John Dale Grover
Iran, Middle East
Kenneth Pollack and Paul Pillar discuss Iran and the Trump administration strategy at a CFTNI event.
Is Trump Really Headed to War With Iran? Here is What Two Experts Think
America’s policy of maximum pressure on Iran continues, with the U.S. Department of the Treasury announcing new sanctions on eight Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commanders. That directive was tweeted during a luncheon event on Iran at the Center for the National Interest, which was moderated by Geoffrey Kemp, the Senior Director of Regional Security Programs at CFTNI who also served in the White House during the first Reagan administration as Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs on the National Security Council Staff. The discussion focused on the ongoing crisis, Iran and America’s interests, and whether war could be avoided.
“[Donald] Trump’s approach is self-defeating,” declared panelist Kenneth Pollack, Resident Scholar for Middle Eastern Political-Military Affairs at the American Enterprise Institute, and both a former Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs and a former Director for Persian Gulf Affairs at the National Security Council. Pollack explained that the hardliners keep claiming vindication, noting that they had warned that the United States might tear up the Iran deal. Pollack emphasized that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei started in the moderate camp but has drifted steadily toward a hardline position.
At the time of the Iran Deal in 2015, there was a debate between “the pragmatists led by Rouhani” and “the hardliners led by the IRGC.” Those in favor of a deal thought of Iran’s problems are largely economic. President Hassan Rouhani believed that because the Iran Deal would allow Tehran to trade with the world again, it would fix Iran’s economic problems and remove the danger of war. This would secure the regime from external threats from America but also appeal to the Iranian people, thus making a revolt against the regime less likely.
However, the hardliners argued that Washington could not be trusted and that Tehran was walking into a trap. “They said look this agreement is not gonna be worth the paper it is written on. The Americans will never honor it, they will never lift all the sanctions. They will cheat, they will refuse to honor it, and they will eventually walk away from it.”
The second panelist, Paul Pillar, a former Chief of Analysis at the CIA's Counterterrorist Center and a contributing editor to The National Interest, warned that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s list of twelve demands to Iran was effectively an ultimatum that no independent country could ever adopt. According to Pillar, “It never was realistic that Iran would just sit there and take what was being dished out to them indefinitely, even though they did that for a year.”