the ranks, holding the highest positions in the Air Forces in the Middle East and the Pacific and then becoming chief of staff of the Air Force before President Joe Biden nominated him last year to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was confirmed overwhelmingly in September.

There has been much to do since then: Brown has worked almost nonstop on the overlapping crises that have consumed the Middle East after the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel sparked a war just days after he took office. the new.

Photo: Martha Raddatz's interview with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. for ABC "this week," It will be broadcast on January 28, 2024.

Martha Raddatz interviews Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., on ABC’s “This Week,” which will air on January 28, 2024.

Al Drago/ABC

“A large-scale war?”

The United States sought to contain the war between Israel and Hamas and prevent it from turning into a regional conflict. But that has become a greater challenge as Iranian-backed fighters in Iraq, Syria and Yemen continue to launch attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea and on US forces, signaling support for Palestinians being bombed in Gaza while Israel targets Hamas.

US forces in Iraq and Syria have been attacked more than 150 times by Iranian-backed militias, according to the Pentagon, and Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen have carried out more than 30 attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea.

This has led to ongoing US retaliatory strikes on the Houthis and other fighters, but the attacks have continued, raising questions and concerns about the broader military strategy, as well as some criticism from lawmakers that Congress is not involved.

Brown acknowledged that there is a delicate balance that must be achieved between the United States’ goal of deterrence in the region while at the same time protecting American forces.

“We have to be deliberate about our approach in these areas, and we cannot predict exactly how any of these groups will respond,” he said.

“I would also like to ask, what they do [critics of the current approach] Wants? Wider conflict? Do you want us in a large-scale war?”

Brown told Raddatz that US airstrikes “had an impact” on the Houthis’ ability to continue carrying out missile and drone attacks, though he declined to specify the extent of that impact.

US strikes on Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have brought some political pressure there to end the decades-long US military presence in the country.

Brown believes that while Iran wants the United States to leave Iraq, he also does not believe that Iran – a regional power with major rivals in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia – wants war with the United States.

Photo: Martha Raddatz's interview with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. for ABC "this week," It will be broadcast on January 28, 2024.

Martha Raddatz interviews Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., on ABC’s “This Week,” which will air on January 28, 2024.

Al Drago/ABC

Regarding the war between Israel and Hamas, for which the United States provides Israel with various forms of assistance, Brown said that he is in regular contact with his Israeli counterpart to stress the importance of preventing civilian casualties in the fight against Hamas.

The number of Palestinian deaths has risen to more than 25,000, according to figures issued by the Ministry of Health in Gaza.

This large number of casualties has drawn international criticism of the Israeli war effort, even as Israeli officials stress that they are looking for ways to reduce civilian deaths.

“What I have communicated to them from the beginning and through my recent communications is [that] “When you’re conducting military operations, you have to be sensitive to collateral damage. At the same time, you have to bring in humanitarian assistance,” Brown told Raddatz.

I focused on doing my job, not Trump

Brown’s predecessor, Gen. Mark Milley, spoke at length about his fraught relationship with former President Donald Trump, apologized for a controversial photo op at the height of the George Floyd protests, and appeared to refer to Trump as a “wannabe dictator” during his tenure. Exit speech in September.

Trump has referred to Milley as a “traitor” because Milley reached out to China in late 2020 and early 2021 to privately reassure them that the United States would not attack, Milley told Congress. Trump noted that this was an act, revealing the president’s thinking, as “previously the punishment was death.”

“When you hear things like this, what do you think?” Raddatz asked Sunday.

“I don’t listen to her,” Brown said. “I’m focused on doing my job.”

Raddatz also asked Brown what he learned from Milley’s experience with Trump that might be useful if the former president is re-elected.

Brown said he spoke with his predecessors and will take what he learned from them and their experiences “to be able to work and support the president, whoever he may be.”

“So you would have no concerns about working under a president who believes the election was stolen?” Raddatz said.

“I will work for whatever president is elected,” Brown said.

Think of Floyd

Brown received praise for a June 2020 video titled “That’s what I’m thinking” Who was released in response to the nationwide protests and unrest sparked by the killing of Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

In the deeply personal video, Brown recounts his own experiences with racism and his perspective as a black man and black military leader.

“I think about wearing the same flight suit, with the same wings on my chest, as my colleagues and then being interrogated by another military member,” Brown said in the video.

“I think about my mentors, and how I rarely had a mentor who looked like me,” he said. “I think about the pressure I felt to perform flawlessly, especially for mentors from whom I expected no less.” From me as an African American.”

In his interview on Sunday, Brown was asked about the video: “What really motivated you to do that?”

“My son,” he said, choking. “My son called me about four days before this video. He was struggling deeply with the death of George Floyd.”

Brown said his son asked him what Pacific Air Forces would say, which Brown understood to mean what he would say publicly, because he was the commander-in-chief of U.S. Pacific Air Forces.

He was torn about whether to say something, he told Raddatz, because he was still waiting for Senate confirmation to be the next Air Force chief of staff, but “then I decided to say it, and if I’m not confirmed, so be prepared.” He. She.”

Now, nearly four years later, Brown said he feels the country still has room to change.

“I think everyone wants to have a fair shot,” he said. “I don’t want to be disadvantaged or privileged based on my background.”

“I want to be judged on my own accomplishments, on my own merits, and have the opportunity,” he said.

“That’s what I’ve asked for my entire career in the Air Force. And I hope, you know, to sit in this chair as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — not because I’m African American — because I’m a quality officer,” he continued. “And that’s how I want to be judged.”

This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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