Trump, Pompeo, and Bolton want to confront Iran. It appears that they, along with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are preparing for war, using the same tactics that launched the war on Iraq. We speak to Trita Parsi
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us.
Since Trump was sworn in, the threat of war with Iran has escalated. It’s escalated to the point that corresponds fleetingly close to the rhetoric that led us into the dangerous war in Iraq. The men he has brought in who define his White House’s approach to international security and foreign affairs are men who have made their stock and trade to rattle sabers in the face of Iran. It’s more than actually just rattling. His National Security Adviser, John Bolton, who hates Muslims in general but saves his greatest umbrage and loathing for Iran, declared his policy ambition back in 2015, when he wrote an editorial the headline: To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.
And his partner in framing Trump’s policy is the new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who wanted to bomb Iran, not sign a nuclear deal. The matters are even more complicated because of the growing alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. America has had a deep relationship with Saudi Arabia for the last 70 years. These economic ties allow it not just to get away with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, but to support the Saudis in mass bombings and killings in its war with Yemen. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu not only has a kindred spirit now in the White House but has been meeting with and building alliances with the Emirates that border Saudi Arabia, right across from Iran.
The U.S. has a checkered history with Iran, from the overthrow of the elected Iranian government of Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 that led to the dictatorship of the Shah, that led to the revolution of 1979 and the Ayatollah Khomeini, to the hostage crisis, to the potential of being on the brink of war with Iran now. What is the reality? How close are we to war with Iran? What does this shift in American policy really mean for our future and the world’s future?
We are joined once again by noted author, writer and the founder of the National Iranian American Council, Trita Parsi. And welcome once again, Trita, to The Real News Network. It’s great to have you with us.
TRITA PARSI: Thank you for having me.
MARC STEINER: So, let me just start with where I ended up there in the opening. I mean, just how real is this threat? When people say that we are in a space that is similar to what led us to the Iraqi War in the early part of this century, is that where we are? Is it that that tense? Give us your analysis of where you think we are at this very moment.
TRITA PARSI: I think certainly you see clear parallels, not just with that situation but also with the very dangerous situation that existed between the United States and Iran in 2011, 2012, prior to the diplomacy that eventually led to the nuclear deal. It is not that we are in a situation in which perhaps a week from now or five weeks from now war will be a reality, but it’s in a situation in which the structure is such that we are gravitating towards that conflict day by day, and the Trump ministration is doing absolutely nothing to change the situation. On the contrary, they’re making sure that we’re moving faster and faster towards that confrontation.
See, when the United States put a lot of sanctions on Iran in 2011 and 2012, the hope was that the sanctions would be so crippling that the Iranians would essentially make a calculation that they cannot continue with their nuclear program, the cost-benefit analysis simply wouldn’t make sense and they would capitulate some of their nuclear demands. The Iranian counter to these sanctions was to actually double down on the nuclear program and move as fast as possible towards some form of a nuclear fait accompli. What happened in early 2013 was President Obama realized that the nuclear clock, the Iranian nuclear program was moving faster than his sanctions could cripple the economy. And as a result, if he stayed the course, he would actually soon only be faced with two options: either accept a nuclear Iran or go to war.
Now the Trump administration is trying to recreate these sanctions. It certainly is going to be very painful on Iran, it certainly is not going to have the same international buy-in as Obama’s sanctions did. But we’re also in a situation in which if the Iranians choose to counter-escalate, which they thus far have not, they can actually very quickly get back to a situation in their nuclear program similar to what they were in 2013. And under those circumstances, rest assured, John Bolton will make the case that the U.S. has no option left, no choice left but to go to war.
MARC STEINER: So, before I turn to Washington and turn to what’s going on, and we’ll hear this clip from John Bolton in just a moment, I want to stick with Iran for a moment and what you just said. Why do you think Iran has not escalated this? What do you think Iran’s policy now is towards all of this and what the machinations are that we may not be paying attention to in our press here in America?
TRITA PARSI: Well, l I think the main reason why the Iranians have not counter-escalated and have stayed inside of the deal is because for them, the deal is much better than a confrontation with the United States. That is also the same calculation by Europe, by China, by Russia and by the United States prior to Trump coming in. The deal was actually a win-win. It was better for everyone, compared to a confrontation. So as long as there is some hope left in Tehran that perhaps the Europeans, perhaps a combination of the Europeans and the Chinese and others can keep the deal alive, that is still better for Iran than to opt for confrontation.
This is, in many ways, proving that that assumption of hardliners and hawks in the United States were fundamentally flawed. If the Iranians could get a deal that preserved their national interests, that preserved their dignity, they would certainly prefer that to any form of a confrontation or even a nuclear program that did not face these restrictions.
MARC STEINER: So what is it about the ideology and alliance that we see forming between Saudi Arabia, the Emirates around Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.S.? Talk a bit about that political dynamic and how this kind of seems to be intensifying or at least becoming more obvious.
TRITA PARSI: It certainly is becoming more obvious. It’s been in the making for more than a decade, but it’s now much more open and obvious than it was before. And it’s also much more blatant because it’s really revealed that the United States, at least under this administration, has zero concerns for human rights and is only using human rights as an instrument to target America’s rivals, rather than to truly care for human rights around the world. They made that abundantly clear, mindful of how apologetic this administration is for Saudi Arabia. But what is bringing them together is actually more so that it is the Saudis, the UAE and the Israelis that are coming together. And they believe that the United States should reemerge as a hegemon in the Middle East, have a very strong military presence, protect them, check and contain and isolate and weaken their rivals and by that, provide them with the security that they’re yearning for.
Now, that may make a lot of sense to them because they’re essentially utilizing American power to achieve their own national objectives. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to any reasonable analyst in Washington, but we are in a situation in which the people who are running the show at the White House are people with very little, if any, experience in international relations, or people that are guided by such hatred for Iran, such as someone like John Bolton, that they are really setting aside the U.S.’s own national interests and going along with a Saudi-Israeli plan that is really beneficial to them and will cost the United States a tremendous amount. I want to quote former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, who faced a similar situation and told the French Defense Minister that “the Saudis want to fight the Iranians until the last American.” That’s exactly what we’re seeing right now.
MARC STEINER: That’s the frightening aspect of this. Let’s just listen to this clip from John Bolton talking about the pressure he thinks that needs to be put on and the analyze what he’s saying here.
SPEAKER: Can you respond to the Iranian foreign minister saying that the U.S. is driven by regime change?
JOHN BOLTON: I’ll say it again, maybe he’ll listen this time. Our policy is not regime change, but we do expect substantial change in their behavior. That’s why the president has directed all of us in the government to come up with steps to reimpose the economic sanctions and to do whatever else is necessary to ensure we bring maximum pressure on the regime to stop its malign behavior across the board, not just in the nuclear field but across the board.
MARC STEINER: I mean, to reimpose economic sanctions clearly as part of the policy here with Trump and what some of the Emirates want to do, what Saudi Arabia wants to do, clearly what Israel wants to see, because Israel just lost its diplomatic mind when the deal was cut, thinking that it was cutting them out of everything. How could this take place, especially given the allies, American allies in Europe, want no part of this? But clearly this is part of the Trump agenda.
TRITA PARSI: It is part of the Trump agenda because for Trump, alienating Europe is actually a benefit, it is not a negative, it’s not a secondary effect. It’s not a bog, it’s actually a feature of the policy because he wants to break up Europe. He does not want to deal with a united Europe, he wants to deal with individual states in Europe. So pursuing a policy in the Middle East that further aggravates tensions between the United States and Europe in many ways divides Europe, because some of the European powers are willing to go along with the America’s Iran policy as long as they can keep the United States protecting them against Russia. This is particularly the case for some of the Baltic states as well as some of the Eastern European powers. So this is a way of dividing Europe for him and that’s seen as an additional benefit of all of this.
TRITA PARSI: So I’m going to play this other clip. It’s a clip of Secretary Pompeo talking about the push towards and economic collapse of Iran. We’ll talk about that and a couple more pieces before we conclude.
MIKE POMPEO: These sanctions will be effective, they are effective, and come November 4, they’ll be even more effective.
NORAH O’DONNELL: Isn’t it a lot more effective, though, when the world enforces the sanctions than just U.S. sanctions?
MIKE POMPEO: We’re going to be incredibly effective, you can see it. Today, the rial trades are over 150,000 rial to the dollar. The economy is collapsing. You see the protests, you see the anger on the streets of Tehran and in the rural areas. That’s a result of terrible government and the Iranian people aren’t going to stand for it and the American people are going to stand with the Iranian people.
MARC STEINER: Other than the glee in his face and in his words in many ways, this is clearly the agenda here, to force the Iranian economy collapse, to have internal dislocation inside of Iran. What would that mean if they were able to do that and how does that play out vis a vis Saudi Arabia and the other countries surrounding it?
TRITA PARSI: So here’s one point I think, in some ways, John Bolton actually may be right in the sense that when the Iranians are saying that the U.S. is seeking regime change, I think actually they may not be seeking regime change. I think the Trump administration may actually have a much more sinister plan in mind, which is to cause regime collapse but not regime change. The difference between these two is that when you have regime change, the United States would move in and kind of take responsibility for establishing a new government and ensure that the country is stable. It’s a costly thing, it’s also something the United States is utterly incompetent at. We saw that in Iraq.
Regime collapse is different. It’s much cheaper, it’s easier because all you do is collapse the existing regime, you do not take responsibility for establishing a new one. In fact, you want there not to be a new regime, you want there to be chaos. Because if you have an unstable, chaotic, potentially civil war in Iran, Iran’s power will be consumed internally and its ability to be able to project power in the region will more or less be neutralized. This would shift the balance of power in the region in favor of Saudi Arabia and Israel, which is what their ultimate objective has been with any war or any sanctions policy to begin with.
So by just destabilizing the country, collapsing the economy, causing the collapse of the regime and making sure that no new regime actually takes place, the United States under the Trump administration seems to calculate that they will achieve their objectives but at a much cheaper cost than pursuing a military confrontation or pursuing a George Bush style of regime change in and democratization program.
MARC STEINER: So as we wind up here, before I ask my very last thought about where we are at this moment, I’m curious, and some people have written about this, the UAE launched a rocket in Japan and put up their first satellite. How does this play into any of this politically in terms of the fears of Iran or what that says about the potential power of the Emirates and Saudi Arabia? How does this play into it if it does?
TRITA PARSI: Well, Iran has been one of 11 countries in the world that has the capacity, technological know-how to put a rocket into space. And that is something, of course, that they also can use for military purposes. The Iranians have calculated that they’re never going to be able to spend the amount of money that Saudi Arabia and the UAE is spending on an Air Force. They’re not going to be able to buy the best airplanes because the sellers are not there. So instead of investing in an air force, they have invested heavily in a missile defense. And we’ve seen that their missiles apparently have gotten more and more effective and accurate.
By the UAE going in this field, they’re also signaling that they can counter that, and they can develop their own missile program. And that’s probably aimed at giving a signal of deterrence against Iranians. What I think that the larger problem we have here is that there is far too much arms spending in the Middle East and there’s far too many Western countries that are more than happy to complain about instability in the region, oftentimes blame Iran for the instability as long as they can continue to sell billions and billions and billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
MARC STEINER: So finally, coming back to where we began here Trita to close out, you know how the the Doomsday Clock that scientists put up about the potential of atomic war here on the planet has gotten closer to the midnight hour. Where do you place that clock when it comes to where we are with Iran? How much danger do you think we are all in with the potential of a war with Iran, or is the left and other people making too much of this? Where do you think the reality lives?
TRITA PARSI: I think in general, it’s far more dangerous to underestimate the risk of war than to overestimate it. I wouldn’t say that we’re 5 to 12, with 12 meaning that we are at war. I would say that we are five to 12 with 12 meaning that we have then entered a scenario in which it is going to be next to impossible to avoid war. That’s where we’re heading. And then once we’re in that scenario, it’s unclear how long it would take before war would break out, but we’re kind of reaching some sort of a point of no return in which the de-escalatory options for either side simply will not exist any longer.
MARC STEINER: Well, we’ll have to stay on top of this, like other stories we’re covering. Trita Parsi, I do appreciate the work you’re doing, and we hope for all of us that we can push this hand back, not forward, in this world. Trita Parsi, thanks so much for joining us, great to have you with us.
TRITA PARSI: Thank you so much.
MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner, here for The Real News Network. Good to have you all with us. Take care.