At a public event in Washington, DC, CodePink’s Medea Benjamin confronted Brian Hook, the head of Trump’s Iran Action Group, over the US withdrawal from the JCPOA and re-imposing crippling sanctions on the Iranian people. Benjamin joins us to discuss her action, which went viral online
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.
The U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has been one of the most consequential decisions of the Trump presidency that has faced relatively little public protest. Well, this week was different, when the administration was confronted directly. Brian Hook, the head of Trump’s so-called Iran Action Group, spoke Wednesday at the Hudson Institute, a right-wing think tank in Washington. As Hook finished his remarks, he was joined on stage by Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group Code Pink.
BRIAN HOOK: It is time for all nations to join us in holding Iran to a new level of accountability for its destructive behavior; especially its lawless pursuit of ballistic missiles. Thank you.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: That is the most ridiculous thing I have seen. The world community wants to keep the Iran nuclear deal. Our allies. The Germans, the French, the British, they want to keep in this deal. The world community wants to keep the deal. Let’s talk about normal countries. Let’s talk about Saudi Arabia. Is that who our allies are? They are the biggest- to the world community. You’re hurting me. You’re actually hurting me. I want to ask, do you think these sanctions are hurting the regime, or are they hurting the Iranian people? They’re hurting the Iranian people. You’re making the case for war with Iran. How did the war with Iraq turn out? You’re doing exactly the same thing we did in the case of Iraq. We don’t want another war in the Middle East. How did Iraq turn out? How did Libya turn out? We have the people of Syria suffering. And how dare you bring up the issue of Yemen? It’s the Saudi bombing that is killing most people in Yemen. So let’s get real. No more war. Peace with Iran.
AARON MATE: Joining me now is the star of this viral video. Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group Code Pink. Welcome, Medea. Walk us through what you did here, and the message that you tried to bring.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, thanks for having me on, Aaron. You know, it’s very hard to sit through the kind of drivel of Brian Hook talking about missile, missile, missile, Iran threat, danger, not a normal country. And my head was spinning, and I felt like I had to get up and respond to it. And I knew that in the Q&A it was going to be curated. They had passed around cards. They weren’t going to answer the questions that I had asked. And so I felt I better just get up and say my piece.
Our work can only happen with the sustained support of our viewers. Will you join our campaign for independent radical journalism by making a gift today?
And so as you can see, I jumped on stage. And I thought it was so important to counter the path that the Trump administration and Brian Hook and Mike Pompeo are taking us down, because it is so dangerous. And I’m old, Aaron. I’ve been through the antiwar movement around Vietnam, Central America, post-9/11. And I was just sitting there feeling this tremendous deja vu about Iraq; that here was yet another administration doing lies, distortions, inventions, whatever it wanted to paint Iran as a demon that had to be addressed militarily. And you know, we’ve got to do something to counter that. We can’t allow them to take us into another war in the Middle East or anywhere.
AARON MATE: You got a lot in in just a few minutes of remarks as they were dragging you away. One of the things you said was talking about the impact of sanctions, how the sanctions do not hurt the government of Iran so much as they hurt the people of Iran. And this is a critical point, as especially now already sanctions are back in place with Trump withdrawing from the nuclear deal. But even harsher sanctions from the U.S. are going to be reimposed in November. So can you talk about what you were speaking of in terms of the impact of the U.S. sanctions on Iran?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes. I’m in communication with a lot of people in Iran, and hear story after story about how devastating the sanctions already are. And as you said, in early November is the next round of sanctions to try to cut off oil exports from Iran, which is the main source of income, and will be absolutely devastating. And so I thought it was important to bring out the issue that these are ordinary Iranian people who were being hurt by the sanctions.
And the outpouring from Iran that I received after this intervention has been astounding. Yes, there are some people who are extremely nasty and actually doing death threats that I want to report to the FBI, but the majority of them have been really positive and saying how they are their lives are so difficult right now; they can’t get married because they don’t have money. They don’t want to have children because they don’t have the money to support them. They lost their jobs because the job situation is very difficult. A doctor who wrote to me and said he can’t treat his people, give them the kind of health care they deserve because of shortages.
So this is strangling not the higher-ups, not the clerics, not the government people. This is the strangulating the ordinary Iranian people. And it’s designed precisely to do that so they’ll be so angry that they’ll rise up against their government. But I think what is happening is that many people in Iran are becoming united against the outside because of this, instead of focusing on the changes they want to make in their own government. Now they feel they have to hunker down and save themselves against a potential war.
AARON MATE: And you mention that Brian Hook, the head of this new so-called Iran Action Group, was speaking about missiles in Iran. This issue of ballistic missiles. There have been rumblings in the Trump administration they want to try to push through some sort of new agreement with Iran that would limit its ballistic missiles. Can you talk about what is going on there, and what you think the Iranian government’s reaction to that will be, especially in light of the Trump ministration walking away from the Iran nuclear deal?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: We already know the reaction of the Iranian government, which is to say it’s ridiculous to pull out of a deal that was not an agreement between two countries, as Brian Hook said. It was an international agreement approved by the Security Council of the United Nations, by the European Union. If the U.S. pulls out of that it’s just crazy to think that the Iranians would sit down and negotiate another deal with the Trump administration. It makes absolutely no sense.
The rest of the world community, minus a couple of countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates, want the deal to be saved. Trying to figure out how to salvage that deal. And we will see a lot of contentious things at the United Nations next week when the issue of Iran comes up, and we find that our allies in Europe are on a very different page than the Trump administration. So I think it is not rational to talk about trying to rein in Iran’s missile system when you have just ripped up a nuclear deal. And also to recognize the most sophisticated military technology in the Middle East is not in the government of Iran, it’s in the hands of Israel and Saudi Arabia, thanks to the United States.
AARON MATE: Medea, finally, I want to ask you just a personal question. You’ve become notorious for your willingness to confront U.S. officials and former U.S. officials at public events like this one. I remember there’s a famous incident where you were there when Donald Rumsfeld was entering a gathering, and you announced to the crowd, here comes the war criminal. And you stood beside him, denouncing him as a war criminal and speaking a bit about his record. I’m wondering, when you put yourself in this situation, are you ever nervous? Is it scary to go up against people, especially powerful people like your targets?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: It’s extremely scary. I don’t do this without sweating it out, and really a lot of shaking and questioning whether I should do it or should I do it. But in the end I think it’s important to do, and I think more people should do it. I wish there were people everywhere these criminals go to be popping up and denouncing them, because we make their lives way too easy when they are destroying the lives of people around the world.
AARON MATE: Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, star of that new viral video confronting the head of the Trump administration’s Iran Action Group. Thank you, Medea.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thanks for having me on, Aaron.
AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.