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Eugene Puryear and Paul Jay discuss the hypocrisy of Trump allying with Saudi Arabia, the largest sponsor of global terror, over concerns about alleged Iranian terrorism

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

On Friday, President Trump announced that he’s going to use a special provision of some old law to allow him to sell arms to Saudi Arabia without having any approval from Congress. And he’s also sending 1,500 more troops to the Middle East to “protect U.S. interests in the region,” we’re using the word ‘alleged,’ because he didn’t, Iranian threats. Earlier this month the Trump administration already sent thousands of additional troops to the region, along with an aircraft carrier strike group, four bomber aircraft, and fighter jets. Here’s what Trump had to say at a Rose Garden press conference.

DONALD TRUMP: We want to have protection in the Middle East. We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective, aome very talented people are going to the Middle East right now. And we’ll see how. And we’ll see what happens. Well I think it’s going to be very good in the Middle East. Iran has been a as you know they staged terror all over the world. They’re a much different country now than when I first got here when I first got here. They were at 14 different locations fighting.

PAUL JAY: I don’t know what he’s talking about about the 14 different locations. I wish someone in the press corps had actually asked them to name the 14. I think it’s questionable if he could name 14 countries. Number two, what are these terrorist acts that Iran is responsible all over the world? It’d have been nice if someone in the press corps had asked him to name, say, three terrorist acts that Iran’s responsible, all over the world. And of course, the threat is coming from Iran, as the United States moves an aircraft carrier, jet fighters, and thousands of troops towards Iran. So the question is who’s threatening who, here.

Now, there’s the idea that the threat level from Iran has increased. It was dismissed by a British general. His name is Major General Chris Ghika, if I’m pronouncing it correctly. Here’s what he said.

CHRIS GHIKA: No, there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.

PAUL JAY: So where’s the evidence? And it’s quite remarkable that in the media now, in CNN and other media, because they have been on such an anti-Trump bandwagon, there’s a very interesting moment taking place where they’re not completely buying into all this anti-Iranian rhetoric, because they’re so out to get Trump. So there’s something–I find that there’s something positive in all the craziness that’s been going on in the corporate media.

Anyway, to talk about all of this, now joining me from Washington is Eugene Puryear. He’s a journalist and author and activist, a regular contributor to The Real News Network. He’s also the co-founder of Stop Police Terror Project DC. Thanks for joining us, Eugene.

EUGENE PURYEAR: Happy to be here, Paul. Thanks for asking me.

PAUL JAY: So the Middle East, again, is even more a tinder box. What do you make of what’s happening?

EUGENE PURYEAR: Well, you know, the first thing I thought seeing the increase in troops and the arm sales is sort of shades of Desert Shield in the wake of Desert Storm. It was clear then that the George H.W. Bush administration, they knew what they wanted to do, but they had to create this posture of defensiveness, the line drawn in the sand. They were selling Patriot missile batteries to Saudi Arabia. They were sending all these troops there. And I think as we’ve seen in the commentary from the British general, there’s been no change in the status quo. And quite frankly, I mean, what possible threats has Iran done? I mean, in fact, most of the Iranian activity in countries like Iraq, for instance, has been in the direction of what President Trump said he wanted over several years, which was the fighting against ISIS.

So I think we’ve seen relatively consistently here that it’s a complete and total canard. Given the forces that Iran has in the region, if they wanted to do something they certainly could have by now, and certainly have not. Have consistently said they do not. But this sort of defensively-based military buildup to me seems very much like shades of war, and an attempt to provide an alibi ahead of time, or whatever may happen, a Gulf of Tonkin incident, or maybe something more real than the Gulf of Tonkin incident. But by upping the escalation ladder, as they say in military parlance, puts themselves in a better position to be able to launch an offensive war against Iran.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. I mean, again, the corporate media has completely not been on this story sinceTrump became president. But at Real News we’ve been saying from day one of his presidency, frankly even before, during the campaign, that this administration is focused on bringing down the government of Iran. It’s the number one foreign policy priority for a lot of reasons, not the least of which, if you want to be the global hegemon, it means you have to be the hegemon in every region. And most particularly you’ve got to be the hegemon in the region where there’s oil. And if the bigger picture foreign policy objective is, I don’t know, the containment of China, whatever that means, then again you want to control all the oil from the Middle East so you can use that as leverage against China, as well. And from the beginning, Trump has been appointing cabinet ministers, secretaries of state, secretaries of defense, national security advisers, and each appointment is a more rabid advocate of overthrowing the government in Iran. And of course now with John Bolton, you have the most rabid advocate of that you could possibly find in the foreign policy establishment. But why do you think they’re pushing this so much now, interestingly enough, after he supposedly got cleared by the Mueller report?

EUGENE PURYEAR: Yeah, you know, it’s an interesting piece, and I’m glad you brought up Bolton. It’s worth noting that both Bolton and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have been paid huge sums of money, into the six figures, to actually give speeches in favor of Iranian regime change. They’re not only advocating it, but have benefited quite handsomely from it. But you know, I think the timing here is interesting. I mean, I think certainly from the point of view of Bolton and others, I’m sure it’s one of those you’ve got to try to get it in while you can, especially before 2020. I don’t think most people want a war with Iran. And so I don’t think this is the type of thing the political hands in the White House are going to want to see, probably not now, but certainly not in 2020. But there may be sort of a political window there that it is a major issue. That was always a big issue in the Reagan administration, for instance, in terms of covert action and overt action in Central America. Election year timetables and the like.

I think also you have the issue of Trump not only being cleared from the Mueller–allegedly being cleared by the Mueller report, as it were, but then being still in a situation where, quite frankly, the only thing he’s been able to do so far to bring the media to his side, to bring any Democrats to his side, have been these military strikes. I mean, certainly we’ve seen the missiles launched against Syria, for instance. have seen some of the most bipartisan praise that Trump has gotten. So in many ways, given that the Democrats and many subsets of the Democrats who are very heavily in tune with pro-Israeli forces, would also like to see more aggressive action against Iran. It also, I think, is a way for him to shore up his own support, to create narratives around the Trump administration that are more positive for him, to tamp down criticism from elements of the Democratic Party, because he’s pursuing a major agenda for many of them.

So I think all of that plays into it. But I think also it’s just a fact that the pieces in place right now–Bolton is in place. Pompeo is in place again. His personal lawyer, which is maybe not relevant to the cabinet, but somebody he’s talking to on an everyday basis who aggressively is for Iran, they’re all lined up. They’re all ready to go. So it may just be the chorus of voices now is so consistently pro-Iran, this is why it’s ramping up at this stage.

PAUL JAY: I mean, you said the voices are so pro-Iran? I mean, pro-Iran government change. Yeah. You mentioned something I think is interesting.

You mentioned Bolton getting paid money. That’s that’s from the MEK, which is an organization even the United States has called terrorist in the past, and so has the United Nations; an anti-Iranian government organization that was based mostly in Iraq. But in fact they did, it seems, pay Bolton $50,000. And there was a very interesting moment on the Sunday morning show on Fox hosted by Chris Wallace where Chris interviews the Iranian ambassador, and–or I’m sorry, the Iranian foreign minister. And he directly accuses Bolton of taking this $50,000. And then Wallace interviews Bolton and asks him about it. Doesn’t specifically try to nail him on the $50,000. But Bolton doesn’t deny it, either. Here’s that clip.

So, Eugene, you also mentioned that the Democrats–I think we should be specific. There’s a section of the Democratic Party that’s very much for regime change in Iran. And I guess the most obvious spokesmen for it is Chuck Schumer, who went, as you mentioned, when Trump threw some missiles at Syria, he said Trump’s finally acting in a presidential way. And of course, Chuck Schumers of this world, of the Democratic Party, are very gung-ho in this anti-Iranian camp. But there are sections of the Democratic Party that really come out. I know Sanders isn’t officially in the Democratic Party, but he and others, and many of these progressive members of Congress have been quite outspoken against an attack on Iran. Don’t you think that’s significant?

EUGENE PURYEAR: I do think it’s significant. And I think Bernie Sanders has been leading the pack on this issue. I mean, it will be very interesting to me to see how it plays out in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where you have individuals like Representative Ilhan Omar, who has also been outspoken on this issue, but it’s chaired by Eliot Engel, who certainly hasn’t been as vociferous, and in some ways has at times been critical, and differing from those like Chuck Schumer, but is generally more along the lines of at least more sort of aggressive action towards Iran.

So it’ll be interesting to see inside some of those committees there will be clashes between Democrats. I do think it’s significant, because really what we saw right after President Obama left office was that many of the Democrats who actually supported the Iran deal under him really just ran in the other direction when it came under assault and came under attack from Republicans and the Trump administration. So it was unclear whether or not there would be any sort of outspoken opposition I think we have seen with one–and I mentioned Ilhan Omar–sort of the new crop of some of the younger and more progressive people who have come in and spoken out against this. I believe Elizabeth Warren, if I’m not mistaken, last week raised at least some questions-

PAUL JAY: And certainly Tulsi Gabbard has, as well.

EUGENE PURYEAR: Tulsi Gabbard has, and she has been very outspoken on this issue, and really centering her campaign around issues of ending war and militarism more so than any other candidate. So it’s an interesting dance, because it seems that people who are running for president, who of course are more in tune or need to try to be more in tune with sort of the forces on the ground, as it were, are being more critical of this than we’re seeing from Democrats in Congress. But we’re seeing more. I think it’s part of an evolving issue. I think we also saw this with Venezuela, for instance, where you had a number of Democrats jump 100 percent on the regime change bandwagon. But then you saw Ilhan Omar cross-examine Elliott Abrams. Julian Castro is also running for president. Also had some critical comments there. Ro Khanna and others who have also been outspoken on the Iran issue. So it seems like on a number of different issues you’re starting to see, finally, after a long time of complete unanimity, some brakes on the regime change-style foreign policy approaches that have been quite bipartisan for some time.

PAUL JAY: And there’s some very interesting, even kind of weird, fracture lines. The resolution on Yemen, withdrawing any U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen. Trump eventually vetoed it, but in the Senate it actually got some Republican support, including Lindsey Graham. And now there’s another kind of weird split on this use of this emergency provision to sell arms to the Saudis without any Senate approval. Both Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul are opposing it. And there seems to be this weird thing where Trump is so connected to supporting Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Arabia in spite of, you know, the chopping up, killing of Khashoggi, and other–you know, what Lindsey Graham describes as like wild and loose cannon activity. So the Trump camp seems very aligned with the Saudis, but Lindsey Graham, who typically is very much for a regime change in Iran and usually has been pro-Saudi, now he’s actually saying that Trump shouldn’t sell these arms to the Saudis. A lot of weird fracture lines.

EUGENE PURYEAR: Yeah, it is interesting to see how this is playing. I mean, it seemed to me, at least, that since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi there are more and more Republicans and some Democrats who have been almost completely uncritical of Saudi Arabia critical towards Iran. But I think they want to see Saudi Arabia face some sort of punishment, something that appears as if the United States is playing some role as a restraining factor. And I think we saw even with the Saudi Arabia and Qatar split, there were a number of individuals, James Mattis, for instance, who was trying to use some of his diplomatic capital as defense secretary to bridge that gap. And I think Mohammed bin Salman, who has really broken apart the U.S. led security apparatus in the Gulf by aggressively pushing this split with Qatar, and what that has to the broader peace, pushing Qatar more into the camp of Iran, in terms of how their [inaudible] things. The Yemen war, the Khashoggi situation. I think that it’s viewed as being highly problematic by leading forces in the U.S. establishment who may want to help Saudi Arabia, but feel like the sort of loose cannon aspect, to use that same phrase, of Mohammed bin Salman is undermining their ability to really act in a supportive way, because it’s so openly immoral, quite frankly, on so many different levels that people are asking questions, well, why would you back Saudi Arabia? What’s going on with the United States that has so much influence over this country. But you do not want to do anything there?

So I think a lot of this is cosmetic, in some ways. But on the same token, because the Trump administration is so intransigent, and the Saudis, of course, are continuing to do whatever they want, because of that it’s causing individuals like Lindsey Graham to have to be more strident and more critical. So I think they want to go back to sort of the King Abdullah status quo here, the long-term status quo of how things were in Saudi Arabia, and in the Gulf more broadly. But they’re having difficulty doing that because of Trump’s just complete in-the-pocket approach to MBS.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. I think Graham’s basic critique is that MBS is not a reliable partner in bringing down the government of Iran. It’s not that Graham has different objectives there. He just thinks that MBS is nuts. And he actually used so many words. The hold on your picture just went freaky.

Just finally I think it’s important to talk about just what the U.S. strategy in Iran is, towards Iran is. One, they are already waging a war, an economic war. The sanctions are crippling. And these sanctions are essentially illegal, this kind of collective punishment against the Iranian people that these sanctions are mostly affecting is a violation of international law. Iran is not an imminent threat to the United States. But number two, the movement of all this military might towards Iran, from what my Iranian friends are telling me, they think is more in the realm of a psyop to create this maximum pressure on Iran. Because what they really–the real strategy is about fomenting civil war in Iran. There’s apparently the Saudis and the Americans are involved in trying to arm Sunni populations within Iran. They’re trying to find other ways to have various divisions amongst the Iranian people. And I have friends, for example, in Los Angeles that have been in the past, mostly, tremendously critical of the theocracy in the Iranian government. And now they’re actually defending it, because they see what the U.S. policy is leading to is turning Iran into another mess like Iraq.

EUGENE PURYEAR: Yeah, I think that is exactly right. I think obviously–I mean, maybe this is true, but it seems as fantastical that they would actually want a war with Iran. I mean, you know, just look at the history of the Iran-Iraq war, and I think it’s easy to see how difficult that would be.

But I think historically, I mean, the policy of sanctions, certainly the way they were used on Iraq, is explicitly designed to try to increase the pressure, increase the pain, increase divisions in the political establishment. And certainly, you know, those have been quite on display in the past couple years, really, since President Ahmadinejad stepped down or his term was over. A lot of the divisions between more “moderate” forces, more conservative forces. And I think that’s a big piece of it. I think just, to again reference the Iran-Iraq war, certainly for Saddam Hussein, that was a major piece of his strategy was to try to find ways to break apart different ethnic groups, different sects of Islam, or whatever it may be in order to weaken the country internally. That seems like a more logical strategy than just an outright direct war, which I’m not sure the United States can even really carry out to the degree necessary. I mean, even though 120,000 troops that was at once rumored, it’s not even close to what they’d need, and the length and the intensity would be outrageous.

I think what they’re hoping for here is either wanting to force Iran into some sort of, you know, just completely total Carthaginian-style surrender, which I don’t think will happen. But that could happen if they can provoke a greater economic collapse, or if they’re able to break the country apart, because in some ways that’s the second best option. Like, if you could not have regime change in Iran, you can certainly try to hobble the country of Iran and have a situation like, say, Libya, where the country is divided between four or five different groups. And I think we can see other times in the past where this has been a key element of different countries trying to undermine different countries. So I think certainly they would hope for either a complete capitulation, or internal regime change. I think they’re more than willing to settle for hobbling the country by having armed groups, if not break the country apart, at least start to create a level of chaos to where Iran, which is a powerful economy in many different ways, certainly regionally, but also internationally, hobbling it from being able to play that role.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. I just–to agree with you, and I’m going to end it with me agreeing with you. If they actually care about international terrorism, then how do you ally with Saudi Arabia, which is without question the country that has supported more international terrorism than any other country on earth? If you’re worried about Iran and its repression, domestic repression. And certainly there is domestic repression in Iran, political repression. But it’s nothing compared to the repression in Saudi Arabia, where they cut young people’s heads off for blogging criticism. The hypocrisy of the American position is really unbelievable, and such that while the corporate media, like CNN and MSNBC is maybe poking some holes in the increased Iranian threat at this time, and what Trump’s doing, because they’re so anti-Trump, they never go after the underlying assumption of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, or even ask, you know, where is all this international terrorism that Iran supports? Where is it? It really comes down to Iran’s support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. And some support for Hamas, which is–Hezbollah defends Lebanese sovereignty. And that’s what they’ve done. And at any rate, it comes down to what you said, what I said at the beginning, and the corporate media just won’t deal with this issue. This is all about regional hegemony requires total hegemony. And Iran is outside the American umbrella. And that, in the mindset of the John Boltons and others of this world, go right back the Project for a New American Century thinking, there can’t be such a thing on planet Earth as governments that have actual independence and some military political power that are not under direct American control.


PAUL JAY: All right. Well, we’ll end it here. Thanks very much for joining us, Eugene.

EUGENE PURYEAR: Thanks so much for having me.

PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Revolutionary, political commentator, activist, lover of books, author of Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America.