Trump pulls back from Iran attack as Bolton & Pompeo continue to push for war

President Trump approves a strike on Iran in retaliation for shooting down a U.S. drone, but calls it off after initial steps were already underway.

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After threatening to strike Iran in retaliation for shooting down an unmanned U.S. drone, President Trump reportedly approved, and then abruptly called off, military strikes. The move came after the operation was already underway in its initial stages, with warships and planes already being put into position. We go to Tehran to get a response from Mohammad Marandi, a professor at the University of Tehran who was part of the nuclear deal negotiations in 2015. We also speak with CUNY professor and historian Ervand Abrahamian, author of several books about Iran. Whether or not Trump wants war with Iran doesn’t ultimately matter, says Abrahamian. “The long-term agenda in the White House” from Bolton, Pompeo and others are much more aggressive. “They want basically the destruction of the Islamic Republic.”

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with news that President Trump approved, then abruptly called off, U.S. preparations for a military strike against Iran. The move came after the operation was already underway in its initial stages, with warships and planes already being put into position. The New York Times reports President Trump approved the strikes in retaliation for Iran shooting down an unmanned U.S. military surveillance drone with a surface-to-air missile, but then called off the attacks at the last minute last night. U.S. officials said targets would have included radars and missile batteries in Iran, and that strikes were scheduled for just before dawn this morning in order to minimize the risk to civilians and the Iranian military. It remains unclear if attacks on Iran might go ahead later.

Iran says the U.S. drone it shot down was on a spy mission over Iranian airspace, but Washington says it was shot down over international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz. The Associated Press reports the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division says Iran had warned the drone several times before launching a missile at it. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh told Iranian state television on Friday, quote, “Unfortunately they did not answer.” Trump spoke to reporters about the downed drone Thursday in the Oval Office when he was meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Iran made a big mistake. This drone was in international waters, clearly. We have it all documented. It’s documented scientifically, not just words. And they made a very bad mistake.

REPORTER: How will you respond, Mr. President? How will you respond?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You’ll find out.

REPORTER: Are you going to go to war with Iran?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You’ll find out. You’ll find out. I mean, obviously—obviously—obviously, you know, we’re not going to be talking too much about it. You’re going to find out. They made a very big mistake.

AMY GOODMAN: Amidst tensions over the downing of the U.S. drone, the Federal Aviation Administration has now barred American aircraft from flying over Iranian-administered airspace in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Other airlines have also changed the routing of their planes.

All of this comes after Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear pact with Iran last year and has imposed economic sanctions on Iran. On Tuesday, the U.S. announced it was sending a thousand more troops to the region. In May, it also announced a 1,500-troop increase after attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran has denied being involved in the attacks and has repeatedly said it’s not seeking war with the United States.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top Trump officials have reportedly been linking Iran to al-Qaeda and the Taliban during closed-door briefings with congressional lawmakers, in what Democrats fear could be part of a plan to invoke the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force to attack Iran.

For more, we’re going to Tehran, Iran, where we’re joined via Democracy Now! video stream by Mohammad Marandi, professor of English literature and Orientalism at the University of Tehran. He was part of the nuclear deal negotiations in 2015. Here in New York, we’re joined by Ervand Abrahamian. He is a retired professor of history at City University of New York. He’s the author of several books, including The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

MOHAMMAD MARANDI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s start in Tehran with professor Mohammad Marandi. Can you talk about the response on ground to hearing this New York Times report, which the Trump administration has not denied and other now news outlets have confirmed, that they were in the midst of a strike; right before the attack happened, with the planes in the air, they called it off?

MOHAMMAD MARANDI: Well, people are viewing the whole story with a significant amount of skepticism. And the reason is that the whole affair, this whole saga, began with the U.S. leaving the nuclear deal, and then, subsequently, Trump imposing economic warfare against Iranians, something which he said specifically—also said that these were brutal sanctions. So the escalation began on the American side.

And then the tankers that were struck also were suspicious to the Iranians, because the tankers that were struck a month ago off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were attacked almost immediately after Bolton said the Israelis gave him information about an imminent Iranian attack, which made them suspicious. And then, just recently, right off the Iranian coast, two other tankers were struck, linked to Japan, the tankers, while the Japanese prime minister was in Tehran, the first prime minister from Japan in Tehran for 41 years. And right before he was supposed to meet the Iranian leader, these tankers were struck. And the Americans said they were mines. The company that owned the tanker said they were not mines, they were projectiles coming from the air. All of this makes everything that’s going on over the past few days seem very suspicious in the eyes of ordinary Iranians.

And with regards to this particular drone, this is not the first drone that belongs to the United States military that the Iranians have downed. They have downed a number of drones in the past. The United States never denied that. They’ve recovered the parts. And they’ve brought down another drone by hacking the computer and landing it safely. And in this particular case, the Iranian foreign minister gave the precise details of where it was hit, and the Iranians also recovered parts of the drone itself. So, the American government narrative here seems suspicious, as well, and therefore, in the eyes of Iranians, everything that comes out of Washington right now has to be looked at with a great deal of skepticism.

AMY GOODMAN: Hossein Salami said Iran shot down the drone to send a clear message to the U.S. that Iran does “not have any intention for war with any country, but we are ready for war.” Can you explain the significance of his comments, Professor Marandi?

MOHAMMAD MARANDI: Well, when President Trump says that he can annihilate and destroy Iran, in a tweet, then the Iranians are going to take any move by the U.S. military seriously. When the U.S. president and people in the White House constantly speak about “all options are on the table” and Republican senators calling for strikes on Iran, then that makes the Iranian military much more sensitive. The Iranians are already engaged in defensive actions against the United States. They have to constantly monitor American fighter jets and American ships that are constantly moving close to the Iranian border. And when a drone like this violates Iranian airspace, that basically means that they are looking for places to strike. That’s how the Iranians interpret it. So the Iranian military had no option but to shoot down the drone. And the fact that the Americans don’t want to wait to see the evidence in the U.N. Security Council also makes this more suspicious.

So, the Iranians have said repeatedly, “We don’t want war.” That is why we remained within the framework of the nuclear deal. Even one year after the Americans have exited the deal, and the Europeans are in clear violation because they are intimidated by Trump, and the deal is basically a one-sided deal, the Iranians are still abiding by the deal, because they want to decrease sanctions. If the Iranians wanted to increase tensions, they would have left the nuclear deal a year ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Ervand Abrahamian, I want to bring you into this conversation. You’re a historian. You wrote a book about the history of Iran, so you have—and you’re from Iran. You know extensively what U.S. involvement with Iran is, back to the U.S. overthrow of the democratically elected leader in 1953, Mohammad Mosaddegh. As you watch what’s taking place now, and even if President Trump called off this attack, that was supposedly about to take place Thursday night, it doesn’t mean it is not imminent.

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Exactly. I think the long-term agenda in the White House—maybe not Trump himself, but Bolton, Pompeo—it’s clear what their record is on Iran. They want basically the destruction of the Islamic Republic, maybe even destruction of the state, maybe even the destruction of Iran. So, they have a long record on this. They haven’t kept it hidden. And I think they were basically putting into implementation this program.

But, of course, Trump has started, basically, his presidential campaign, and it’s not good sense to go into an electoral campaign talking about war. So, I think he has—as a presidential candidate, he has a vested interest in keeping the, quote, “war issue” basically as low as possible. I wouldn’t be surprised that in a few days he comes up and says that he has a secret plan to resolve all the differences with Iran. He’ll reveal the secret plan after the election. We’ve heard all these secret plans before. But whether he himself wants war or not, I don’t think that’s that important. The people driving policy, making policy, are, in fact, very determined to, from their point of view, solve the problem of Iran.

And this new crisis, we can talk endlessly about the drones, the tankers. As you said, the recent crisis really starts with Trump saying that the nuclear deal was not just a bad deal, but it was the worst deal ever United States has made, and that we need a new deal. Now, if he wanted a new deal, you usually leave a door open for negotiations for a new deal. But after he said that, right away, Pompeo actually had slammed the door. He came up with the 12 commandments to Iran, that Iran had to basically submit to the 12 demands.

Well, we know the 10 lord’s demands are quite hard to meet. These 12 demands are actually quite absurd. There’s no way Iran could meet these 12 demands. I mean, it would be equivalent to the supreme leader in Iran telling Trump, “Oh, we’ll be happy to meet and discuss with you, but you have to meet 12 demands. The first is, you need to sit down and negotiate seriously with Black Lives Matter. If you deal that one, we could discuss. Or that, you know, your democracy is defective because very low percentage of the electorate votes. You have to do something about increasing your electorate participation, then we’ll participate in negotiations.” Well, these sort of demands would be considered absurd. Similarly, the demands that Pompeo put on Iran were absurd. They weren’t really negotiating demands; they were basically saying, “Surrender, submit to everything we demand, and, basically, commit suicide.” And this obviously is not acceptable to any regime that wants to survive.

So, from then on, basically, I would say, some sort of military confrontation between U.S. and Iran was inevitable. Now, whether it happens next week or the week after or after the election, if Trump is elected, I think that’s basically in the books. There’s no way we can avoid, basically, some sort of military confrontation.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammad Marandi, can you talk about the role of Jared Kushner in supposedly shaping a Middle East peace plan? And what does this have to do with Iran?

MOHAMMAD MARANDI: I think the objective—one of the objectives of the Trump administration is to sideline Iran, to put so much pressure on Iran so that Iran discontinues its support for the Palestinian people. The Iranian position, of course, on Israel is that Israel, like apartheid South Africa, is an apartheid regime and that it is morally illegitimate and that it has to change fundamentally, like South Africa, until Iran recognizes such a state. In other words, Palestinians have to have equal rights and self-determination throughout the land. But the United States, because of Iran’s support for the Palestinian cause, wants to sideline Iran, to weaken Iran so much, or, as the esteemed professor points out, perhaps even further—the United States wants to go further than that and destroy Iran. But they are doing this, or they want to do this, basically to strengthen the hand of the Israeli regime and allow them to finish off the whole issue of Palestine. Of course, I don’t think that is possible. I don’t think it’s going to happen. The “deal of the century,” I think, is going to fail.

But also, I’d like to point one other thing out. And that is, if indeed a military conflict is inevitable between the United States and Iran, I think there are two important things that have to be kept in mind. First, if there is a war, then, in my opinion, all of the oil and gas facilities, as well as the tankers in the Persian Gulf region, will be destroyed. This will not be just the issue of closing the Strait of Hormuz. This will be something very long-term. And that will lead to a global economic catastrophe unlike anything we’ve seen in contemporary history. In addition to that, Iranian allies across the region will engage U.S. forces and U.S. allies militarily, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. And then you would have the Saudi and Emirati regimes collapse immediately, because they’re completely dependent on oil. And millions of people will be on the move. So, that’s a scenario that is just something that people should not even contemplate.

The second is that the United States may carry out a small strike. Here, I think, is almost equally dangerous, because I think that there are some so-called Iran experts in the United States that are telling the U.S. government that if you carry out a limited strike, Iran will do nothing in response, or there will be just some token response. That is a major miscalculation. The Iranians will be relentless in their response. They will probably be very disproportionate, as well. And they will also strike those regional countries that are allowing—that would allow the Americans to attack. And the reason why the Iranians would respond so severely is that they want to make sure that the United States does not come to any conclusion that they could repeatedly attack Iran. And this, of course, could lead to further and further escalation. So, it would be against the interests of the whole of the international community, as well as the people of the United States, to even contemplate any strike, even limited.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Mohammad Marandi, we just have 20 seconds with you left in Tehran. The effects of the sanctions on the ground in Iran?

MOHAMMAD MARANDI: Well, the U.S. government is trying to make people suffer. And people have died. Certain medicines are not available. The U.S. government is trying to prevent Iran from importing medicine, among other things. And so sometimes some medicines are not available. And for people who have serious issues, they could die. And many people have died as a result over the past few months.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Ervand Abrahamian, the U.S. media coverage, so often the media used to beat the drums for war, your analysis of it?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Well, I think—I’m not expert on the media, but The New York Times, so far, has been actually much more cautious as compared to in the Iraqi situation. I would imagine the other press, you know, Fox News and stuff, basically repeats the official line about Iran as being the cause of all the problems the U.S. has. But on the whole, I would say the quality of press has been quite down-to-earth with it.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, we will continue to cover this. Ervand Abrahamian, retired professor at the City University of New York, speaking to us here in New York. And Mohammad Marandi, professor of English literature and Orientalism at the University of Tehran, part of the nuclear deal negotiations in 2015, speaking to us from Iran.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the Guatemalan elections. Stay with us.

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