Breitbart’s Adelle Nazarian had the opportunity to speak with renowned Middle East expert and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Dr. Michael Rubin recently. Dr. Rubin provided his analysis on U.S.-Iran relations under the Obama Administration and provided a look into the future through the periscope of the past.
He is the author of Dancing With the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes and a former Pentagon official. With a June 30 deadline for a final nuclear deal swiftly approaching, Rubin draws upon heightened concerns surrounding President Obama’s destructive handling of this most pivotal moment in international relations and national security with regard to U.S.-Iranian relations.
BREITBART NEWS: Do you think President Obama, John Kerry and the American team of negotiators were aware of how the Iranians operated?
RUBIN: No. I honestly think they were in a bubble and they were also blinded by their own personal ambition. Obama is arrogant. He thinks that all the problems with diplomacy were because of his predecessors rather than with his adversaries. Therefore, he has repeatedly gotten us into trouble with dictators and rogue regimes like Russia ad now Iran. They play the United States.
Obama is willfully naive and he doesn’t understand that evil exists in the world and that it wants to destroy the United States.
BREITBART: Considering he has former NIAC employee Sahar Nowrouzzadeh and Valerie Jarrett advising him, wouldn’t you think he would be better prepared to deal with the Iranians?
RUBIN: He surrounds himself with people who tell him what he wants to hear. But a low-level and a c-staffer is hardly someone that you could say advises the president accurately.
BREITBART: Many in the media and on the left have suggested that the conservatives see war and bombing Iran as the only option should the nuclear deal fail. What viable alternatives could you offer?
RUBIN: That’s just such nonsense and what we see is that, when it comes to diplomacy, the only people who you can trust are the conservatives. President Obama likes to credit sanctions — both United Nations sanctions and otherwise — despite the fact that he was consistently against sanctions whenever he had the chance. He’s too busy making John Bolton into a straw cartoon to recognize that John Bolton was the man who crafted the Untied Nations sanctions.
And whether it was John Bolton as under secretary of state or ambassador to the United Nations, it was Bolton who rallied the international community and gave us unanimous or near-unanimous U.N. security council resolutions that ultimately brought Iran to its knees.
BREITBART: So what do we do with Iran?
RUBIN: Economic coercion. When Hillary Clinton came into office as secretary or state she almost lectured Republicans and said, if you’re not going to talk to your enemies, who are you going to talk to? And she cited Ronald Reagan who sat down with Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War. But she didn’t understand the importance of leverage to Reagan.
Reagan had prefaced his diplomacy with Gorbachev with a military buildup in order to negotiate from a position of strength. In order to bring Iran to the table and have them adhere to their international agreements, you have to maximize your leverage. Obama agreed to give Iran $11.9 billion in sanctions relief in unfrozen assets just to sit at the table and talk to the American team.
To put this in perspective, the annual, official budget of the Revolutionary Guard is about $5.6 billion. In order to get the Iranians to sit at the table, Obama gave Iran enough money to pay the salaries of a group responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans for two years.
BREITBART: It has been suggested that up to $150 billion in frozen Iranian assets could be released to the Iranian regime. Would this guarantee the regime’s longevity?
RUBIN: Yes. The Soviet Union ultimately fell due to an unstable economy. The analogy would be that, instead of bankrupting the Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan decided to flood them with cash. What Obama is doing with the potential release of those funds, is taking a hateful, racist regime and throwing it a lifeline.
The IRGC dominates the Iranian economy. The revolutionary foundation and what’s called Khatam al-Andia control perhaps 40% of Iran’s economy, including anything involved with import and export. So rather than allowing reformism to flourish inside of Iran, the net impact of the rush to do business inside Iran and to bring Iranian oil into the market will be to empower the Revolutionary Guard even further. It would allow them to consolidate control.
The IRGC is involved with the military aspects of the nuclear program, which of course aren’t included in this framework yet. And they are also in charge of export of revolution. And we see that this isn’t mere rhetoric when we look at what is happening in Gaza and Yemen. Simply put, if Obama and his national security team were to sit down and ask themselves what a strategy to enable Iran’s destabilizing influence in the Middle East would look like– I hate to say it, but it would not look any different from the strategy they are now pursuing.
BREITBART: What are the Iranian mullah’s plans in the region? Now that not only Tehran but Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and even Sanaa are under their control, what is their ultimate goal?
RUBIN: This is something else Obama simply doesn’t understand or he ignores. Iran is not a status quo state. It is an ideological revisionist state. Its goal is to export revolution. Ordinary Iranians may not subscribe to this, but in any dictatorship it’s the guys with the guns that matter. And in this case, the Iranians used to describe themselves as a regional power. Then about four years ago, they began describing themselves as a pan-regional power, meaning the Persian Gulf and the North Indian Ocean.
Well, this past November they started talking about themselves in terms of having strategic boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden. And again, we see that this wasn’t mere rhetoric when we look at the weapons shipments to Syria and to Hamas. And when we look at Iranian activities in Yemen.
BREITBART: Is it then safe to say that Iran’s goal is not very different from the goal of ISIS, which is to establish an Islamic Caliphate and regional hegemony, except that they have two different fundamental Islamic ideologies?
BREITBART: What do you think will happen when Khamenei passes away?
RUBIN: We only have one example of this happening before and that was when Khomeini died. On paper, you have an 86-member particle body called the Assembly of Experts which decides who replaces him. In reality, from 1989 we know thats not the case. What happened in 1989 with Khomeini’s death was that all the power centers got together and basically came to a consensus. That consensus was Khamenei.
Now who that consensus figure will be, I don’t know. But it is possible to have a council. And that is the Iranian way of kicking the can down the road. But this is what concerns me; and this is also where Obama’s outreach is so short-sighted. Any strategy which empowers the Revolutionary Guard gives the Revolutionary Guard additional powers to impose its will as the next choice. After all, if they’re powerful, they’re not going to subordinate themselves to someone with whom they disagree.
The important thing about this is you have a cycle of radicalization in which the supreme leader picks the most radical, ideologically pure officers to staff the highest levels of the Revolutionary Guard. Those same officers then have predominant influence in choosing the next supreme leader. And so President Obama is not only pursuing a deal which is bad for the United States and Iranians in the short term. He is pursuing a deal which is going to perpetuate this radicalization for at least another generation or two.