Is War with Iran in the Cards with the Trump Foreign Policy Team?
Max Blumenthal and Paul Jay discuss the appointments of Flynn, Pompeo, and Huckabee and whether they will follow through on their calls to rip up the Iran agreement and promote regime change
PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
Well, Flynn as national security advisor. Pompeo at the CIA. Now Mike Huckabee is going to be the American ambassador to Israel. The names being bandied around at Secretary of State include John Bolton. These are leaks coming from the Trump camp. Whether or not Bolton actually gets it or not we’ll see. But it’s an indication of where their thinking is. Put all this together and we’re getting much more of a picture of where the real Trump stands on US foreign policy. Of course, I must not forget to mention the most important name of this whole gallery of some people would call rogues and that’s Vice President Pence himself, who is leading the transition team. It looks like everyone thinks has extraordinary power when asked who he wanted to model his vice presidency after, he said Dick Cheney and it’s every reason to think he might have that kind of power.
Now joining us to discuss where all this is leading Trump government’s foreign policy is Max Blumenthal. Max is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author. He’s the author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. His latest book is the 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. Thanks for joining us Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Good to be with you.
JAY: So, this all leads to what one thinks, picking up where Bush-Cheney left off. Cheney’s hope was to bomb Iran. He and circles around him advocated it most directly. He was pretty closely connected with Netanyahu who wanted to do the same thing. For a lot of reasons, they claim it’s about the nuclear program but I think most people will look at the situation has a lot to do with regional power with the destruction of Iraq, Iran’s hand has been strengthened. They certainly want to undercut Hezbollah. So, give us a sense of what this team has said and what likely will be their plans based on what we know of their history.
BLUMENTHAL: Well if you follow many neocon on Twitter today or read any statement from the kind of neoconservative think tank world in Washington which really was anticipating a Hillary Clinton victory and wanted a Hillary Clinton victory because the statements Trump had made, I think you’re seeing them breathe a big sigh of relieve. One reason is Mike Pompeo as CIA Director. Mike Pompeo, the congressman from Kansas who’s basically owned by the Koch brothers but who has also been a fanatical militarist who is obsessed with bringing Snowden back for prosecution, has even singled out Glen Greenwald, and of course today tweeted as he was announced CIA director that he was determined to unravel the Iran deal.
Michael Flynn is going to be National Security advisor to Trump, mainly because he probably wouldn’t have made it through any confirmation hearing. He sees Iran as an Islamic republic like any other country that’s majority Muslim, that kind of openly identifies as a Muslim country. He sees it in the same way that he sees Afghanistan or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. He basically see Islam as the greatest threat to western civilization. SO Flynn conflates Iran with countries that actually see it as an adversary and has a very crude view of geopolitics. At the same time, Flynn is accused of wanting to accommodate with Russia which would make it pretty difficult if he wanted to do that, to tear up the Iran deal. You have Trump who said the same thing, that he wants to ally with Russia to smash not only ISIS but Al Qaeda which has the largest franchise in it’s history right now and Syria and Russia’s of course, directly engaged in the Syrian war theater.
So you have all these warring factions and you also, if you look at the Iran deal, so far it’s been pretty successful in accomplishing the goal of nuclear nonproliferation. Iran his not moving towards a nuclear weapons program and that fact has to be considered by people who were calling for the deal to be torn up in 2015. So it’s unclear what will happen with the Iran deal right now. It is clear that you have a bunch of figures who are more reflective of the Bush-Cheney approach to foreign policy, especially the Cheney approach which by extension is the Pence approach, then the Trump approach. Trump will either completely capitulate to them or you’re going to see and I think the later version is more likely, a kind of political reenactment of the sopranos within the White House.
JAY: Well the one thing they all have in common even though there has been some disagreement, for example between Pence and Trump on just whether to be aggressive towards Russia or not. All of them agree on regime change in Iran. You can imagine a coming together on this issue which if the great negotiator Trump – and I would suspect this is what’s in his head and this would also jive with Flynn. If they can make a deal with Russia to back off and allow them to get rid of Assad in Syria, perhaps give the Russians, keep your base we’ll make sure the jihadists don’t take over. You can get the Iraqi state and army but without Assad. There’s deals to be made here if you sit there and played the negotiator role.
In other words, there’s deals to say also we’re going to rip up the agreement with Iran, what do you want? Flynn’s very much for ripping up the deal with Iran even though he has some of this conciliatory position towards Russia I assume. He got paid to be on RT at the Russia Today Network. Because of that he went to some celebration for the RT Network. But other than that he seems to be pretty much on the same page as the rest of this world view which is really target Iran and the rest you can worry about – you make work to achieve your prime objective.
BLUMENTHAL: Yea I don’t really see any of that happening. It’s entirely possible because some of these figures, especially Flynn see geopolitics in an irrational almost theological sense. A lot like General Jerry Boykin. Flynn you know, when he was at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the people in the Pentagon had this term Flynn fact, because Flynn would kind of come in with his own facts irrespective of the intelligence that was provided to him.
So there’s definitely a strange lovey and compacity among these figures but I don’t see them making a deal to remove Assad because the assessment on Syria will be made on February 2017 and by then I can see the rebels being completely rolled back, the insurgency against the Syrian government being completely quelled and they’re really being no more pressure for the removal of Assad, only these kind of crushing intensifying sanctions like the recent bill that was pushed through the house of representatives.
JAY: Yea the Assad, I’m speculating what a possible deal with Russia could be but do you not think these guys are going to be very focused on –
BLUMENTHAL: Russia will not allow anything to happen to Assad at any point, especially now. Syria is the only Russian client state in the Arab League and they’re absolutely on the same page with Assad and the Syrian military.
JAY: But do you think they’re going to take that kind of position on Iran? They certainly didn’t when it came to very harsh sanctions.
BLUMENTHAL: You know there’s going to be pressure on the Trump administration from the neoconservative and hawkish republican elements to do just that and I think the alternative is to empower the more radical elements. The IRGC, the Iranian Republican Guard Council which sort of represents those elements. The kind of forces that gravitated around Ahmadinejad.
These are the forces that will come back to power and enjoy tearing up the Iran deal. They’re the ones that opposed the Iran deal. So Trump and all of these figures have to make an assessment. We’re against radical Islam. That’s what they say. So, do we embolden it by tearing up this deal and capitulating to domestic brilliance. Capitulating to domestic pressure. How do they do that when they’re coordinating with Russia in Syria? How do you do that when you’re coordinating with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces which are ta majority Shia which are at the spearhead of the campaign against ISIS in Mosul. How do you do that when you’re coordinating to various forces to extricate ISIS from [RAKKA]. It doesn’t make sense.
JAY: But it didn’t make sense to invade Iraq. I mean you could have all the same logic about how crazy it was to invade Iraq and in fact all the professionals were against the Invasion of Iraq. They gave all the arguments geopolitically what would happen in terms of strengthening Iraq’s position in the region. They gave all the arguments how it’s going to be utter chaos. You’re not going to be able to control the outcome of what happens after this fall of Saddam. All the heads of agencies, the intelligence, military, preponderance of the professionals were telling Cheney not to do this and we know form various sources that he essentially said either you’re on board or you’re fired. You can resign.
BLUMENTHAL: I think we need to go back to the republican primary. One of the most memorable moments, probably one of my favorite moments in political history that I was conscious of was Trump humiliating Jeb Bush. Not only about the war in Iraq but about 9/11 and the entire war on terror. What a colossal failure it was, and this was signal moment. This is when Trump channeled the mood, not only of mainstream American who were sick of these costly interventions. But of the republican base which seemed to be sick of them as well and it worked for him. It was the only time we’ve seen the Bushes held accountable.
So Trump also has to contend with American popular opinion which is hostile now to expansionism and isolationism and he really represents the new face of the republican base which is very much like the face of the French right wing of Marine Le Pen. The face of the British right which supported Brexit, it’s protectionists and isolationists. You know he has all these figures coming in who reflect Cheney-esque policies.
JAY: I was about to say. Not a single appointment that agrees with him on this stuff. Started with the most important appointment which was Pence.
BLUMENTHAL: The reason that Bush got his domestic agenda through, not only the invasion of Iraq, but his domestic agenda was because 9/11, it electrified everything. I mean Bush had 90% approval rating after 9/11. That lasted – that also influenced the way the press covered Bush. They were afraid to take him on.
Trump has no such protection. He’s under enormous pressure from the republican base to go in a more realist direction. So, I think what we’re looking at is a very weak administration. Massive internecine warfare within the administration, locked infighting. It’s really unclear to me which direction they’ll go but one thing is clear is that all of these figures, all of them including Trump are expressing a view of Islam and Muslims that is nothing short of incitement to violence and they’ve emboldened elements in this country to lash out in a vigilantly fashion. So, that’s the immediate effect I can see in these appointments.
JAY: I agree with you, certainly on that point. I don’t see them on very different pages when it comes to Iran unless they go against all their rhetoric that they’ve been doing for years.
BLUMENTHAL: It would mean going against Russia-
JAY: I don’t see it.
BLUMENTHAL: -And tearing up everything Trump said.
JAY: No, the one thing he’s been consistent about is he wants to tear up the Iran agreement. He’s never said otherwise. Pence and Trump differ on the approach to Russia, at least at the level of rhetoric. Maybe Pence and Flynn even disagree on the issue of Russia on the level of rhetoric. But they have all be consistent on the issue of Iran.
BLUMENTHAL: Right. I mean you know Pence and Trump clashed over a no fly zone in Syria. But it would be impossible to implement such a thing without essentially going to war with Russia. So I think –
JAY: That’s an assumption. We’ll see. As I say, Russia did not oppose in any serious way, the sanctions that were exerted that were a form of economic warfare on Iran and the Iranian people. When it came to Gaddafi, yes they initially were proposed to the violation of the UN resolution with the extension of the war and the attempts to overthrow Gaddafi. But when push came to shove and it seems when they were offered their oil concession that they were negotiating through the Italian oil company in Libya, Medvedev came and completely reversed the position and said it was time for Gaddafi to go.
BLUMENTHAL: That’s because Medvedev was there. Medvedev was an extremely weak figure. There was no security council veto of the intervention in Libya because of Medvedev and Putin has said that if he was there, he would have done it. It was part of his motivation for removing Medvedev and it’s what motivates him in Syria. The Jihadist insurgency and in Libya, I guess you couldn’t call it an insurgency its essentially a takeover, is what brought Putin to take such a strong position.
JAY: You think Putin will get into a direct confrontation with the United States over Iran?
BLUMENTHAL: I never said that. But I think if the United States attempts to implement a no fly zone in Syria, it will have to contend with S300 and 400 batteries.
JAY: I’m not talking about Syria.
BLUMENTHAL: It’s not going to happen but if you look at who the alliance is in Syria in support of the Syrian government who’s exactly on the same page and stands to gain from the rollback of the insurgency which is really inevitable at this point, it’s Iran and Russia and all the Shiite militias that are allied with them. So Iran and Russia essentially on the same page. And for Russia to allow any threat to the Iran deal would mean sort of, it would threaten its intentions in Syria.
JAY: And how can they stop it? I mean this is a Cheney-esque gang that cares nothing for international law, nothing for the United Nations. What exactly can Russia do to stop this, if in fact this group wants to carry out what they have been more or less saying for the past few years.
BLUMENTHAL: If this group wants to act unilaterally, tear up the Iran deal.
JAY: I think they would have to act unilaterally to do it. Europe won’t sign off on ripping it up, never mind Russia.
BLUMENTHAL: Which is entirely possible. It would mean not only reneging on everything Trump said about Russia but also compromising the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and emboldening radical elements in Iran which have been sidelined because of this deal. That’s the consequence and I can’t really engage in predicting the future.
JAY: Yea no I don’t disagree with you on the outcome. I just remind myself that I said all the same things before the Iraq war. Saying there’s no way they can do this because there was a whole list of reasons of why it was bad for American interests.
BLUMENTHAL: I think Paul though, you’re right that we’re witnessing a massive shift at least a momentary shift in the Washington consensus. That also applies to Israel-Palestine. A signal that Trump has sent there is appointing Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and a vowed Christian Zionist, apocalyptic Christian Zionist as ambassador to Israel. Mike Huckabee’s someone who’s denied that Palestinians exist. He’s not only a supporter of the settlement enterprise, he’s someone who goes to the settlements and enjoys a close relationship with the [inaud.] accounts or the main governing council of the legal settlement enterprise in the West Bank. He’s close to the leadership of the far right Jewish Home Party. Which favors a single apartheid state. This is someone who’s going to advocate for those policies. This is the signal that the Trump administration is sending Israel. They’re removed the kind of veneer of the Oslo precedent. Oslo era peace process and the two state solution.
The United States government is no longer pretend to support a two-state solution. It’s allowing Israel to become what it’s wanted to be which is a binational apartheid state that formalizes official discrimination against Palestinians and incorporates the settlements as part of Israel. So that’s a massive shift in the Washington consensus. To some extent it means that this administration will love Israel to death.
JAY: Yea well to be continued. I hope your analysis at the possibility that this government and congress are at each other’s throats and won’t agree on this kind of aggressive Iran strategy and the final analysis. I hope you’re right and I’m wrong. Thanks for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: The only thing I can say now is that that the only thing they’re united by is Islamophobia which is already having some troubling domestic effects and it’s of a part with the appointment of Jeff Sessions someone who said his only problem with the Klu Klux Klan or has said to have said that his only problem with the Klu Klux Klan is that they smoke marijuana.
JAY: Thanks for joining us Max.
BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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