Trita Parsi tells Paul Jay that the Iranians thought Trump’s anti-interventionist language would be better than Clinton’s declared antagonism; but now that Flynn, Pompeo, and Pence have been chosen, regime change is likely back on the table
PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Paul Jay. We’ve been having a lot of discussions on The Real News Network about the new foreign policy team being assembled around Donald Trump’s presidency. Of course starting with vice president Pence and then Flynn as National Security advisor. Bannon as Chief Strategist, you have Pompeo with the CIA. Mattis looks like he might be Secretary of Defense. As I’ve said one thing all of these people have in common is it seems their number one foreign policy target is regime change in Iran. They talk about Iran as being the greatest threat to the United States. One of the people being talked about for Secretary of State is Rudy Giuliani, said at the Republican Convention that Iran is the source of terrorist threat to the United States. Now joining us to talk about all of this, particularly how Iran is reacting to this is Trita Parsi. Trita’s founder and president of the National Iranian-American Council, he’s the author of award-winning books A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States. He has a book coming soon Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy. Thanks for joining us, Trita. TRITA PARSI: Thank you so much for having me. JAY: So, in their lead up to the election, the rhetoric about Iran was at a fairly high level. As I say at the convention, it was the only foreign policy thing that really got talked about. Now, we see the team and the team is very dedicated – at least in terms of their rhetoric – to regime change in Iran. How are the Iranians responding to all of this? PARSI: Well, its very interesting because the Iranians have actually been quite concerned about Clinton. They feared that Clinton would reverse back to a more pro-Saudi position in the region. And she has a long history of being quite hawkish towards Iran. And I think as a result of that the Iranians may have had a little bit of a confirmation bias in the way they were looking at Trump and only taking into account some of his more acceptable statements on Iran. For instance, some of his complaints about the Iran deal has not been so much what it did on the nuclear front but what it didn’t do on sanctions relief, pointing out that American companies are still under sanctions despite the nuclear deal and that this is unfair to US companies because European companies can go into Iran but US companies cannot. Moreover, they’ve been looking at what he’s been saying on Syria – for instance being very critical of support for the rebels – his inclination to get along with Putin, et cetera. Based on that, created this idea of Trump as someone that they would actually prefer to someone as Clinton. Now, however, the team that he’s assembling, he’s not assembling people that have much in common with him at all, beyond the fact that they’re apparently loyal to Trump. But on all of these key issues, they have taken an almost opposite position of Trump and it remains to be seen whether Trump will be the type of a president as George Bush was to a certain extent, in which he became a mirror image of his advisors or whether he will be someone who will put down his foot and say its gonna be his way regardless of what these advisors say. JAY: Well, there’s not a single appointment that reflects some of the non-interventionist position he espoused during the campaign but most of that anti-intervention rhetoric was mostly completely hypocritical – on the Iraq War, he claimed he’d been against it. The statement he made for the war was a little bit ambiguous. He said “I guess so” when asked if he was for the war. But he was clearly for the intervention in Libya. He was on video tape calling for all-American troops in the Middle East to be sent in to Libya to overthrow Gaddafi. So, his anti-interventionist doesn’t seem to go very deep or be very genuine. PARSI: The issue is that almost none of his views seem to be something that he’s particularly dedicated to. None of his views seem to run particularly deep in his mind and as a result, its extremely difficult to read the tea leaves and seeing what direction he may go in. And that’s part of, I think, why some are concerned that he will end up becoming a reflection of his advisors and those advisors are surely not non-interventionist on the contrary, they’re quite hawkish. JAY: The advisors, especially people like Flynn, they’re a continuation of Cheney, I mean most importantly is Pence who many people think is gonna be the next Cheney and actually run most of the foreign policy. And that’s Cheney Act 2. PARSI: His role model for VP is Dick Cheney. JAY: So are the Iranians not cluing into this? I mean its kinda surprising. PARSI: Its long standing bias on the Iranian side and which – for whatever reason, whatever happened during the Carter years – they, for some reason think that its easier to deal with Republican presidents than it is to deal with Democrats. JAY: Even after Obama? PARSI: Even after Obama. I don’t know to what extent, at what point his viewpoint was formed so strongly and at what point it may actually have been true from their perspective but clearly I would think after Bush, they would have given up that idea. But I think its also important to keep in mind that the Democrat that was on the ticket was someone they had a long history of negative interaction with. JAY: Now, we’ve talked before and I’ve talked to others who know Iran from the inside. And one of the things that helps the Iranian government is a big bully. The more the Americans huff and puff the stronger, domestically, the position gets for the Iranian government and even though supposedly the people that want regime change in Iran thinks you can destabilize the regime with all the threats and all this, it always seems to have the opposite reaction. If they really are gonna move as they say they are – and I don’t see any reason not to believe that Trump and the people around him aren’t gonna do what they say they’re gonna do – if they don’t “rip up the agreement” which Trump said he would do, as soon as he’s elected, they’re gonna start looking for violations, real and more likely, unreal and find supposed evidence. Let me put it this way, what would be their reaction if they start to see how this might go? PARSI: There’s several schools of thought and I think part of the reason why some prefer Trump is because they think it might be much easier to out-maneuver a rather clumsy Trump administration that does not have the capacity or the ability to be able to sustain strong alliances against Iran or build those alliances in the first place. As a result, if the Trump administration starts going down that route, the Iranians have a pretty clever diplomatic team in place right now that probably has the confidence of being able to turn it around and make the United States come across as the violator of the deal, the violator of the spirit of the deal and the entity that seeks to undo this deal. I mean the campaign rhetoric of the Trump administration as well as the individuals who are now being named for cabinet positions, certainly does not give the impression that these people are gonna come in, and with good faith, try to enforce the deal. Its gonna be quite easy for the Iranians to make the case that this is all false accusations aimed at ultimately undoing the deal, and I think we’ll have a relatively easy time convincing other nations of that as well. JAY: I mean there’s been some suggestion in the press, coming out about what the Trump group are talking about. We saw this the other night from – I believe it was Giuliani or one of the other people in the circles – that there’s other ways to go after Iran without “ripping up the agreement” they can go for much tougher sanctions and wage economic war without necessarily aggravating the agreement. PARSI: That is still a violation of the deal. Because the deal does actually say that the United States has a responsibility to undo other types of obstacles to legal trade with Iran in a post-deal era. They can impose new sanctions on non-nuclear issues, et cetera, but if there is any belief that you actually can take these measures without collapsing the deal, again, I think this administration is on a different wave length than many other countries. The other countries are very worried about the United States doing things like its precisely for the purpose of undermining the deal and to causing it to collapse. Once you’ve already signaled that that is what you’re aiming to do, you don’t have the benefit of being able to convince people that your accusations and your other measures actually have legitimacy. JAY: Now, assuming that they actually care about legitimacy, if you look at the Cheney model, that was not the highest priority for him. PARSI: Those other countries will have to find those arguments convincing and I think that’s gonna be a very tough sell, mindful of what they have been coming out and saying. That the person taking over the CIA, tweets the day before he’s named as the new CIA director that he looks forward to rolling back the deal. You’re signaling your intent quite clearly, whatever excuses you may come up with in order to do so will nevertheless be seen as nothing but that, excuses. JAY: I mean the problem’s gonna be, do they care how they’re seen. As I’ve said, in the final analysis, Cheney didn’t care whether he had a UN resolution or not and I suspect, if they do go down this route, they’re not even gonna try to get a UN resolution. They create their own bubble these guys. PARSI: Certainly, I think you’re quite right, that they may not care at all about legitimacy in that sense. But you’re talking about a scenario in which the United States the P5+1 in Iran, actually have an agreement that these other countries have spent a tremendous amount of resources and time building up and reaching and view it as a historic agreement. So what you’re doing now is not what was done vis-à-vis Iraq in 2003, in which there was a sanctions regime that most countries in the P5 felt was not working and had created all kinds of other types of problems and they actually wanted to find a way out of it. Not necessarily in the way that the Bush Administration did, but now you have a scenario in which they’re actually very happy with this deal and they view it as an achievement and as a result, I suspect resistance to any changes particularly changes aimed at undermining it will be quite stiff. JAY: I know you have to run, let me just ask you one final question. Why do you think this hawk surround Trump? Flynn, Pompeo, Giuliani, even Bolton’s being talked about as Secretary of State. That whole circle, why are they so intent on regime change in Iran? You would think, overtime, you could go another route here, which would draw Iran more and more into the global capitalist system. The people running, Iran, its not like this is the old Soviet Union or something, these people are themselves many of them billionaires, would very much like a much more legitimate and maneuverable position within global capital. Why are they so intent on regime change? PARSI: I think for several different reasons. One is the fact that these are individuals that based on what I’ve seen them saying, actually want to keep a strong military presence in the region. They want to have an American order for the Middle East. An American order that the United States plays a very vital role in keeping and sustaining. That is not the perspective of the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration believes that the Middle East has lost an tremendous amount of strategic significance. They believe that the United States needs to do a pivot to East, to Asia because that’s where the real [inaud] to the United States will emerge. And as a result, they want to see a reprioritization of American involvement globally in which much more resources need to be shifted to Asia and much less towards the Middle East. On those circumstances, you don’t have as much of a problem with Iran. In fact, you see Iran having the capacity of stabilizing certain parts of the region. But if you want to a have a very strong foothold in the region, if you believe that the region is still very important and you want to have that type of hegemonic role then you’re gonna have a problem with Iran because Iran is resisting American hegemony in the Middle East. JAY: And part of that is obviously Israel and Israel is very preoccupied with getting rid of Hezbollah and Hezbollah more or less survives because of Iran so much of your foreign policy assumptions start from the place that there needs to be a very strong Israel and perhaps a greater Israel, as often as the term is used in Israel, then you need to get rid of Iran to get rid of Hezbollah. PARSI: Well, those things are tied together because the Israelis want to have the United States have a very strong military presence in the region in order to be able to live off of the type of protection the United States offers and with that of course coming things such as making sure that we defend Israel vis-à-vis Hezbollah, and make sure that Israel has the strategic edge, versus all other nations in the region. These things are strongly tied together and that’s why you have the Saudis and the Israelis being so opposed to the nuclear deal because they realized that the nuclear deal would be something that would make it much easier for the United States to pivot to Asia which is something they vehemently oppose. JAY: Alright, thanks very much for joining us Trita. PARSI: Thank you so much. JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. End DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.