Ian Bremmer & Karim Sadjadpour: Tensions with Tehran | GZERO World

Ian Bremmer & Karim Sadjadpour: Tensions with Tehran | GZERO World

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In 1979 Iranians experienced a revolution
without democracy and today they aspire for democracy without a revolution. We’re very prepared for Iran. We’ll see what happens. Iran is lashing out. Iran did shot down the U.S. drone but the
U.S. drone was definitely in our airspace. Stay tuned. America was this close – this close, maybe
this close – to another major military confrontation – the first of the Trump presidency. Several oil tankers were attacked in and around
the Straits of Hormuz. But it was the Iranian downing of a 130-million-dollar
American spy drone that nearly brought us to war. President Trump ordered retaliation and then
called the whole thing off moments before the strike. So what happened? If Trump was looking for an excuse to commit
forces he has it but so far the president has stuck with sanctions and he’s generally
downplayed the severity of the whole situation. Why? I’ll break it down and then get into it with
one of the world’s foremost experts on Iran: Karim Sadjadpour is here. I’ve also got your Puppet Regime. But first, a word from the folks who help
us keep the furry lights on. Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should
mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness. Recognize that guy? If you’ve been anywhere near Washington the last few decades you’ve probably seen John Bolton around. Can’t miss him, it’s the mustache. Trump’s National Security Adviser. He first entered federal service back in the
Reagan era. That’s a long, long time ago. I wasn’t old enough to serve back then. During those years, America had two painful
reference points for its dealing with Iran and its proxies. Some 60 Americans are now beginning their
sixth day of captivity. We have a bulletin from the Pentagon on the
explosion in Beirut at the U.S. Marines barracks. The Pentagon now estimates that 120, possibly
more, 120 American Marines have been killed. Since then Iran has detained at least 25 American
citizens or permanent residents while adding to bloodletting in Iraq. The Pentagon estimates that during the Second
Gulf War Iran-backed militias were responsible for the deaths of more than 600 U.S. soldiers. That means that roughly one in every six American
fatalities in Iraq were linked to Iran. Given that history, you might start to see
Bolton’s hard line perspective when it comes to the Islamic Republic. Of course, he was also one of the cheerleaders
of that war in the first place. But I digress. President Bush has said at the end of the story Iraq will no longer have weapons of mass destruction. Either way diplomacy has never been Bolton’s
strong suit. He’s known as the most hawkish guy in Washington. John Bolton is absolutely a hawk. If it’s up to him he’d take on the whole
world at one time, ok? We will no longer appease dictators and despots
near our shores. Talking to the North Koreans is a waste of time. The United States makes the U.N. work when
it wants to work and that is exactly the way it should be because the only question – the
only question! – to the United States is what’s in our national interest. The only solution is to change the regime itself. And that’s – and that’s why before 2019
we here will celebrate in Tehran. We want to put unprecedented pressure on the
government of Iran. Trump has been on board with some of that,
including U.S. withdrawal unilaterally from the Iranian nuclear deal and expanding U.S.
sanctions on Iran. That’s partly why Iran is now taking action. But when it comes to Tehran, President Trump
is hesitant to commit forces in the way that John Bolton has suggested. Indeed, those that say that President Trump
is interested in wagging the dog, starting a war to get focus on military enemies of
the U.S. before elections, he’s had many opportunities to do so. Certainly with Venezuela, certainly with North
Korea, certainly with Iran. Trump’s rhetoric has been very heavy but he’s
then tilted towards diplomacy in the case of North Korea and Iran and towards ignoring
it in the case of Venezuela. One of President Trump’s most consistent electoral
platforms after building the wall was no new wars. Talked about how the war in Afghanistan, the
war in Iraq – not his idea, he was always opposed – were failed by other presidents
and he doesn’t want to commit more forces into these countries. One of the things he disagreed with with former
Secretary of Defense James Mattis and also doesn’t want to start a new war under his watch. In that regard, America First actually does
mean, don’t overthrow these regimes. John Bolton on the other hand, who Trump has
increasingly privately and publicly gone after for being too hawkish, has never seen a war
he really doesn’t like. That’s created some conflict, a little bit
of confusion and uncertainty as to what the Trump administration is ultimately saying. But eventually, it goes to the president. The buck does stop with him. So far that’s meant no war with Iran. And I’m here with Karim Sadjadpour, Senior Fellow for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The top expert in the world on all things
Iran and getting a little grayer, I see. That’s true. How did that happen? Well, I guess it’s better than the alternative
of not getting older. You look good. Great see you. And we’re going to talk about what the hell
is happening in the Iranian conflict. So President Trump now saying, he would be happy to meet with the Iranians
with no preconditions. It doesn’t seem like where all the rest of
the administration is. How surprised are you by this? I think there’s three poles within the Trump
administration vis-a-vis Iran. You have President Trump, who very clearly
wants a deal with Iran. At a minimum he wants a summit like he’s had
with the North Koreans. Certainly doesn’t want war. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have
National Security Adviser John Bolton who has three decades of advocating military strikes
and regime change in Iran. And in between them you have Secretary of
State Pompeo, who’s trying to reconcile these contradictory impulses by really focusing
on the means, which is sanctions and pressure, rather than on the ends which no one can agree on. But I think if it were up to President Trump
himself, it’s very clear that what he wants in Iran is some type of a summit where he
can sit down with Iran’s leadership. But he has no interest in conflict or even
a greater U.S. footprint in the Middle East. On the ground inside Iran, have the people
gotten noticeably angrier at the United States because of the economic depredation that has
been forced upon them or are they increasingly angry at their own regime for mishandling the deal, the Americans, corruption, everything else? Where would you put that balance? Well, overwhelmingly the people of Iran were
supportive of the nuclear deal. I would say the Iranian people want to be
South Korea, not North Korea. And so they welcomed the idea of being part of – being reintegrated with the international community. My sense as to how the Iranian public responds
to outside pressure and outside sanctions is that these sanctions oftentimes accentuate
people’s existing political disposition, meaning if you’re sympathetic to the Iranian government,
you see economic sanctions as one more reason why America can’t be trusted and America is
a malign imperialist power. And if you’re an opponent of the Iranian government,
you say this is just another example of the regime doing what it wants and we the people
pay the consequences. So I don’t think sanctions and outside pressure
gets people to really change teams in Iran. I think it really further polarizes the Iranian
public and accentuates people’s existing views. Now we all know that the Green Revolution
happened in Iran, was brutally repressed, and the regime came out of that. A lot of state stability. If you look at the country today vis-à-vis
grassroots, who everyone says that the Iranian people are much more interested in being friends
of the Americans thancertainly the Iranian regime, what does the balance look like today? How do you think about the strength and the
expanse of the regime in Iran? That’s a great question and what I’d argue
is that the regime in Iran doesn’t have widespread support but the support that it does have
within the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia and very conservative elements of
society is pretty deep. And so what that means is that you have a
regime which is really willing to kill en masse to keep their power. And you have a society or an opposition which
is unorganized and unarmed and leaderless and very importantly not willing to die en
masse to take power. And so, you know, my argument about Iran is
that in 1979, Iranians experienced a revolution without democracy. And today they aspire for democracy without
a revolution, meaning people in Iran I would argue have revolutionary – they aspire for
revolutionary ends but they’re not willing to pursue revolutionary means. So you think they’re basically Americans. In some ways. I mean I think that in a way it’s kind of
a reflection of a political maturation in Iran. Do you think that National Security Adviser
John Bolton doesn’t understand this or doesn’t care? I think John Bolton’s generation of American
foreign policy and national security thinkers were very much traumatized by the experience
of the 1979 revolution, the subsequent hostage crisis. And from that point on many of them have held
incredibly jaded views about the nature of the Iranian regime. And I think they’re entitled to their views
about the malign nature of the Iranian regime. The question is, what’s the most effective
way to deal with Iran and to again ensure that Iran not only is prevented from becoming
North Korea but you help a society try to become like South Korea. And I think the policies which Bolton has
advocated over the years, whether that’s military strikes or a regime change, isolation, they’ve
really never borne fruit when we’ve tried to apply them elsewhere in the world. And you know, when Bolton was last in government
during the George W. Bush era, we had at one point over 200,000 U.S. troops on Iran’s borders
in both Iraq and Afghanistan. On a daily basis President George W. Bush
was saying all options are on the table, threatening potential strikes against Iran. That was during the time when Iran was killing
hundreds of American troops in Iraq using Iranian IEDs. I think it’s one thing to diagnose the problem
correctly but this is an Iranian regime which wants to be our adversary. You can’t make friends with a regime which needs you as an adversary for their own internal legitimacy. Ok, that’s okay. But then how do you go about dealing with
that problem? And I think the perennial challenge in the
United States is that people on the far left like Bernie Sanders think that we’re the
problem and people on the far right like John Bolton think that we’re the solution. And in reality I think it takes a mix of both
pressure and engagement to effectively deal with Iran. So that implies that a big part of Obama’s
strategy, which was not just about doing a limited nuclear deal to try to contain that
specific threat, but that would then be the opening for a more constructive broader U.S.-Iranian
relationship with this regime, was actually misguided. That you don’t believe that that’s possible
with this Iranian regime. Well, I remember having this debate with folks
within the Obama administration and there were a variety of views within the Obama administration
about this but on one hand I think that the nuclear deal, in my opinion, it was a good
deal with a bad regime and it was successful in that it significantly curtailed Iran’s
nuclear program, subjected it to more transparency. But I do think it was illusory to think that
this was – this nuclear deal was going to change the Iranian regime’s perception of
its own interests. And the reality is that Iran’s supreme leader
has long believed that it’s easier for him to preserve his own authority in a close isolated
environment which is hostile to the United States. And I think we’re naive if we – the United
States – believe that we can get autocratic regimes to do things that would be inimical
to their own survival interests. In 10 years’ time, does the United States
have more in common, more aligned with the Iranians in the region or say with the Saudis? I think an increasing number of people in
the U.S. foreign policy establishment see the United States and Saudi Arabia as friends
but not allies and Iran and the United States as allies but not friends, meaning that we
have more in common with Iran than we do with Saudi Arabia and the threat of radical Sunni
jihadism like ISIS and al-Qaeda is worse than the threat of radical Shia jihadism like Hezbollah. But I think the reality is that you have a
government inside Arabia, with all of its flaws and shortcomings, at the end of the
day Mohammad bin Salman wants to be allied with the United States. And at the end of the day Iran’s current leadership
Ayatollah Khamenei wants the United States as an adversary. So if you’re sitting in the White House, whether
you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you’re not going to gratuitously break an alliance
with a country that wants you as an ally and you can’t force a country which wants you
as an adversary to be your friend. And so I think ultimately, as Henry Kissinger
best put it, Iran really is going to have to decide whether it wants to be a nation
or a cause. If Iran continues to see itself as a revolutionary
cause in opposition to America, in opposition to the United States, then we’re going to
continue to butt heads. But I think the day when Iran starts to prioritize
its own national interests and economic interests, there’s actually going to be a lot of overlapping
interests between American and Iran. I mean this does relate to the Iranian people. It relates to the Iranian economy. So far we’ve been talking mostly about Iranian
politics at the high level. And yet we know Iran has a large population. It’s a diverse economy. And if it’s going to grow and provide anything
for its people and anything for its middle class and its working class, they’re going
to have to be a part of the global economy. You said Iran wants to be more like South
Korea than North Korea. Well, if that’s true, if they want to be more
like South Korea than North Korea, they have a hard time picking the United States as their
top enemy as a regime. Those two things don’t really work together. So what is the driver for that piece? Is it some moderates in the government that
just don’t have a lot of power? Is it completely separate from the regime? Is it some local business interests but they
don’t really have the ability to shape anything? What is it that’s driving the internationalizing
component of what Iran is all about? So if you look back at the 1979 revolution,
all of the disparate groups that opposed the Shah of Iran, from Marxist to Khomeinist,
they had very little in common when it came to the end game. But what united them was anti-imperialism. You know, this belief that America was somehow
keeping Iran backward and poor. I think now if there’s an organizing principle
among Iran’s younger generations and more moderate classes, it’s really – it’s not
anti-imperialism, it’s globalization. That we are a very proud country, Iranians
are very proud. They want to remain sovereign but they also
want to be integrated with the world. They want to be part of the international
community rather than always fighting against the international community and being the
odd people out. And so today, four decades after the 1979
revolution, something like three quarters of the country was born after the revolution
was born, and Death to America doesn’t make sense to people as an organizing principle. It’s not an inspiring organizing principle. And I think most people understand that Iran
has enormous potential as a nation. It’s got enormous resources, it’s got enormous
human capital but that potential will never be realized as long as the official slogan
of the government is Death to America. President Trump’s closest relationships in
the world today are with Iran’s principal enemies: Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE. How does that play out for the Iranian regime
and in the region? So you’re absolutely right that Trump’s closest
friends in the world dislike Iran and also in the context of domestic American politics,
no American politician wins a lot of points by saying, let’s be nice to Iran, given the
fraught relationship with Iran over the years. But there’s also a competing impulse Trump
has, which is to get out of conflicts in the Middle East and reduce America’s footprint
in the Middle East. And I think he recognizes that it’s very tough
for the United States to do that if the status quo relationship with Iran remains. And so that’s why – there’s a famous essay
from Isaiah Berlin called “The Hedgehog and the Fox” and he separated individuals
into two types of people in the world. There’s foxes, who know a lot of different things, and there are hedgehogs, who know one big thing. And when I look at Iran and the United States,
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is a hedgehog. He only knows one thing, which is resistance,
resistance, resistance. Donald Trump – His beard also does have that hedgehode kind of thing. Your words, not mine. Ok, fair enough. And Donald Trump is a fox not in the sense
that he knows – He is more orange. This works as an analogy! You’re absolutely right. But he’s also a fox because? He’s a fox not because he knows a lot of things
but because he says a lot of things. So this is, you know, a president who within
a one-week span can tweet that he is prepared to end Iran, threatening genocide against
Iran, and then a couple days later he can give a speech saying that, you know, Iran
can be a great nation even with the same leader. So what’s the big thing that Trump knows? What’s the one big thing? Well, I think it is fundamentally confusing – not just for the Iranians, I’m guessing for Chinese and others – but in particular
the Iranian regime and that one day, the message they get from the United States is, you know,
threat of war and escalation and then the next day it’s President Trump saying we’re
prepared to speak to you unconditionally. We just want a deal, we just don’t want you
to have nukes, which is what the JCPOA was providing. The Obama deal. So if you were the Iranians and you have watched
this play out with North Korea – Trump has met Kim Jong Un twice, no preconditions. Likes the guy now, says nice things. Talks about the suspension of the ICBM tests,
the nuclear tests, getting back some hostages. And North Korea is now in a meaningfully
better position. If Trump is telling you – never mind Bolton,
never mind Pompeo, Trump is the president – if Trump is telling you I am prepared
to meet with no preconditions, why don’t the Iranians find that compelling? The Iranians that are facing a very severe
recession right now imposed by Trump. I think there’s an important distinction between
Iran’s leadership and Kim Jong Un and North Korea. So Kim Jong Un is a young man in his 30s,
he’s looking at a potentially four decade time horizon in which he could be ruling. Iran’s Supreme Leader just turned 80 and his
entire life he espoused this ethos of Death to America, America can’t be trusted. And his goal is to die Supreme Leader. He doesn’t have a four decade time horizon
and he fundamentally mistrusts Donald Trump and his longtime modus operandi has been that
whenever you’re under pressure never compromise because that is not going to alleviate the
pressure, it’s going to project weakness and invite more pressure. And so I think as long as Khamenei sees these
competing poles in the United States of Trump saying some things, John Bolton and Pompeo
are potentially saying other things, I think he’s going to be very reluctant about entering
negotiations with the United States. Karim Sadjadpour, very good to have you on. Thank you, Ian. Great to be here. And now for something completely different:
I’ve got Your Puppet Regime. Hi folks, Ian here. Today marked the end of the G20 summit in
Osaka, Japan and as you might have expected, there were disagreements. I think we can all agree that we got a tremendous
amount of nothing done. Mais non, I thought we agreed to say that
we got barely anything done. No, no, no, no, no. It was not a lot. Ya. Even longtime allies couldn’t seem to catch
each other’s backs. All right Shinzo-san, just fall into my arms. I promise I won’t drop you. I promise. Okay. Wait, the Mexicans did what? Get Stephen on the line. Ah! And you can imagine what it was like to split
the check at dinner. America is sick of paying more than our fair share – Fine! We can split the bill evenly. Well I didn’t have any wine. You saw me. Plus there’s the tip. We don’t tip in Europe. You see, NATO is useless. And of course, preparing for the G20 talent show. So then I will say, lederhosen? More like uh… like uh…later nosen. That joke totally sucks. Look, if you’re just not going to offer any
constructive criticism then just get out! You just want all this to fail. Da. All we can hope is that they at least put aside their differences and got back to their hotels safely. As we’ve been going in circles for hours,
we’re going to be late for my hair – Yeah, well, the U.S. President usually drives this bus. Check with him. Like hell, Angela. Driving a bus is for total losers and suckers. Well, looks like nobody is driving bus. I’m here for it. Wait, wait, wait. What? What? That’s our show this week. We’ll be back next week. That’s the nature of a weekly show is that
every week there’s a new episode. Don’t miss it. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Otherwise I get really upset. I don’t know what I’m doing here. It’s kind of an existential question for me. But in the meantime, if you like what you’ve
seen, check us out on gzeromedia.com.

11 thoughts on “Ian Bremmer & Karim Sadjadpour: Tensions with Tehran | GZERO World”

  1. GZero is an incredible show…. but with super low viewership.
    Ian Bremmer…. if you reading this, hire me, and I'll do to your show what Trump did to the Presidency……. #Viral

  2. Love your show Ian hope one you could do an interview to the Mexican secretary of foreign affairs about the immigration / non tariffs deal and how is the new regime in Mexico handling it.

  3. If Bolton wants to go to war then let him lead the charge on the ground with his entire family behind him followed far behind by U.S. ground forces. He'll either learn his lesson and grow up or become KIA'd. It's a win/win for the USA.

  4. A true nation is to step up for itself most of the time instead of being a bitch, who has to be an American puppet state like Canada is certainly doing right now.

  5. Also, do the show talk about what happened in 1953, the US kick up a democratic government and put in the US friendly puppet dictator.

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