Iran in Crosshairs of New Administration
Although the Trump presidency is going to preside over a weakened empire, it may have a hard time reversing the nuclear deal with Iran, says journalist Reese Erlich
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
The new administration in Washington is lunching on Capitol Hill, with both sides of the House present. Many are waiting for the inaugural parade to take place, and most mainstream media speculating a way the first couple is going to walk in this parade, given the rain in Washington. But more importantly, there are thousands of people protesting the new Trump administration. Let’s have a look.
CROWD: …no KKK, no fascist U.S.A! No KKK, no fascist U.S.A! No Trump! No KKK, no fascist U.S.A! No KKK, no fascist U.S.A! No Trump…
SHARMINI PERIES: Joining me now to take a look at the inaugural address is, Reese Erlich. Reese is joining us from Oakland, California. Reese is an award-winning foreign correspondent and author of the book, “Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect”. Reese, good to have you with us.
REESE ERLICH: Thank you so much.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Reese, there were many things I’m sure you could comment on, in terms of the inaugural address of the new 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, but what stood out to you the most?
REESE ERLICH: Well, the speech was full of bombastic rhetoric in support of workers, and how he’s going to take back Washington for the people. And it really was a phony -– anybody who knows anything about what Trump actually stands for -– incredibly phony presentation. I mean, he’s going to take back Washington by filling his leadership cabinet with multi-billionaires and military hawks?
I mean, it… give me a break. Frankly, I think, his supporters may be enthused by it, but certainly a significant portion of the American people, and people around the world, are not.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Reese, there was one specific part in this speech about ISIS. Let’s have a look.
DONALD TRUMP: We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.
DONALD TRUMP: We will reinforce old alliances, and form new ones, and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.
SHARMINI PERIES: And Reese, this is your particular, and specific expertise. How is he going to do that?
REESE ERLICH: Well, the first thing that was striking, is that he says, “We don’t seek to impose our way of life on other people.” Well, that would come as a big surprise to the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, among other places around the world.
Where in 2003, when the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq, it was explicitly at the time said by the Bush administration, that we were going to reshape Iraq into being a pro-U.S. ally. We were going to set up their stock exchange. We were going to eradicate the Ba’athist Party in the old army. I mean, if that’s not imposing your will on another country, I don’t know what is. We know the disastrous results, and the U.S. ended up losing the war because of that.
As for the cries for stomping out Islamic State… Islamic extremism permanently, I mean, again, that’s empty rhetoric. There is a very important fight going on against the Islamic State, and other groups that distort Islam for their own dictatorial reasons. But the idea that this is going to be a war that is won, presumably quickly, and it’s going to be eradicated in all its forms, is simply a myth.
This political trend exists in the Middle East. And even if the Islamic State is defeated in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqah, Syria, for example, it will still continue as an ideology, and the… in part, as a result of U.S. policies in the region. And if you’re going to get rid of it, you have to have a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy in the region. And of course, I see no chances of Trump doing anything like that.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, any of serious policy-makers and experts in the area, gather that Trump actually doesn’t know a lot about what’s going on in the region. But the people that he’s assembling around him, like Tillerson, and the other military leaders that he’s assembling around him, does have a preconceived notion as to how they’re going to address this issue. At least we heard from some of them during the hearings this week.
What do you make of some of the team he’s assembling, and what do you anticipate will be the reaction of the Trump administration, because they seem to be really gung-ho and ready to go?
REESE ERLICH: Yeah. It’s full of hawks. Trump tried, both in his inaugural speech and in his campaign, to strike this kind of populist neo-isolationist view. You know, we’re not going to get involved in these wars like Obama had, or Bush had. But by his pick of cabinet members, it’s an all hawk, all anti-Iran cabinet.
All of them, in one degree or another, see Iran as the major evil country of the Middle East, and they want to undo the nuclear accord. They want to punish Iran for its involvement in support of Hezbollah, and Assad, and Syria.
So, I think all of that’s going to point to an escalation of sending more troops of army. More rebels. Perhaps setting up no-fly zones, and a serious escalation in the war in Syria. Which is going to have disastrous effect. It’s not going to win the war sooner. It’s simply going to suck the U.S. into a war situation, and cause more civilian deaths.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. We know the… at least the Secretary of State, Tillerson, does not have very much of a foreign policy background. I mean — he was an Exxon executive — but who are the others around him that you think actually knows what’s going on in the region. Like General Kelly and others, that might be advising him?
REESE ERLICH: Well, first of all, don’t undersell Tillerson. Although his professional background is strictly as an oil company executive, he has been involved in various think tanks in Washington and New York, where he’s interacted on foreign policy issues. So, he has a background –- unfortunately, a very bad one, and a very conservative one -– but he’s not ignorant of foreign affairs, shall we say.
I think Mad Dog Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, and the whole national security team, are quite conversant with the area. They’ve, in some cases, fought in Iraq, some of the generals. And so, again, I don’t think the problem is a complete lack of knowledge. I think it’s the content of what they’re going to be proposing, which is going to be hawkish policies. More troops, more military solutions, which aren’t going to work.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Then, how realistic is that position, at least in regard to Iran? Yes, of course, this group of people that’s going to be leading the administration would really like to target Iran for many reasons, particularly given their main ally in the region being Israel.
However… I mean, that’s not going to be easily done, given that, for example, a lot of people have been talking, and Trump himself has been saying that they might… that the first order of business was to get rid of the Iran nuclear agreement.
I mean, that’s not possible for the U.S. to do that solely on their own, given it’s been signed by P5+1.
REESE ERLICH: Yeah. Yes. It’s exactly right. The U.S. is going to have a problem reversing the Iran policies, because it’s not simply up to the U.S. The UN is involved, the European countries, China and Russia. And specifically — here’s what I think is going to happen — because I’ve been following the debate within the Republican circles pretty closely on this.
Trump said he was going to come in, and he was going to rip up the treaty. Well, I don’t think he’ll do that. I think what they’ll do is, they’ll find excuses to attack Iran. Say, “Oh, it’s got too much heavy water.” Or, “It’s running too many centrifuges.” Or, they’ll find minor errors. Or, even simply make things up, to try to justify the fact that Iran isn’t living up to the treaty, and therefore, justifying renewed, or harsher U.S. sanctions.
The problem with that tactic is that the Europeans aren’t going to go along with it. The UN isn’t going to go along with it. So, the U.S. will be back to imposing unilateral sanctions on Iraq. Which have never been effective, or certainly as effective, as the multilateral sanctions were a few years ago.
So, Trump, whatever his intentions are, is going to have a hard time implementing, not only that, but some of his other foreign policy goals. The U.S. is a weakened empire. It doesn’t have the ability to invade and occupy countries as it had done in the recent past. And so the number… the options… while I think it’s going to be very dangerous and harmful, the options are limited for Trump.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. And Reese, I guess finally, the Trump administration certainly has a great deal of current ties with Israel. And, in fact, there was a lot of speculation that Netanyahu might even actually come for the inauguration, but Netanyahu, politically, is in a lot of hot water in Israel. His own presidency seems to be in question because he’s tangled up in so many corruption scandals, but that aside…
REESE ERLICH: He’s their prime minister. You said presidency.
SHARMINI PERIES: Oh, prime minister. But that aside, can you please outline what you anticipate will happen in the next few… weeks, months, when it comes to relations with Israel? Particularly given all of this talk about moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and so forth?
REESE ERLICH: Yeah. I think one of the most dangerous policies that Trump is likely to implement, is exactly around Israel. As you mentioned, the plan is to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It would be the only major country in the world to do so. While symbolic, it’s a very fraught issue, as far as the Palestinians — that our world, and indeed much of the rest of the world is concerned — the question of the status of Jerusalem is up for negotiation. And to recognize, to move your embassy there, is to say Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, presumably all of Jerusalem, including the areas that the Palestinians want to have as their national capital.
I think the Palestinians will be increasingly angry. We’ve already seen various kinds of protests there, including violent attacks, unfortunately against civilians, Israel civilians. But the Palestinians are extremely frustrated, and I think we’re going to see more of that. And I think it’s going to be hard for the U.S. to forge alliances with other Arab countries, which it claims it wants to unite against, for example, the Islamic State, or against Iran, if it takes such a blatant open pro-Israel stand. Remember, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and these other countries are very critical of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians.
So, what would appear to be a solidarity with the tiny country of Israel finding all of its, under siege — which are neighbors — is in fact, going to backfire on the U.S., as other policies likely will.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Reese, I thank you so much for joining us today. There’s a lot more to talk about, but I’m sure you’ll be keeping a close eye on what’s going on, and we look–
REESE ERLICH: I will be, indeed.
SHARMINI PERIES: Forward to having you back.
REESE ERLICH: Thank you so much. I’ll be on my national book tour on the East coast, starting at the end of January. Folks can check it out at www.reeseerlich.com, and get the schedule.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And that book is, “Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect”. All the best with the book tour, thanks, Reese.
REESE ERLICH: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.