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Max Blumenthal: There is nothing “rational” about sanctions and GOP leaders call for war is certainly not

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. General Martin Dempsey is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show Sunday morning and he spoke about Iran. Here’s a little bit of what he had to say.


GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: And we also know or believe we know that the Iranian regime has not decided that they will embark on the effort to weaponize their nuclear capability.

FAREED ZAKARIA, JOURNALIST, TV HOST: You think that is still unclear, that they’re moving on a path for nuclear technology, but whether or not they choose to make a nuclear weapon is unclear?

DEMPSEY: It is; I believe it is unclear. And on that basis I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us. And I think that the economic sanctions and the international cooperation that we’ve been able to gather around sanctions is beginning to have an effect. I think our diplomacy is having an effect, and our preparedness.

ZAKARIA: When you observe Iranian behavior, does it strike you as highly irrational? Does it strike you as sort of unpredictable? Or do they seem to follow their national interest in a fairly calculating way?

DEMPSEY: That is a great question. And I’ll tell you that I’ve been confronting that question since I commanded Central Command in 2008. And we are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor. And it’s for that reason, I think, that we think the current path we’re on is the most prudent at this point.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that the Israelis understand that the United States is counseling them not to strike? And do you think that they will be deterred from striking in the near future?

NARWANI: Well, I’m confident that they understand our concerns that a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives. But, I mean, I also understand that Israel has national interests that are unique to them. And, of course, they consider Iran to be an existential threat in a way that we have not concluded that Iran is an existential threat. So I wouldn’t suggest, sitting here today, that we’ve persuaded them that our view is the correct view and that they are acting in an ill-advised fashion. But we’ve had a very candid collaborative conversation. We’ve shared intelligence.


JAY: Now joining us to talk about U.S. policy to Iran and just how rational an actor the United States is and might be if there’s a Republican in the office is Max Blumenthal. Max is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author. He’s a writing fellow at the Nation Institute. He’s a senior writer at Al Akhbar English. And he’s author of the book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party. Thanks for joining us again, Max.


JAY: So, first of all, what’s your first reaction to Dempsey’s remarks?

BLUMENTHAL: I think Dempsey’s saying, you know, we’ve given Israel all the sanctions it wants; now enough. And he’s kind of drawing his own red line or the red line of the military establishment in the U.S., which is that we are not going to be dragged into a war which could likely tank the world economy—Nouriel Roubini, the renowned world economist, has said that a U.S. strike on Iran would tank the world economy. And so Dempsey’s basically coming out and saying there is daylight between us and Israel. Dempsey was recently in Israel, and while he was there, the Israelis told him that we will give you 15 minutes advance notice if we decide to strike Iran. So I don’t think Dempsey left that trip particularly reassured about what Israel was going to do.

JAY: And I guess that clearly Dempsey doesn’t go on CNN and say this kind of stuff if the White House doesn’t want him to. And also, I guess, he gets to say this stuff, avoiding the flak that you’re not strong enough on Israel and getting caught up in the presidential electorial politics.

BLUMENTHAL: Right. And that’s part of what his trip to Israel was about was kind of shoring up his own prestige within the pro-Israel community. So Dempsey actually visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and pledged publicly to Israelis that he will not allow a second Holocaust to happen, as if one is somehow on the way.

Just to go into Israel’s thinking on Iran right now, it’s not actually—there are a lot of factors that aren’t being considered inside the U.S. One of them is of course that Netanyahu, the scaremonger-in-chief, as he’s known in Israeli media and political circles, is telling Israelis that a second Holocaust might be on the way and that a new Hitler sits in Tehran. And he’s playing on the sustained historic trauma of Jewish people in Israel to indoctrinate them to support his policies. So is Ehud Barak.

But Israel has demographic considerations that aren’t being considered in the U.S. They’re deeply concerned and they’ve—figures in the military intelligence establishment in Israel have said this on the record (it’s been reported in the U.S., but underacknowledged), that Iran gaining a nuclear weapon or even breakout capacity, the capacity to have a nuclear weapon, could lead to 100,000 highly educated Ashkenazi Israelis leaving for Europe or the United States for a better life, basically a brain drain. And many of these Israelis, many Ashkenazi elites in Israel, have two passports, and they call it their emergency passport. So this is a major concern. And it’s all about Israel maintaining its demographic Jewish majority.

JAY: It’s kind of ironic, because the more you tell people there’s a Hitler in Tehran, the more you create this situation where people are going to head for the airports if there’s supposedly a bomb.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, there’s another factor, which is what, you know, in Zionist parlance is called the [ʃeɪ’jatkoÊŠ’ʃɝ], or creating a pretext to carry out a sort of a catastrophe to carry out another catastrophe. Benjamin Netanyahu in 1989, when he was a junior minister in Yitzak Shamir’s government, said we should have taken advantage of the crackdowns on the protest in Tiananmen Square to carry out massive expulsions in the West Bank. And many people, and especially in the right-wing of the Zionist establishment, have been looking for a pretext to carry out mass expulsions. They haven’t had one since 1967. And this also relates to the demographic situation that Israel’s created for itself. And this is what a war could afford it.

JAY: Well, if one takes Dempsey’s position as being a fairly rational actor in the interests of the American elite, how true would that be if there was a Republican president? I mean, what indication do we have, first of all, what a Romney Iran policy might look like and who’s around him?

BLUMENTHAL: I wrote a piece for Al Akhbar English about Romney’s—one of his chief foreign-policy advisers. His name is Eliot Cohen. He wrote Romney’s white paper on foreign policy, which is a very belligerent, bellicose, and maximalist document typical of the neocon movement that Eliot Cohen is a part of. Cohen is a protege of Paul Wolfowitz. He helped found Project for a New American Century, which was basically the umbrella group from which the case for an invasion and occupation of Iraq and, you know, the broader agenda for regime change in the Middle East emerged. And Cohen has said repeatedly that the United States is actually in a World War IV and that the war against totalitarian Islam and Arab dictatorships is the next phase that the United States needs to be engaged in. So he’s an incredibly dangerous figure whose connection to Tel Aviv is seamless. He is a teacher at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and he’s used this school, along with Paul Wolfowitz, as sort of a patronage system for the neocons.

But one of his pupils, former pupils, is Aviv Kochavi, who’s, you know, a name not known to many Americans, or even many Israelis, but he’s an incredibly important figure in Israel. He’s the head of military intelligence in Israel. And his thinking is akin to Cohen’s. But he’s in charge with making the assessments on what kind of nuclear capacity Iran has, when does Israel act. He is a key adviser to Netanyahu.

So the connection between Netanyahu’s people and Romney’s people would be practically seamless if Romney were elected. And that’s something that I wrote about in my piece “Bibi’s Shadow War”, about how Netanyahu works through Republican proxies to attack Obama, to shift the parameters and open up space for a military strike on Iran.

JAY: And would we see—what kind of policy would we see if it was a President Santorum?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, I mean, going back to Romney, Eliot Cohen—and I can’t say that Romney won’t be overwhelmed by reality, but Cohen has called for hard power and soft power to be deployed for regime change in Iran, not to stop its nuclear program. And he said that soft power is preferable, working through reform movements. And this is something that Santorum advanced when he was in the Senate, funding covertly the reform movement, funding dissident movements, but in this really crude way. In fact, Santorum gave a press conference with the son of the Shah, the deposed and dead Iranian dictator, who has absolutely no credibility. And so Santorum would basically—whatever he would do would doom the opposition in Iran.

Beyond that, he’s personally extremely Islamophobic. Whenever he’s asked about Iran’s intentions, he makes some reference to the 12th Imam and that Shiite Muslims want to force the return of the Mahdi, the Savior, their messiah, this kind of conspiratorial thinking about a regime that does have practical considerations. And in 2007 this was sort of a little-known speech that I discovered on online and publicized. Santorum did an event with David Horowitz for Islamophobia awareness week, this kind of Muslim-bashing tour that David Horowitz, the neocon provocateur and rabid racist, did across the country. And Santorum said, we have to evangelize and eradicate radical Muslims, we have to evangelize on campus and eradicate in the Middle East. So he uses eliminationist language about Muslims and sees the United States’s conflict with Iran as a religious war, which is incredibly dangerous, and different than Romney, who’s sort of a neocon marionette.

JAY: And let me just add, if David Horowitz objects to being called a radical racist, I think Max probably’d be willing to debate you and find out what the facts of that are. So we would certainly lend our hand to giving you your day in court, Mr. Horowitz. Let’s move on.

Gingrich also—if you—he doesn’t look like he’s going to be the nominee, but who knows? He just got another $10 million from his funder in Vegas, Adelson, so maybe that money will buy him back into the game again. Gingrich says he wants John Bolton as secretary of state. What would that lead to?

BLUMENTHAL: It would lead—I mean, Bolton has been around Romney’s team as well. So it would lead to a similar policy as Romney. And Bolton is actually not a neoconservative. He’s more of an ultranationalist, old-line conservative who has called repeatedly for a military strike on Iran.

And just looking at the situation right now, Barack Obama, while he is listening to Dempsey and is not likely to initiate a military strike on Iran and really his goal is to survive this election campaign without anything happening, he’s imposing sanctions on Iran that are crushing the working and middle class there, doing nothing to harm the regime, doing nothing to hold back their nuclear program, which is probably aimed at breakout capacity and not actually producing a weapon. And they’re going to—the Senate Banking Committee has just approved more sanctions, swift sanctions on the telecommunications industry. And proponents of these sanctions have said that they will have a catastrophic effect on the Iranian economy.

JAY: And Joe Lieberman, apparently, in the Senate, is advocating changing the American red line from being an actual weapons program to a capability, that if they’re—. And they’re already making the argument that Iran is building the capability. So if you take Lieberman’s logic, the red line’s been crossed already, in which case he’s advocating a strike.

BLUMENTHAL: He’s advocating a strike. And I was going to say, several of the proponents of these new sanctions from a group called United Against Nuclear Iran have already called for a military strike on Iran, from Fran Townsend to James Woolsey. So you have people who favor a military strike on Iran pushing sanctions, which means that they want to push the Iranian situation into such a crisis—and they’re using this language about catastrophe. A Democratic staffer, top Democratic aide, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency these sanctions will be a rope around the neck of the Iranian economy. So strangulation in order to produce a crisis and force Iran to do something crazy. This is their path to war, and Barack Obama has been forced to rubberstamp it, partly because he is not making the case for diplomacy and telling the American public that there is no military option.

JAY: Yeah. I mean, when I said that Dempsey was sort of a rational actor within the interests of the American elite, I was planning to come back to this point you just made, that if you really don’t believe they’ve decided to have a weapons program, then how do you explain these crippling sanctions.

BLUMENTHAL: Right. I mean, why are we imposing the sanctions? Then at least come out and admit that you’re doing it to produce regime change. And the Obama administration is afraid to use that language after one senior administration official, I think, told The New York Times two months ago that these sanctions are aimed at regime change. He or she was forced to retract that statement, and there were panic calls from the White House into The New York Times about that. So this is something that people around Romney will say, we want regime change. But the Obama administration at least has to keep the illusion that this is about nuclear weapons, which is plainly ridiculous from my point of view.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Max.

BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post,, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.