President Trump’s decertification of the Iran nuclear deal and targeting of the Revolutionary Guard is a dangerous escalation, says Reza Marashi of the National Iranian American Council
AARON MATÉ: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. President Trump has made it official: He’s decertifying the Iran nuclear deal to Congress. President Trump: We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror, and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout. That is why I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons. In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated. It is under continuous review and our participation can be canceled by me, as President, at any time. AARON MATÉ: Now, this means Trump isn’t directly killing the Iran nuclear deal, but he’s giving Congress the opportunity to do so, and that isn’t all. Trump also announced actions targeting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a move with far-reaching implications. Joining me now is Reza Marashi, Research Director at the National Iranian American Council. Reza, welcome. I guess I’d like to hear first what you thought was most important about Trump’s comments today and your thoughts on them. REZA MARASHI: There was so many … It was hard to keep up with all the fibs and deceptions that he weaved into his remarks with such speed and tenacity, but I think two things stood out to me above all else. One, he’s, in effect, trying to kill the Iran nuclear deal; and, two, he’s eliminating all possibility of taking the U.S. and Iran off of a collision course. There’s no channels for dialogue and communication. He’s clearly demonstrated that he’s not interested in dialogue and communication, and that really only leaves one potential alternative. AARON MATÉ: And that is? REZA MARASHI: That’s a military confrontation imposed by the United States. AARON MATÉ: Right. So, in terms of that clip where we just heard from him, he said that, essentially, unless the deal is reworked to my liking, I have the power to kill it. What does he mean there, and what is the implication of that? REZA MARASHI: Well, the implication is a total erosion of American credibility because the deal was crafted and constructed by seven different countries in addition to the United Nations and the European Union. As a result, if the Trump administration tries to strong arm all other signatories to this deal into accepting its version of it with no consultation, no feedback, no prior approval, then all it’s doing is isolating the United States at the end of the day, and the longer term impact of that, as I alluded to when I first started making these remarks to your question, is who in their right mind would enter into any kind of diplomatic agreement with the United States when they see this can be the end result with a snap of a finger, or at any whim? AARON MATÉ: Right. On this point about the only path this leading towards being war, I want to be clear it’s not as if this is a mutual thing, right? It’s often said that unless the Iran nuclear deal was made, that the inevitable result would’ve been military conflict, but it’s not as if this was both sides saying that. Iran has been calling for talks with the U.S. long before the nuclear deal started, and they made overtures that were rejected under both Bush and Obama. So, when you say that this could lead to military conflict, you’re referring to basically one side imposing that conflict, right? REZA MARASHI: Yeah, and I think I actually used the words “imposed by the United States” when I answered your original question. Iran has no appetite or interest for a war with the United States. The U.S. and Iran have very real differences, very real disagreements on a variety of different issues, but this nuclear deal was supposed to be the foundation from which dialogue on those additional issues, the additional points of contention, could grow in an attempt to resolve them over time. Now, the clock ran out on the Obama administration, and they weren’t able to resolve the multitude of problems, but the foundation, being the nuclear deal, still existed. It was inherited by the Trump administration, and from the very outset, they’ve disregarded it as this invaluable tool, this gift to Iran. And as much as they tried to say that, the rest of the world, including our closest allies in Europe, continued to make points to the contrary, emphasizing the value of the deal and the fact that it wasn’t a deal just between Iran and the United States. It was, in fact, a deal between Iran and the international community. AARON MATÉ: You know, when Trump was speaking about the deal, one of those point of contention was that if not for the nuclear deal, he said, then the Iranian regime would’ve collapsed. That it was basically nearing its end, but he suggested that Obama’s deal with it saved it from collapse. But it’s actually quite the opposite. The great book by your colleague at the National Iranian American Council, Trita Parsi, called ‘Losing an Enemy.’ He reveals, actually, that part of the reason that the Obama administration made this nuclear deal is that they calculated that their sanctions, the harsh sanctions that they were imposing on Iran, weren’t going to be able to break the Iranian regime’s will fast enough before Iran could potentially have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons. So that’s why they went ahead and made a deal with them. REZA MARASHI: That’s absolutely right, and those assessments, by the way, that the Obama administration utilized to make the decision, “Well, maybe we should negotiate now before our leverage evaporates,” [inaudible 00:06:05] those weren’t political assessments made by Obama administration official political appointees. Those were assessments that were being provided by the intelligence community, the military, the Treasury Department, the State Department … Basically career government officials that don’t cycle in and out depending on which political party is in power. So, not only was it a dishonest, disingenuous remark on the part of the Trump administration, it also highlights the hyper-aggressive, unrealistic nature of Trump administration policy. If I can be afforded to just give you one quick example, we are sitting here saying we need to be aggressive and have a military-oriented posture towards Iran because diplomacy hasn’t worked. Diplomacy was tried in earnest for a handful of years that can be counted on one hand, and yet we’ve been fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade, and nobody’s making the argument that because we haven’t reached an inflection point where military power has produced success in these two countries, we need to pull out. They’re saying, in fact, we need more military confrontation in these countries. So, it just kind of goes to show how this administration, not only on the issue of Iran, but really across the board, has abandoned diplomacy as a valued tool in the American national security toolkit. AARON MATÉ: Right. And speaking of national security, in the service of confronting Iran, they also appear to be softening their stance on two of the biggest threats to Americans around the world, and to everyone basically in general, which is Al Qaeda and ISIS. The reason I say that is because there was a stunning passage inside this release last night by the White House of Trump’s strategy ahead of the speech today. He didn’t say this in the speech today, but this was in a White House strategy document that they released last night to preview Trump’s speech today. This is what they say: “Over the last decade and a half, U.S. policy has also consistently prioritized the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer term threat of Iranian backed militancy.” And they go on to call that a mistake, saying they won’t repeat these mistakes any longer. So, they don’t identify who these Sunni groups are, but it’s very obvious who they’re talking about. They’re talking about groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, who Iran, in fact, has been fighting. And the suggestion there is that Iranian backed groups are more of a threat than Al Qaeda and ISIS. REZA MARASHI: Yeah, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. I remember right towards the end of the Obama administration, John Kerry was secretly, inappropriately recording. He was talking to a variety of Syrian opposition groups, and they asked him why we weren’t going after Hezbollah more vigorously inside of Syria the same way that we were going after ISIS, for example. John Kerry said very plainly, “Hezbollah’s not plotting attacks on the United States, and Hezbollah’s not actively trying to kill Americans.” And you can’t say the same about Al Qaeda and ISIS. So, I would argue that it’s a dereliction of duty on the part of Donald Trump and his closest advisors to prioritize the threat that Iran’s militias and allies in the region pose. That’s a geopolitical threat. That’s not a threat on the homeland. That’s not putting American lives at risk the same kind of way that ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other Sunni-backed terrorist groups, who are actively plotting against the United States … It boggles the mind. AARON MATÉ: Yeah, and the double irony of the fact that in Iran, it’s been Iranian-backed militias that have helped the U.S. defeat some of the Sunni extremist groups that the U.S. has been trying to fight over these many years of occupation. Finally, if this isn’t about actually fighting terrorism, what, then, to you is this about? Someone like Noam Chomsky makes the argument that the reason the U.S. and, of course, Israel want to confront Iran in this way is because they don’t want a deterrent to their use of force in the Middle East. REZA MARASHI: I think Professor Chomsky’s definitely onto something. I don’t disagree with him at all. I think I would perhaps just frame it a little bit differently. I think the issue … What Professor Chomsky outlined is a critical issue, but I would say that the issue is since the end of World War II, the United States has filled a power vacuum in the Middle East, and we’ve set up these rules of the game. And if you play by our rules of the game … If you’re a Saudi Arabia, a Jordan, an Israel … We kind of turn a blind eye to the way you treat your own people. Human rights abuses, sponsorship of terrorism, you name it. But if you oppose American hegemony in the Middle East, if you’re the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Assad’s Syria, Gaddafi’s Libya … What do all of these countries have in common? These are the countries that we consistently talk about war and regime change with. These are the countries that are constantly in the penalty box. Short of, it would appear now, according to Donald Trump’s policy … Short Iran capitulating to the United States and completely reorienting the way that its foreign policy and national security works, with no negotiation, no diplomacy, no compromise, no dialogue … Just outright capitulation, then the United States and Iran are on track towards a military confrontation. And it’s the responsibility of the American president to explain to the American people why he’s putting us on the warpath, and we didn’t hear anything along those lines in his speech today. AARON MATÉ: We have to leave it there. Reza Marashi is Research Director at the National Iranian American Council. Reza, thank you. REZA MARASHI: Thank you. AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.