Paul: Welcome to the Journal Editorial Report, I’m Paul Gigot. A new year and a new set of challengers for President Trump both at home and abroad. We begin in the Middle East with the Pentagon confirming Thursday night that the powerful commander of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp General Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad Airport. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling Fox on Friday that President Trump made a necessary decision.
[Video of Pompeo Statement]
Mark Dubowitz is Chief executive of the FDD, Welcome Mark good to see you again. SO i was reading your twitter feed and i noticed that you were saying that this killing of Soul might be more significant even than the killing of Osama bin Laden, how so?
Mark: Paul, Qassem Soleimani for 23 years has dominated the Mid East. I mean if you can imagine a combination of our joint Special Operations Commander with our Joint Chiefs of Staff with our CIA Director, Foreign Minister, or Secretary of State — you roll all that into one man and that Qassem Soleimani.
Paul: Really? So he had that much influence?
Mark: Huge influence, huge power. Really somebody to be admired for his prowess and his operational capacity as well as his tactical brilliance. I mean he really has created an enormous difficulties for US interests. As Sec. Pompeo said, he has American blood on his hand as well as the blood of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iranians and Lebanese and Iraqi. This is a consequential move by the president and president trump really deserves enormous credit.
Paul: Let’s talk about the impact in the Mid east. First of all the impact inside Iran. The Ayatollah Khamenei had said before this that the US could do nothing at all to stop what Iran did. Clearly he was wrong about that. But what happens next in Iran? Are they going to strike back here? They’re promising to do so.
Mark: Look, this was a severe blow to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. I mean, Soleimani was his left hand and his right hand. He was the second most powerful man in Iran after the Supreme Leader, answered directly to him, not through the chain of command. And so the regime is going to have to strike back and the real question is how and where? And they’ve certainly learned to their horror that President Trump unlike previous presidents was willing to enforce red lines, specifically a red line against taking US casualties. And so I think they’re gonna have to be very careful about striking out at US personnel or US interests. But again, their is to go after our allies, hit oil facilities, go after tankers, but Iraq will probably be the main battleground. They want to drive us out and if they can drive us out that certainly would be a testament to Soleimani and that was, after all, Soleimani’s objective — to drive the United States out of Iraq and out of the Middle East. I think that’ll be the main battleground.
Paul: But I guess the question they face is, do you really target Americans? Do you target our diplomats? Do you target our military troops that are on the ground? We have about 5,000 of them in Iraq. Because if you do and you end up killing Americans, the message from this attack on Soleimani is we will strike back and I assume that that would not be limited just to Iraq.
Mark: Well I think that’s exactly right. I mean I think President Trump has made that very clear again that he will enforce the red line against the taking of American lives. And so that kind of escalation would be enormously risky for the regime because they could be risking their military, they could be risking the survival of the regime itself. So again, their traditional playbook will maybe do everything short of that — go after US allies, go after the assets of our allies, go after energy resources. And inside Iraq, perhaps create massive demonstrations, rally these Shiite militias, and certainly work against us politically to try and force the Iraqi government to force us out of that country.
Paul: Right, but there’s a split point of view inside Iraq about the Iranian presence. I mean, some of the protests in recent weeks have been against the Iranian meddling in Iraq, although it is true that the Prime Minister denounced the American attack on Soleimani and so did the Ayatollah Sistani the Shiite leader. How do you see that playing out? I mean can we, do you think we’ll be able to maintain a presence inside Iraq?
Mark: It’s a good question, I mean you’re exactly right. I mean actually for months hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including especially Shiite Iraqis have been on the streets protesting against Iran, against Iranian imperialism, yelling ‘death to the dictator,’ ‘Iran out of our country.’ And so certainly Iraqi nationalism has been fueled by the heavy hand of Iranian imperialism in that country. So it may be very difficult for Iranians to rally the Iraqis around the Iranian flag. But again politically it’ll kill the enormous pressure, the popular mobilization unit which is banded together all these Iranian-backed Shiite militias has enormous influence in the Iraqi political system and in the Iraqi parliament. And so I expect that they will be to try and force this out politically and try to force the hand of the Iraqi politicians to defend Iran and defend Iraqi sovereignty and try to force us out of that country.
Paul: What’s the larger impact of this and then in the Middle East more broadly? Because there’s been real concern there particularly after the president’s pledge to get out of — impulsive move to get out of Syria twice which he’s twice taken back, but maybe he wants to get out. Does this send a reassuring message to some of the rest of the region?
Mark: Look, I hope it does and I think it should, but it really depends on President Trump’s next move. I mean how does her respond to regime’s escalation? How does he respond to more violent attacks against our allies? If the message is you can go after our allies as long as you don’t kill Americans, they’re not going to be reassured. If the message is, “the United States is here to stay in the Middle East, we’re going to be very selective but very deadly about how we use military force. We’re not going to have a huge footprint, but the footprint we have will be there to defend US interests and US allies,” then I think it’s quite a devastating blow to the regime in Iran which did not expect this from Donald Trump.
Mark: It certainly did not expect this. I mean, I think no one expected this from Donald Trump. I mean it was only, you know, two months ago that I was calling Donald Trump a Twitter tiger —
Mark: — and now I take it back. I mean I commend him for doing what no other US president in 23 years was willing to do, which is to take out this master terrorist. So I think Donald Trump’s next move is going to be the very important move. And that’s the move that our allies and our adversaries will be looking at.
Paul: All right. Mark Dubowitz, very instructive. Thanks for coming in.
Mark: Thanks so much for having me, Paul.
Brooke: Mark Dubowitz is the CEO for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Mark, thank you so much for coming on. I wanted to talk to you specifically because you and your organization know all too well what it’s like to be a target of Iran’s, and I know, I’ve read your organization has described this as a badge of honor. I know that you through this ordeal were in touch with the FBI. What was it really like to have that kind of bullseye on your back?
Mark: Well Brooke, thanks for having me on. Yeah, Brooke look, it was obviously very concerning when the leading state sponsor or terrorism that’s been responsible for assassinations and terrorist campaigns around the world for decades puts a bullseye on your back and believes that a guy who runs a think tank represents a national security threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran. So, we’re obviously hardening our defenses, we’re in touch with the FBI, we’re taking it seriously. But we’re also redoubling our efforts to explain to Americans why this is such a dangerous and threatening regime.
Brooke: So since you have that experience, I mean you know, you’ve seen what’s happened, you’ve also tweeted that Soleimani’s death is bigger than the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, and you also called him “irreplaceable.” So given that you have experienced first hand Iranian retaliation and given the stakes now, what kind of consequences could the U.S. be facing here?
Mark: Well obviously, the consequences could be quite severe. Iran has been at war with us for forty years since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Unfortunately, we haven’t taken that war as seriously as we need to. I mean they’ve obviously killed and maimed thousands of Americans as well as hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners and Europeans and others. Their abilities in the Middle East are quite profound and Qassem Soleimani really represented that. I mean, he was in some respects a combination of the CIA director, the Foreign Minister or Secretary of State, and the commander of Joint Special Operations Command. He had all those roles together and so he really was uniquely and profoundly important to the Islamic Republic. I think their ability to strike back at us will be undermined by his death but they certainly retained some pretty waring capabilities.
Brooke: I suppose the obvious question is, you know, is this administration prepared to handle it. Because you have worked with this White House in the past, do you think they have a plan for whatever the next steps may be?
Mark: Yeah, I’ve worked with three administrations on Iran policy and certainly three administrations have had plans they’ve also seen those plans go out the window as they face increased Iranian escalation. I think this administration has a plan, it’s called maximum pressure. I think they’ve been implementing it that plan quite vigorously over the past three years and I think what we saw, which was surprising, a couple days ago is that the maximum pressure campaign which had really been an economic campaign with doubling down on the sanction’s pressure, has now turned into one using military pressure and has turned into one using military force and trying to reestablish the military deterrence that I think had been so significantly undermined over the past three, if not more, administrations as we didn’t respond to Iranian violence with proper measures and proper deterrence.
Brooke: So that sounds like we don’t know. We don’t know, only the administration knows if we have a plan moving forward and what that retaliation may look like. Mark Dubowitz, thank you so much, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. I appreciate your insight.
Trump’s sanctions are the right way to take on Iran
Trump’s maximum pressure campaign has precipitated a huge economic and political crisis for this regime with millions of people in the streets.
The following is an excerpt:
The Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign has precipitated a huge economic and political crisis for this regime with millions of people in the streets of the Middle East protesting against the regime, and a collapsing economy that is creating enormous difficulties for the mullahs to fund both butter for their people and guns for their terrorists. It’s also denied this regime money for their destructive and repressive activities. The United States is maximizing its negotiating leverage against a weakened regime and really providing an opportunity for Iran’s leaders to come back to the table to negotiate a much more comprehensive agreement that deals with the full range of Iran’s malign activities.
Read Mark’s piece for National Post here.
Eric: So, what does all this mean? Mark Dubowitz joins us, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an advisor to the Trump administration on Iran issues. So Mark, before we get to Iran which you know so well, do you think countries are really going to take their citizens back to join ISIS? I mean you got France and Germany, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority. I mean, do they have any choice?
Mark: Well, Eric, I think they’re very reluctant obviously, to take back these ISIS fighters because many of them are hardened terrorists who ultimately could find themselves released back into European society and become terrorists once again. And it’s also very difficult to separate who are the hardened terrorists from those who can be rehabilitated separate the incorrigible from the corrigible. But ultimately, this is Turkey’s responsibility. It was Erdogan who opened his border to foreign fighters, to jihadists that were coming in and crossing that border into Syria, and he’s also created havoc now by invading Syria and forcing the Kurds who are guarding these prisons to fight against his military rather than keeping these terrorists under lock and key.
Eric: So basically, Erdogan has made his bed, now it’s time for him to stay in it.
Mark: Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, I think the responsibility is also with the Europeans. I mean, they’re either going to have to take these prisoners back into European territory, or they’re going to have to help the Kurds build the appropriate facilities and provide them with the financing to keep these prisoners where they are. But ultimately, the Europeans are also going to have to pull their weight.
Eric: There are about 10,000 or so ISIS prisoners that we believe at 2,500 from the European countries. I mean, let’s say you’re in France and there was a bulk of them from France, they’re now being held by Turkey, what does France do with them? I mean let’s say you bring them back; do you keep them in prison? Do they get due process if they’re considered terrorists? What kind of legal system is there, or do they get really basically a gitmo situation? And can they be rehabilitated?
Mark: France doesn’t have gitmo. I mean I think the Bush administration made a wise decision in creating gitmo so that we could deal with these hardened prisoners. It’s very difficult to deal with them through the normal legal processes and that’s why the French don’t want them back because they understand that through the normal judicial system, some of these terrorists may end up getting released and becoming terrorists again. So the French I think really want to stay where they are. And if they do, they’re going to have to help the Kurds. They’re also going to have to work with our administration in stopping Erdogan from invading this territory and fighting the Kurds who are otherwise our last line of defense against these ISIS terrorists.
Eric: Well then why doesn’t Erdogan step up? I mean as you say, he caused this crisis, so why doesn’t he step up and have Turkey build these prisons. I mean, he’s responsible for it now, he’s pushing on that 20-mile safety zone. The Kurds are the victims in this, so why doesn’t Erdogan and his country step up, you know, and take responsibility?
Mark: You’re exactly right. Erdogan should be stepping up. Unfortunately, Erdogan right now is using these ISIS prisoners as well as all refugees as a threat against Europe. He keeps threatening to basically unleash these refugees, send them all home, send them to Europe. Europe, as you know, has faced a massive refugee crisis over the years which has only intensified their national security crisis, and as Americans, you know, we should also be careful because the European security services in some respects, are our last line o defense against a terrorist jumping on a plane in Paris or Frankfurt or London and flying to Washington or Chicago or New York. So these overburdened European security services are again, our last line of defense, and the last thing we want is another refugee crisis engulfing Europe.
Eric: That is so important. Erdogan is basically, in your view, weaponizing these terrorists against us and our Western allies.
Eric: you just mentioned the threat of terrorism, let me read you that state department report that has come out yesterday about all this: “homegrown terrorists, inspired by ISIS ideology, planned and executed attacks against soft targets, including hotels, restaurants, stadiums, and other public spaces.” Yet it says, “Iran remains the world’s worst sponsor of terrorism. The regime has spent nearly one billion dollars per year to support terrorist groups that serve as its proxies and expand its malign influence across the globe.” And Mark you yourself, personally and your group the foundation for defense of democracies have been targeted by Tehran for the good work that you’re doing for freedom and liberty across the globe. Do you think Iran with ever get the message? Do you think Iran can ever change their behavior? Do you think the mullahs and the theocracy in Tehran will ever pull back from this radical jihadist philosophy that they have that has spread terrorism across the world?
Mark: Well Eric, I don’t. I mean, and I think it’s always really important to draw a real clear distinction between clerical military dictatorship that occupies Iran and Iran itself. I mean, the Iranian people, the majority of whom despise this dictatorship and want to have a normal life, a free and prosperous life and have been living for 40 years under this kind of repression at home and having to deal with the regime that practices aggression abroad. And as you quite rightly said, I mean they spend billions of dollars supporting terrorism, supporting Bashar Assad’s brutality in Syria. They are the leading state sponsor of terrorism this year, but they have been for many years and they have the resources as a state, as an oil-rich state, to fund this kind of malign activity. And as well as you noted, thank you for noting this, they threatened me, they threatened my organization, and they’re a regime that really threatens all Americans because they are trying to build nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missiles to deliver them. That’s a significant threat to the homeland above and beyond terrorist threat they represent.
Eric: Nuclear weapons as well as plots that they’ve been busted on both in Europe against citizens and against Americans and plots here right on US soil convicted, allegedly they say by Tehran. Mark Dubowitz, the foundation for defense of democracies. Mark, thank you.