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Dr. Ali Ansari with another view of Iran.

Sunday, October 14, 2007
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HH: A special hour of the Hugh Hewitt Show. As the United States and the West moves towards a confrontation with Iran, I think it’s important to make sure that we know the perspective from every side. And to do that, I am joined today by Dr. Ali Ansari. Dr. Ansari is a member of the modern history faculty at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He holds his doctorate from the University of London, he writes often for the Financial Times and the Independent of London. His book, Confronting Iran, is a very highly regarded best seller in Great Britain. It’s made quite an impact on me. I enjoyed it quite a lot. Dr. Ansari, thanks for joining us today.

AA: Very good to be with you.

HH: Let’s begin by getting it out there. You’re not unsympathetic to the idea that Iran has a great deal of reason to be suspicious of America. Can you explain to people why that is?

AA: Well, I think a lot of it is historically founded. I mean, the relationship between Iran and the West, broadly speaking, including, you know, Britain and other countries, but then more lately the United States, the relationship has not always been positive. And I think in the Iranian historical mindset, they’re repeatedly told, of course, that their one near experience with democratic government in the 1950’s was terminated rather abruptly by a U.S.-British intervention with overthrew the government of Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953. So that is basically repeated very heavily within sort of the Iranian history books, and they’re basically told that subsequent to that, the autocracy of the Shah was supported by the United States, and this had a very bad effect on the political development of the country, and obviously on the lives of people in general.

HH: And there’s clearly no denying it. In fact, the new book by Tim Weiner details in great paragraph after paragraph the CIA’s overthrow of the legitimately elected government of Iran in 1953.

AA: Yeah, I mean, and also, it’s an open secret in many ways. I mean, a lot of the CIA’s own documents have been released, so it’s fairly well known, and it’s quite clear that there was quite heavy involvement. And there’s a lot of debate about the precise role of the Americans and British, and the way in which indigenous Iranian groups obviously helped with the overthrow of Mossadeq, quite a legitimate historical debate. But I think in the popular mood, in the way that people see it in Iran, they see it as obviously an intervention by the United States in their domestic politics.

HH: And then comes the second great break, though, and this is, of course, the Islamic revolution of 1977 and ’78.

AA: That’s right.

HH: And did Jimmy Carter really even have a clue what was going on, Dr. Ansari? Spending New Year’s Eve with the Shah in ’77, and then standing by as he was toppled, and then inviting him into the United States, it seems almost feckless on President Carter’s part.

AA: Well, I think, you know, the fall of the Shah really did take the United States by surprise. And part of it was really because so much had been, so much dependence had been placed on the character of the Shah himself. I mean, many people felt, including many observers in Britain, for instance, felt that the Shah now was in a position he was confident about, and he was in a position really to do things himself, really to make the decisions that needed to be taken, and I think from Carter’s perspective, Carter very much felt that it wasn’t his role to make decisions for the Shah. And they had this view that really, the Shah had to get on and do things, and nobody really anticipated that the Shah would suddenly go into this sort of stupor and be unable to act for about 18 months. I mean, it was a very, very curious position, that people were constantly expecting the Shah to act and to make decisions, and he never did.

HH: You can’t second guess history, but speculating a bit, Dr. Ansari, if Gerald Ford had won the election in ’76, or even if Nixon had not fallen from power from Watergate in ’74, would events in Iran have run to the same conclusion, though not necessarily via the same course?

AA: It is a difficult one to judge on. I mean, it’s certainly true that many people in Iran have argued that sort of Iranian governments, and certainly the Shah, always felt better, more comfortable with Republican administrations. They certainly built a very, very close relationship with the Nixon administration. Clearly, he had to adapt himself and adjust to the fact that there was a Democrat administration in office at the time. But I think probably by the end of the 70’s, by the mid to the end of the 70’s, the Shah was really operating on his own timetable. He had various agenda that really had nothing to do with the Americans. And ultimately, it’s difficult to see how these various things would have not developed in the way they did. And really, the key individual in all this was the Shah himself, and there was very little that any other country, or any other power could have done.

HH: In a passage in your book, Confronting Iran, and by the way, America, the book is linked at Hughhewitt.com, and I really do recommend you read it in companion with Michael Ledeen’s new book. Together, they’re just comprehensive in their treatment here. Page 94, “The failure of the hostage rescue mission, televised in all of its horror, with Iran’s hanging judge, Khalkhali, gloating over the burned and charred bodied of U.S. service personnel in the Iranian desert, increased the anguish and desperation of the Carter administration while encouraging the radicals and empowering the revolution. There was nothing like success against the United States to convince doubters that Khomeini was indeed a providential savior.” That which works gets repeated, Dr. Ansari. Is that initial burst of anti-American fever so satisfactory to the mullahs that they’ve had to try and replay it again and again and again?

AA: Well, unfortunately, one of the things about the anti-Americanism, of course, is that it has been, it has been replayed. And one of the aspects of the revolution is that it has been unable to move on from various aspects of this ideology in the early 80’s. There was a case to be made. One could argue that the new Iranian state, had to make a break with the allies of the Shah, had to make a clean break in many ways. But I think one of the big debates that’s been going on in Iran, really, for the last, I would say, at least fifteen to twenty years, has been how do you manage this relationship with the United States, can we afford to be in a position of perpetual antagonism and confrontation. And unfortunately, as you indicate, there are those who think that you know, this perpetual antagonism of the United States is just too good a political tool to lose. I think this is very short term. I think it clearly can’t last, but it is sad, but true that there are groups in Iran, and certainly among the more radical revolutionaries, who think that this is a state that that continue, and that actually to Iran’s benefit in the long term.

HH: Now last week, General Petraeus, as well as Great Britain’s own Lt. Col. Patrick Sanders, commander of the 4th Battalion, the Rifles, bluntly accused Iran of shipping the munitions and the expertise…

AA: Sure.

HH: …to kill Americans and Brits into Iraq. Do you agree with their assessment, Dr. Ansari?

AA: Well, I think the evidence that’s coming out is that clearly, the Iranians are falling a sort of dual policy in Iraq, one which is elements of, certainly, the Revolutionary Guards, which are there to put pressure on, and antagonize, that basically encourage the Americans to leave. Now again, it’s one of those policies in Iran that has a lot of detractors. I mean, there are a lot of detractors who are opposed to this policy. They can understand, in a sense, those people who basically say that this confrontation with the United States is basically a sort of a proxy war with the United States, and that they must engage as far as possible to keep the Americans engaged in Iran, so they don’t move on to bigger and better things in Iran, for instance. I mean, that’s one of the arguments they have. And I think it’s quite clear that Iran was always going to have an interest in Iraq. It’s just a pity where I suspect that there are those who feel that they can push their intervention, their own interference and their own intervention in Iraq a bit further than maybe we would like.

HH: Now you’ve been studying Iran as long as anyone I know, with the possible exception of Michael Ledeen, who’s maybe been at it as long as you. And he has opinion about this next subject that I’d love to get yours. Is it possible for IEP’s and EFP’s to be shipped into Iraq from Iran, and for the Quds forces to send people there without the supreme leader, Khamenei knowing?

AA: I don’t…in my view, this sort of behavior, it’s highly unlikely. I mean, what the supreme leader would generally do, the way he works is he would sanction broad policy, the details of which would not be of relevance. I mean, the details of which he would not deal with, particularly. Now ultimately, he would have to sanction a policy of that nature, and I don’t think something which is of such importance to Iran’s position on the international stage could be done without his knowledge, if not or with his approval on particular details. But certainly, I think the broad strategic aspects of policy, yes. He would have to know and he would have to approve.

HH: So as America and Great Britain, and to a lesser extent, France, determines how it’s going to conduct itself over the next year, vis-à-vis the nuclear program, they have to do so assuming that Ayatollah Khamenei has been fully approving of a policy of intervention in Iraq by Iranian Revolutionary Guards that results in the death of Americans?

AA: I think we have to…yeah, I think we have to accept it in as much as Ayatollah Khamenei, as the supreme leader, is not increasingly centralizing power within his own hand. I mean, there’s very little doubt that that’s what he’s doing. Originally, the position of the supreme leader was not meant to be an individual who intervened in the day to day activities of politics or international affairs. But effectively, in the last few years, that’s exactly what he’s done. He’s become a much more interventionary political figure, rather than simply a sort of religious spiritual figure. And I think on issues of this sort of magnitude, particularly with the confrontation with the United States and the West, that he would be informed, and he would certainly sanction or give his approval of these actions.

– – – –

HH: Professor Ansari, when we went to break, we were talking about the supreme leader and his position in the government. Michael Ledeen argues he had to know about the Khobar Towers bombing. Do you agree with that assessment?

AA: Well, I think this is where myself and Michael Ledeen would probably differ on this particular point, in that on the Khobar bombing, I mean, as I put it, the evidence has yet to materialize on that, for Iranian involvement. If you assume that the Iranians were involved in the Khobar bombing, then he would have had to know. I mean, it would be very unlikely that he wouldn’t know. The key question is whether we accept that that…that there isn’t, you know, solid evidence and concrete evidence of that involvement.

HH: Now the United States District Court in the District of Columbia has awarded $2.6 billion dollars against the government of Iran for their complicity there.

AA: Sure, sure.

HH: So you don’t believe that’s persuasive, or not necessarily?

AA: Well, in my view, I mean, these things are very difficult to judge. I mean, there have been, yes, there have been a number of court cases where these have come through. But it’s quite interesting that you’ll find that there’s often opposition even among the administration to these court judgments, and that they’re not necessarily based entirely on all the evidence that’s available. But nonetheless, I mean, yes, I mean, I can see that that is something that is very much believed in certain circles, if we were to accept that these things were going on, or that the Iranians were actually involved in something, that these were not indigenous Saudi groups, for instance. I mean, that’s the other thesis on that part of the al Khobar bombing. If we were to accept that, that sort of thing, it’s unlikely that the civil senior leadership would not have known about it, certainly.

HH: Now one of the fascinating aspects of Confronting Iran, your book, that I found so different from what I ordinarily consume is the degree of independence you attribute to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Can you expand on what you see as the relationship?

AA: The way I read it, and this is…I think we in the West tend to ascribe far too much rationality or sort of structured bureaucracy and organizations in the Middle East. A lot of the way in which these organizations operate is you have to look at it almost like an extended family. So of course, the link between Hezbollah and Iran is there. Of course it exists. And of course, there’s a fairly tight relationship on a number of different levels. But to give the sort of assumption that direct orders are given from Tehran, and adhered to off in Lebanon, that’s just not the way it works. Often, there’s a situation where Hezbollah will act more independently, a bit like a sort of a cousin or a second cousin listening, taking advice, often taking handouts, and maybe a few directions, but not necessarily always doing as they’re told. I mean, that’s…it’s a different type, a more complex type of relationship. And I think we automatically read sort of a much more structured relationship in there. And I’ve tried to take a comparison from, if you look at the United States and Israel, for instance, very good friends, getting along very well, oversee a lot of financial help, military help, but it’s not necessarily true that Israel always does as the United States wants it to do, for instance. I mean, sometimes, it does things the United States doesn’t like. I mean, this is very much a sort of parallel situation.

HH: Clearly, but are you…that one strikes me as a little a bridge too far, analogy wise, because I tend to believe, and tell me if I’m wrong…

AA: Sure.

HH: …that if Khamenei and the Iranian government wanted Hezbollah to stop, for example, the war on Israel and the…

AA: Sure, sure.

HH: …that they could enforce that discipline, whereas the United State could never tell Israel…we could try and persuade Israel, but we could never stop Israel from acting in their own self defense if we wanted to.

AA: Well, when I…I mean, I would agree that you know, that Iran probably has more of an influential role, but where I would suggest that in recent years, the relationship has become more distant. I mean, I would certainly agree with you that, say, if we were to go back ten years ago, or fifteen years ago, Iran would have a far more, a far more direct influence on Hezbollah’s actions. These days, I would certainly agree that if there was a general peace in the Middle East, or if there was a general sort of agreement in the Middle East, Iran could, I think, bring an enormous amount of pressure to bear on Hezbollah to desist from its activities in southern Lebanon. But say, for the sake of argument, and Israel then took a pot shot at Hezbollah, then Hezbollah would react almost without any indication of whether Iran wanted them or not.

HH: Okay.

AA: I mean, that’s the difference, really. But I agree. I mean, there is, certainly, clearly they’re a certainly far stronger influence.

HH: Now this is really the rub of the whole conversation, Professor.

AA: Sure.

HH: A million people in the streets of Tehran a few days ago chanting death to America again, death to Israel. What’s that, what are we supposed to make of that?

AA: Well, I mean, I’m not sure if a million people would be out there. Certainly, there are large crowds who will get out there, and a lot of…you know, we have to accept there are some people who really believe it. They will come out for true ideological conviction. But there are also, I would suggest, you have an enormous number of people who come out because it’s in their political interests to do so, and because it’s also in their economic interests to do so. I think you’ll find, if you were to compare now with say ten or even twenty years ago, certainly twenty years ago, that the level of passion involved in this chanting is not quite as genuine as it used to be. I mean, people simply aren’t interested. But there are sort of structural reasons within the Iranian state, if you offered people free handouts, rations, coupons and so on and so forth, as long as they attend various demonstrations and various meetings, then they tend to come out. I mean, there’s a huge underclass in Iran, and a lot of them require, or feel it’s in their interests, to really participate in these meetings. And you know, as I said, there are those who continue to believe it, apart from the sort of foot soldiers in the revolution. But I have to say that they’re diminishing year by year, and I certainly, the demonstrations that have been held recently, pro-government demonstrations to do with maybe anti-American, anti-Israeli or anti-British and others, the count of those who go are much, much more modest.

HH: Well, let me as you as a citizen of Great Britain…

AA: Sure.

HH: That sounds to me like what might have been said when the Brown Shirts were moving through Germany in the 30’s, that there’s a tendency not to want to believe the worst, and then to end up having to deal with the worst. Why is that analogy not a good fit here?

AA: Well, there’s a number of reasons why that analogy doesn’t work. First of all, I would say that it’s absolutely, I think, right that you can find people in Iran who hold extremely distressing views. And I would count the current president as one of them.

HH: Right.

AA: And you know, I think that many of them occupy some unfortunate positions, and they’re vocal in their opinions, and some of them have extremely nasty views. But in terms of the numbers of people in the population, the numbers of people who hold these views, I think they are a relative minority in the population. In fact, you know, a fairly small group. The other thing is that the analogies that are often brought with sort of 1930’s Germany are misplaced in the sense that you don’t, we don’t really…1930’s Germany and contemporary Iran are completely different types of societies and space. One was sort of a dominant industrial economy in the 1930’s with a very mechanized economy, a very powerful state, intellectually very advanced. Iran is not an industrial economy, whether they’d like to think of it, is not. I mean, as much as they try to puff up their sort of nuclear advances, the fact is their economy is not driven by industry. It’s not as organized. It’s not as efficient. And as much as people in Iran, and certain people would like to have a sort of totalitarian bent about them, the actual way in which society works in Iran wouldn’t allow them to do it. So in that sense, I think those fears are misplaced.

– – – –

HH: Professor, last segment, we were talking about President Ahmadinejad.

AA: Sure.

HH: Do you believe that he believes the return of the 12th Imam is imminent?

AA: He’s certainly very obsessed with the idea. I mean, that is certainly true that he’s extremely obsessed with the idea, and he does in many ways, as far as I can see, he thinks that the 12th Imam is coming soon, apparently.

HH: Well, how widespread is this particular variant of Khomeinism? I know that this cult was disapproved of by Khomeini himself, but it’s back now.

AA: It was. I mean, there’s an lot in the orthodox clergy who find these sort of ideas very worrying for a number of reasons in the sense that if the 12th Imam returns, of course, then all Islamic law is abrogated, because we start a new age. If you do that, of course, everything goes topsy-turvy. I think his views, his obsession with the return of the 12th Imam is something that disturbs quite a few people in Iran, and many people who are quite central to the establishment, it has to be said.

HH: Now who do you suspect, because obviously, he answers to Khamenei, the supreme leader, but Khamenei is said to be quite ill. Who is supposed to be the person that will replace Khamenei as you assess the mullahs in waiting, so to speak?

AA: Well, there are a number of contenders from both right and left in the political spectrum in Iran, and of course, by the way, right and left doesn’t have an equivalence in the West. But certainly, there are a number of contenders. But at the moment, it seems to me that if Khamenei was to pass away, a leadership council would be established either to select the new leader, or an actual fact to replace a single leader with this sort of leadership council which would include a number of senior clerics and political figures. And the key figure in this is the form of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

HH: Now you mentioned last segment, and it’s in your book that in recent years, the supreme leader has intervened in the way, for example, to crush the liberal press law.

AA: Sure, sure.

HH: …that had never been anticipated. Is there any turning back that institution? Or is it now, you know, institutions rarely give back power that they’ve managed to get a hold of.

AA: Well, absolutely, and I mean, I think this is one of the most fundamental constitutional crises in the Islamic republic. There’s a whole idea of this supreme leader was meant to be a sort of supervisory figure who maintained the morals, and you know, really the fanatical background of the faith. What he’s really turned into, what he’s turning into is an Islamic monarch. I mean, he’s an Islamic king in many ways. And what he does is he intervenes in everyday activities. And you’re quite right in saying that once you cross that Rubicon, it’s very difficult to turn the clock back. So I think this is one of the most central problems facing the Islamic republic at the moment. And ultimately, I think a lot of focus will be made on what happens when Mr. Khamenei departs this mortal coil, and they want to see a successor. There’s a lot of pressure on Iran to say we don’t need another one of these now. What we’d really like is to strengthen the sort of regular republican organs of government. This is where, this is what we need to strengthen, not these sort of more transnational bodies. Transnational bodies simply are unaccountable. I mean, that is the major problem with the supreme leadership, is there’s no real way of holding it to account.

HH: One of the best arguments, we’re going to come to the nuclear program after the break, but one of the best arguments I’ve heard against military action, against military action, is interfering with and radicalizing this replacement of the supreme leader in the next round. Do you agree or disagree with that assessment?

AA: I think that there is certainly a worry that if you get involved in a very heavy-handed military way in the process in Iran, that what you are going to do is radicalize the population, put it behind the more radical elements of government. It is absolutely true from someone like Ahmadinejad, who’s made a right pig’s ear of the economy in Iran, would like nothing more than to get in an international crisis on a massive scale, because in a sense, he feels, I mean, I have to say I think it’s a bad assessment on his part, but his argument would be that the radicals feel that the more you can build up the tension, the more you can focus people on international threat, and certainly the United States. The more the United States plays to that role, the better it is for us, because then, people don’t pay attention to the economy. They pay attention to other things. They pay attention to international crisis. So I think the way in which the West, and the United States in particular handles this situation, it’s got to be extremely delicate, and it’s got to be extremely nuanced.

– – – –

Professor, you’ve got this great portion of your book at Pages 169 and 170…

AA: Sure.

HH: …that details the long list of assassinations the government of Iran has ordered, carried out, outside of their country’s borders. We’ve got Ahmadinejad talking about flash of light and denying the Holocaust, and you’ve got the resupply of Hezbollah and assassinations in Syria.

AA: Sure.

HH: Why shouldn’t we conclude that this is a rogue regime that simply cannot be allowed to have nukes?

AA: Well, I mean, I think there is…I mean, there’s certainly a strong case, and I meant Iranians, actually, who would agree with this in many ways, that Iran is not a country that at the moment, you want the development of nuclear weapons. I mean, I think it’s one of the things that’s very interesting, for instance, that the Iranian government itself will not publicly proclaim that it’s going after such an option, even let alone near developing those weapons. I think if you want to look at the sort of stability argument, or whether Iran is stable, or whether Iran has ambitions or others, there are probably many other countries, to be honest, in the region who in a comparative sense could certainly hold a torch to Iran on these features. I mean, I don’t think Iran is unique in having a government that certainly wants to assassinate its opposition abroad, or holds view that we don’t like. It just so happens that their kind of president holds views particularly repulsive on a number of different levels. But he may not be here next year, so that’s something that many people are hoping for, I think.

HH: Didn’t they take assassination as state policy to an extent that no one has ever practiced it? I mean, they went everywhere and got everyone that they wanted to kill.

AA: Well, I mean, I think there are other states that have practiced it. I mean, I think basically, the Iranian state has concentrated on effectively assassinating its dissidents that are their own problem, mainly Iranians. But I mean, Iranians have been the main victims.

HH: Right.

AA: …of the Islamic republic. There’s no doubt about that. But I think if you look at other states in the region, they also have been quite active in assassinating or getting rid of unlikable people toward their social side of the state. It’s a question of your perspective, of course. If you look at actually the grand total, in many ways, of the number of republic assassinations abroad, and they’d probably…are not, in constant terms, more than a number of other states do.

HH: Well, I know…and probably a reference, no doubt, to Israel’s policy of seeking out and killing terrorists.

AA: Israel among others. I mean, I have to say there are a lot of others, too. I wouldn’t just want to lay the door at Israel. I mean, there are many other countries that practice it. It’s not something that I would endorse by any stretch of the imagination, but it happens. I think we have to accept that.

HH: But is there any comparison to, say, the targeting of, and killing of Shapour Bakhtiar, a former prime minister in exile of no particular relevance or harm to anyone? Is there…do you have an analogy to…

AA: Well, I mean, you know, I think that in the post-revolutionary period, one of the things that the revolution has failed to do, it is to reconcile itself with its past. It’s gone after people it’s felt has been anti-revolutionary. Revolutionary governments have tended to do this in the past, unfortunately. I mean, I agree. I think it’s a complete waste of resources to go after people that frankly I don’t think are any threat to the Islamic republic. The fact is, a number of people, unfortunately, among the radical revolutionaries, the sort of Jacobins of the Islamic revolution felt that they had to go after certain people. And I think it was…I think that they’re still living with the consequences of these disastrous actions. There’s no doubt about it.

HH: Are there some, as you put it, Jacobins in Iran who would welcome the chaos that would follow from any kind of a nuclear attack on Israel, even if it was destructive of the Iranian regime?

AA: I don’t think there is any, I don’t think there are many, or perhaps as far as I’m aware, any senior Iranian people who would be interested in a nuclear attack on Israel. I mean, I don’t think that is something that they’re seriously considering. I do think, however, that there are people who think there would be a lot to benefit from turning what is a very intensely cold war with the United States into something more hot. I mean, that is my worry. My worry is that confrontation with the United States is going to take on a different level because there are people, certainly in Iran, who think this is not a bad thing at all.

HH: What about the flash of light rhetoric, and gone in a whisper, about the state of Israel? What do you think Ahmadinejad is saying there?

AA: You mean the flash of light when he said to the General Assembly, and he thought he had a halo, actually?

HH: No, when he said that Israel would be gone in a flash of light.

AA: I must…I haven’t encountered that particular phrase that he said, but I mean, I think his arguments are basically that we’ve got to call a spade a spade. I think a lot of people have tried to sort of explain his comments in a more nuanced way. The think with Mr. Ahmadinejad is what you see is what you get, and he speaks his mind. And his argument is that the state of Israel eventually will disappear, like the Soviet Union disappeared, like South Africa disappeared, the Apartheid South Africa. So that’s his argument. And he feels it’s inevitable that he thinks it’s, you know, sort of almost a divine will. And he talks about it, almost sort of as he was reckless about it. And there are many people in Iran who think he’s rather stupid saying these things. In truth, I’ve spoken with clerics who’ve written some very damning articles about him, and said that he’s just wishful thinking on a number of these things. But certainly, I mean, with Ahmadinejad, I don’t think there is any merit whatsoever in trying to explain his comments in a somewhat more sophisticated way, because this is not a sophisticated man, which he thinks.

HH: But if there…if he had control, Professor Ansari, of nuclear weapons, would he want to use them against Israel, damn the costs all around the world?

AA: No, I honestly don’t think he would be of that caliber. First of all, it’s very unlikely he would be in control of any nuclear weapons in Iran anyway. But even if he did, he’s not of that, he hasn’t…that would not be his modus operandi, and he’s never really been of that ilk. The use of nuclear weapons, I think, still does have sort of a stigmatizing effect in Iran. I mean, I think people like the idea, because it empowers them, it makes them feel more secure, they feel they have a deterrence force.

HH: Could rational people come to a…

AA: Until there’s intent to use, I don’t think there’s any…

HH: Could rational people come to a different conclusion as they look at Ahmadinejad, and assume that he has allies like himself inside the RG, that there are people who would welcome that exchange?

AA: There are…I mean, some people have come to that assessment. All I can say is from my perspective, and my assessment of what’s going on in Iran, that there are, as far as I’m aware, no people who have ever come and made…I’ve never certainly read anything, I’ve never talked to anyone who’s actually thought of using nuclear weapons in an offensive capacity. I mean, that has simply not come up. They come up with all sorts of other things that they think they would like to do, perhaps, and irritants and provocative actions and confrontational actions. But the use of WMD, I mean, you have to remember that this is very interesting. In the Iran-Iraq war, when Saddam Hussein was using chemical and biological weapons against Iran, Iran did not retaliate in kind.

– – – –

HH: As we went to break, you were saying that in the Iraq-Iran war…

AA: The Iran-Iraq war, yes.

HH: They did not retaliate, from which you extrapolate a, what, an appreciation for life, an abhorrence of weapons?

AA: It’s not necessarily an appreciation of life that they didn’t use…I mean, I actually think the…I agree with you that in many ways, life can be very cheap, but not on absurd levels. But the fact is that they didn’t at that time they experienced it, they didn’t at that time retaliate using weapons of mass destruction. They did not use chemical or biological weapons against the Iraqis, whereas they were victims of it. So there is an argument, and I think it’s one that you can make, that the Iranians are by and large very reluctant to use these types of weapons.

HH: And last question for you, what do you see is the consequences of United States, with our without its allies, Great Britain, France and Germany, massive air strikes upon the nuclear facilities of Iran? What would follow next?

AA: Well, first of all, I’d have to say I think they would be very disastrous for Iran. I mean, first and foremost, I think this is something that in Iran, they don’t fully appreciate the consequence of what a mass air strike would be. And depending upon the level of the air strikes, of course, one assumes that the Iranians would retaliate in some way or form. I mean, I think they’d find themselves probably quite crippled in some ways, or it would be quite difficult to retaliate in the ways that some of them are saying. But certainly, just in the sure terms of the anarchy that may be created in this very, very strategic part of real estate located between Afghanistan and Iraq, I think the consequences for the Persian Gulf region as a whole would be potentially catastrophic, and I think there would be quite large economic aftershocks in the Western world as well. So I think these things all have to be factored in before anyone goes down this route.

HH: When you say catastrophic consequences, can you expand on that a little bit?

AA: Well, I mean, you’ve got to bear in mind that the Persian Gulf, I think, what is it, like 60% of the world’s oil goes through the Straits of Hormuz. Dependency on that Persian Gulf oil is increasing rather than decreasing, and that if Iran collapses in a sort of state of political anarchy, or refuses, there’s no central control, people start to retaliate, there’s a very strong possibility that the Straits themselves could be closed. If the Straits were closed, then you have a knock on, in effect, their oil supply. Then of course, I think oil prices would go right through $100 dollars a barrel at the very least. At that is going to have an effect on the economies of the West.

HH: We’ve only got a minute, Professor.

AA: Sure.

HH: Is there a chance of counterrevolution there?

AA: I think there are possibilities of a sort of counterrevolution on the level that some of the people in the West would like. It’s probably very small at the moment, but there is a huge amount of discontent. And I think the longer, actually, that Mr. Ahmadinejad stays in, the greater the chances of popular upheaval. There’s no doubt about it.

HH: Well, I want to thank you very much for an hour well spent, Professor. Fascinating book, Confronting Iran, fascinating conversation, hope we can get you back again sometime.

AA: Thank you very much.

End of interview.

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