STANDOFF WITH IRAN

January 14, 2020 at 4:30 am

Are we on the brink of another war in the Middle East? Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof examines the U.S.-Iran confrontation.

Aired on January 13, 2020.

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>> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO
"METROFOCUS."
I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.
PULITZER PRIZE WINNING AUTHOR
NICHOLAS KRISTOF HAS WRITTEN
EXTENSIVELY ABOUT IRAN AND HAS
VISITED THE COUNTRY A NUMBER OF
TIMES.
IN JUNE OF LAST YEAR, KRISTOF
WARNED THAT PRESIDENT TRUMP AND
IRAN MIGHT BE IN A COLLISION
COURSE, AND THAT IT COULD GET
SCARIER.
WELL, HE WAS RIGHT.
IT HAS.
THE HOSTILITIES BETWEEN THE
UNITED STATES AND IRAN ESCALATED
TO AN UNPRECEDENTED LEVEL AFTER
A SERIES OF IRANIAN PROVOCATIONS
LED TO THE TARGETED KILLING OF
IRANIAN MAJOR GENERAL QASSEM
SOLEIMANI, WIDELY CONSIDERED THE
SECOND MOST POWERFUL MAN IN
IRAN.
GIVEN THOSE EVENTS, THE
CONSEQUENT SHELLING OF IRAQ CAN
I MILITARY BASES AND THE
PRESIDENT'S RESPONSE TO THAT
MISSILE ATTACK, WE HAVE INVITED
KRISTOF BACK ON THE PROGRAM TO
HIS HIS TAKE ON THE STATE OF THE
LATEST CONFLICT.
WELCOME BACK TO THE PROGRAM.
>> GOOD TO BE WITH YOU.
>> SO WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATE
OF THE CONFLICT?
>> IT LOOKS AS IF WE MAY HAVE
FOR THE MOMENT AVOIDED A ALL-OUT
SHOOTING WAR BETWEEN THE IRAN
AND U.S., WHICH WAS A REAL RISK
IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE KILLING
OF GENERAL SOLEIMANI, BUT WE
HAVEN'T SOLVED THE UNDERLYING
ISSUES, AND I WORRY ABOUT TWO
THINGS IN PARTICULAR THAT I
THINK SET US UP FOR
CONFRONTATION DOWN THE ROAD.
ONE IS THAT I THINK IT'S QUITE
LIKELY THAT IRAN WILL RETALIATE
IN OTHER WAYS AGAINST THE UNITED
STATES IN THE COMING MONTHS.
>> DESPITE THE FACT THAT THEY
SAID THIS WAS OUR RESPONSE?
>> THAT'S RIGHT.
I THINK THIS WAS THE OFFICIAL
FORMAL RESPONSE THAT HAS THEIR
NAME ATTACHED TO IT.
AND I THINK THAT THERE WILL BE
OTHER RESPONSES THAT WILL HAVE A
CERTAIN AMOUNT OF PLAUSIBLE
DENIABILITY, WHICH IRAN HAS
TENDED TO DO IN THE PAST.
SO THIS MAY MEAN BLOWING UP OIL
TANKERS IN THE STRAIT OF HORMUZ.
IT MAY BE MORE CYBER ATTACKS.
IT MAY BE A TRUCK EXPLOSION AT A
U.S. FACILITY CLAIMED BY SOME
GROUP THAT NOBODY HAS HEARD OF.
BUT THINGS THAT PEOPLE WILL
SUSPECT THAT IRAN WAS PROBABLY
RESPONSIBLE BUT WON'T BE
ENTIRELY SURE.
AND THERE WILL BE THEN PRESSURE
ON THE U.S. TO RESPOND.
AND THE OTHER IS THE IRANIAN
NUCLEAR PRODUCTION.
AND IN A SENSE, THAT IS THE
UNDERLYING CRISIS.
THAT IS THE DRIVER OF THESE
ISSUES HERE.
PRESIDENT TRUMP WITHDREW FROM
THE NUCLEAR DEAL, IMPOSED MORE
SANCTIONS WITH THE IDEA THAT
MAXIMUM PRESSURE WOULD BRING
IRAN BACK TO THE TABLE.
INSTEAD, IT HAS LED IRAN TO
ENGAGE IN SERIOUS PROVOCATIONS
AND THE U.S. INITIALLY PERHAPS
UNDERRESPONDED TO THEM.
I BELIEVE IT IS LATELY BEEN
OVERRESPONDING IN WAYS THAT ARE
NOT GOING TO LEAD IRAN TO RETURN
TO THE NEGOTIATING TABLE, BUT
MAY WELL LEAD TO IT STRIKE OUT
AND CERTAINLY ARE LEADING IT
BACK TOWARD A NUCLEAR WEAPON.
>> LET'S TALK THAN IN A MOMENT.
BUT, YOU KNOW, SOME CONSERVATIVE
PUNDITS AND CONSERVATIVE
POLITICIANS WHO SUPPORTED THE
KILLING, WHO SUPPORT THE KILLING
OF GENERAL SOLEIMANI WOULD SAY
THAT IF IN FACT THE IRANIANS DO
THESE EVENTS, THESE ACTS, AS YOU
SUGGEST THROUGH PROXIES MOSTLY,
THEN WHAT'S NEW WITH THAT?
THAT'S PAR FOR THE COURSE.
SO THEREFORE, WHAT JUST HAPPENED
WAS A BIG WIN FOR PRESIDENT
TRUMP AND FOR THE UNITED STATES
BECAUSE THEY KILLED THE SECOND
MOST POWERFUL MAN IN IRAN WHO
GENERAL PETRAEUS SAID WAS MUCH
MORE A SIGNIFICANT EVENT THAN
HAVING KILLED BAGHDADI.
>> AND IN RETURN WE GOT THOSE
MISSILES WHERE NOBODY WAS
KILLED.
GOOD TRADE-OFF.
>> SO LET ME PUSH BACK TO THAT.
FIRST OF ALL I SAY THAT AFTER
THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR DEAL IN
2015, THEN IN FACT THINGS WERE
REASONABLY STABLE.
AND SO IRAN, FOR EXAMPLE,
BRIEFLY TOOK A U.S. SHIP IN THE
GULF AND QUICKLY RETURNED IT.
IN FACT IRAN WAS NOT ENGAGING IN
THOSE PROVOCATIONS IN THAT
PERIOD.
SO IT IS TRUE THAT GENERAL
SOLEIMANI WAS A VERY BAD ACTOR
WHO HAD BLOOD ON HIS HANDS.
THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE AROUND
THE WORLD WITH BLOOD ON THEIR
HANDS.
I MEAN KIM JONG-UN IS ABOUT AS
RUTHLESS A TYRANT AS ONE COULD
THINK OF, AND PRESIDENT TRUMP
DID NOT PUT HIM IN A HEADLOCK
AND TRY TO DRAG HIM INTO A JAIL
CELL.
AND IN FACT I THINK ONE OF THE
LESSONS OF THE U.S. TREATMENT OF
NORTH KOREA VERSUS IRAN THAT IS
GOING OUT IS THAT IF YOU
ACTUALLY ALREADY HAVE A NUCLEAR
WEAPON, THEN WE WILL TREAT YOU
WITH SOME RESPECT.
IF YOU DON'T, THEN YOU'RE
VULNERABLE.
>> MAYBE THE OTHER LESSON IS
LET'S NOT HAVE TWO STATES THAT
HAVE NUCLEAR POWER.
WE SHOULDN'T.
>> I THINK THAT IS ABSOLUTELY
RIGHT, AND I THINK THAT IRAN IS
RECKLESS WITHOUT NUCLEAR
WEAPONS.
I WOULD NOT WANT IT TO GET THEM.
THAT'S WHY THE NUCLEAR DEAL IN
2015 WAS SO IMPORTANT, THAT IT
ACTUALLY KEPT IRAN ABOUT 15
YEARS FROM ACTUALLY GETTING A
NUCLEAR WEAPON, AND VERIFIABLY
THEY HAVE INSPECTORS IN PLACE.
NOBODY WAS ACCUSING OF CHEATING
IN A SIGNIFICANT WAY.
PRESIDENT TRUMP HAD A LEGITIMATE
CONCERN.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER 15 YEARS.
THOSE ARE VERY VALID CONCERNS.
BUT THE SOLUTION I THINK WAS NOT
TO AGGRAVATE THE DEAL AND NOW
WE'RE A FEW MONTHS FROM THAT.
>> PART OF THAT DEAL WAS GIVING
IRAN $150 BILLION.
IT WAS THEIR MONEY, BUT THEY
DIDN'T VISIT.
WE HAD IT.
WITH PLUS $1.8 BILLION IN CASH
WHICH THE PRESIDENT IN HIS
SPEECH AFTER THE MISSILE ATTACKS
SAID IT WAS THAT MONEY THAT
BOUGHT THOSE MISSILES, AND IT
WAS THE SUBSERVIENCE MANIFESTED
BY THE DEAL THAT THE UNITED
STATES AND THE WEST MADE THAT
EMBOLDENED IRAN TO GO OUT AND DO
PROVOCATIONS.
HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THAT?
>> SO, YOU KNOW, ALL IN ALL, I
THINK IT'S JUST AS WELL THAT THE
REGIME NOT HAVE MORE MONEY, AND
THE -- I SUSPECT SOME OF THE
MONEY DID GO TOWARD MISSILES AND
OTHER THINGS.
HOWEVER, THAT WAS PART OF THE
COST OF GETTING A DEAL IN WHICH
IRAN GAVE UP MORE THAN 90% OF
ITS NUCLEAR FUEL IN WHICH IT WAS
15 YEARS FROM HAVING NUCLEAR
WEAPON.
I THINK THAT IT WOULD BE HARD TO
FIND ANYBODY WHO THOUGHT THAT WE
ARE BETTER NOW WITH IRAN
SPINNING THE CENTRIFUGES AND
AMASSING NUCLEAR FUEL THAN WE
WERE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO WITH
THOSE CENTRIFUGES STOPPED.
AND PART OF THE COST OF THAT IS
RETURNING SOME OF IRAN'S OWN
MONEY, WHICH WE HAD TO DO AT
SOME POINT, THEN I THINK THAT'S
A DEBATE WORTH DISCUSSING.
BUT IT SEEMS TO ME THAT ON
BALANCE, IT WAS BETTER DEAL.
>> BUT, YOU KNOW, SOME OF THE
PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT THE STEPS
THAT PRESIDENT TRUMP HAS TAKEN
POINT TO THE WAY THAT IRAN
RESPONDED.
MISSILES THAT HIT NO ONE.
AND BY SOME LUCK, INFORMATION
GETTING TO THE UNITED STATES
THREE HOURS BEFORE THE ATTACKS.
>> RIGHT.
>> THEY SAY THIS IS NO ACCIDENT.
THEY SAY THAT THE IRANIANS DID
NOT WANT TO CAUSE CASUALTIES
BECAUSE THEY DON'T WANT A WAR.
AND THAT INDICATES THAT WHEN YOU
FIGHT THEM BACK, THEY BACK OFF.
AND THE PRESIDENT HAS SAID
CLEARLY THAT IF AMERICANS ARE
KILLED, HE'LL RESPOND, AND HE
DID, AND THAT IF THEY DEVELOP
NUCLEAR -- IF THEY GET CLOSE TO
DEVELOPING NUCLEAR ARMS, THEY'LL
RESPOND, AND THEY DID.
IT LOOKS LIKE THE LEADERSHIP IN
IRAN IS PAYING ATTENTION.
ISN'T THAT A GOOD THING?
>> I THINK IT IS VERY TRUE THAT
IRAN'S LEADERS ARE TRYING TO
CALIBRATE THEIR RESPONSE, AND
THAT THEY DON'T WANT AN ALL-OUT
CH
SHOOTING WAR.
IRAN AND THE U.S. ARE TO SOME
DEGREE PLAY TO THEIR DOMESTIC
BASE.
SO LET'S LOOK AT KIND OF WHERE
THINGS STAND AFTER THE KILLING
OF GENERAL SOLEIMANI AND WHAT WE
GAINED AND WHAT WE LOST.
SO WE DID REMOVE A PARTICULARLY
ADEPT AND STRATEGICALLY ON THE
IRANIAN SIDE WHO WAS PROMPTLY
REPLACED.
THAT PROBABLY DID HELP
REESTABLISH DETERRENTS, WHICH
ONE OF THE PROBLEMS IS IRAN
BECAME MORE PROVOCATIVE LAST
MAY, AND WE DIDN'T REALLY
RESPOND TO A SERIES OF
PROVOCATIONS.
WE PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE DONE --
TAKEN SOME STEPS TO ESTABLISH
THAT DETERRENT.
NOW WE HAVE REESTABLISHED THAT
DETERRENCE, BUT AT WHAT COST?
I THINK IT'S QUITE LIKELY THAT
WE WILL END UP PUSHED ENTIRELY
OR MOSTLY OUT OF IRAQ, GIVING --
WHICH IS REALLY SOMETHING THAT
GENERAL SOLEIMANI HAD STRIVED
FOR DURING HIS LIFE.
>> AS YOU WROTE IN THE PIECE, HE
IS GOING TO GET IN DEATH WHAT HE
COULDN'T GET IN LIFE.
>> EXACTLY.
AND THAT IS A STRATEGIC GAIN FOR
IRAN.
WITHOUT A U.S. PRESENCE IN IRAQ,
IT WILL BE A LOT HARDER TO
SUSTAIN THE U.S. PRESENCE IN
SYRIA.
WE MAY HAVE TO PULL OUT THOSE
THOUSAND ODD TROOPS WHICH WILL
BE ANOTHER GAIN FOR IRAN.
IN THE COURSE OF THIS, WE'VE HAD
TO SUSPEND OUR EFFORT AGAINST
ISIS, WHICH GIVES IT A CHANCE TO
REGROUP.
>> AS MOST PEOPLE PERHAPS DON'T
KNOW, THIS IS A WAR THAT WHERE
THE UNITED STATES AND IRAN WERE
UNFRIENDLY ALLIES, BUT WERE
ALLIES AGAINST ISIS.
>> THAT'S RIGHT.
THAT'S RIGHT.
THERE ARE TRADE-OFFS.
AND I DO THINK THERE IS
SOMETHING TO BE SAID FOR TAKING
OUT A BAD GUY WITH BLOOD ON HIS
HANDS WHERE IT CAN BE DONE.
I THINK THERE IS SOMETHING TO
BE SAID FOR ESTABLISHING
DETERRENTS.
IN THIS CASE, I LOOK AT THE
TRADE-OFFS, AND I DON'T THINK
THAT IT WAS WORTH IT, AND I
THINK THE COSTS ARE MUCH GREATER
THAN THE GAINS, AND I'D ALSO SAY
THAT WE HAVEN'T EXPERIENCED THE
COSTS YET.
I THINK THAT THERE WILL BE MORE
THINGS BLOWN UP.
>> CLOSER TO, THAT WE HAVE ABOUT
15 SECONDS, 20 SECONDS LEFT.
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE IN THE
NEXT FEW WEEKS, NEXT FEW MONTHS?
>> I DON'T KNOW IF IT WILL BE IN
THE NEXT FEW WEEKS.
I THINK IN THE NEXT FEW MONTHS,
WE'RE GOING TO HAVE A SERIES OF
ESCALATING THREATS AND CRISES
OVER THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR
PROGRAM, AND I THINK WE WILL
HAVE SOME MYSTERIOUS EXPLOSIONS
OR INCIDENTS THAT ARE
PROBABLY -- THAT ARE GENERALLY
ATTRIBUTED TO IRAN BUT WITHOUT
QUITE CERTAINTY.
>> OKAY.
>> I WISH I HAD BETTER -- MORE
OPTIMISTIC PREDICTIONS.
>> WE'LL SEE IF THAT HAPPENS.
WE'LL BRING YOU BACK.
HOPEFULLY WHEN SOMETHING LIKE
THAT DOESN'T HAPPEN.
>> I HOPE SO.
>> OKAY, THNICK, THANK YOU SO
MUCH.
>> GOOD TOBY WITH YOU.

Funders

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