On Wednesday, October 2nd, Michael Pregent, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and former intelligence officer, came to IWP to speak on the topic of the misinformation surrounding the Iran nuclear deal and the Trump Administration.
Though focused on the current situation in Iran, Mr. Pregent’s lecture sought to explore the larger question of how the current polarization of the U.S. political climate is affecting our foreign policy. While discussing a recent trip to Europe, Mr. Pregent recalled how any time he would mention Iran in official meetings with EU members of Parliament, responses exclusively consisted of remarks about actions of the Trump Administration. This is a direct reflection of how foreign policy has become an overly politicized issue. In the words of Mr. Pregent, “we have to get back to a place where both Republicans and Democrats look at the Islamic Republic of Iran as a geopolitical foe and dedicated enemy.” To those who claim Iran is acting in reaction to the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out of the Iran deal, Mr. Pregent says we must look to the past to realize this is simply a continuation of a pattern of dangerous behavior.
The initial part of Mr. Pregent’s presentation consisted of a summary of Iranian actions during the past 30+ years, which have demonstrated their unwillingness to work towards effective policy solutions. Since the disclosure of its nuclear program in 2002, Iran has been found to be in breach of Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguards, with various members of the U.N. Security Council calling for tighter scrutiny of this program. These active violations of treaties coupled with additional inflammatory actions towards the U.S. beg the question of whether Iran will follow the guidelines of a future deal if one is created.
Regarding the previous deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the “Iran Deal,” Mr. Pregent stated that he, “believe[s] the JCPOA was unnecessary … the JCPOA was nothing more than a way to get investments in Iran … U.N. Security Council resolutions should be enough.” Rather than providing a strong framework, the JCPOA was weak and allowed for current conditions to develop.
Though many believe that a continued absence of a deal could lead to a war between the U.S. and Iran, Mr. Pregent claimed that “we are looking at [war with Iran] right now.” The U.S. is unlikely to launch a large ground offensive, due to the unsuccess of previous campaigns in the Middle East. Thus, war with Iran will look more like what we see happening currently rather than previous wars in the region.
Outside of Iran, Mr. Pregent also expressed concern on behalf of Iraqi civilians who are eager to set their country back on the right track. Speaking on his time in Iraq, Mr. Pregent stated, “one of my most eye awakening moments in Iraq was asking an Iraqi what his five-year plan was. He looks at me and says, ‘I just want to make sure I have food for tomorrow.’” This is, unfortunately, a reality of life for many Iraqi citizens that has plagued the country for far too long and enables the rise of various insurgency groups. The continued behavior of Iran threatens the sovereignty of an Iraqi populace that is eager for a U.S. presence, not in boots on the ground, but in investment, education, and technology.
Though U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made the current administration position very clear with his 12 demands for a new nuclear treaty, Mr. Pregent stressed that this level of commitment can no longer be taken seriously by our international allies. The polarization of U.S. politics has spilled over into foreign affairs and made the nuclear deal a partisan issue. This means that our allies, who are trying to promote stability in the region, are unable to create long term policy plans with the U.S. because our foreign affairs have now become subject to whether Democrats or Republicans hold the power to enact such policy.
When closing out his speech, Mr. Pregent reminded those in attendance that the most import thing to note is that “we’ve got to get back to a foreign policy that is bi-partisan.” Only then will we be able to work effectively with our allies to move towards a solution to the problem of nuclear proliferation and to promote stability in the Middle East at large.
Mr. Pregent is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute with over 28 years of experience working as an intelligence officer in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia. He is a leading expert on Iranian influence in Iraq, as he was previously an advisor to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s extra-constitutional security body, the Office of the Commander-in-Chief. He holds a Master’s in Strategic Public Relations from The George Washington University and is a graduate of the U.S. Army’s Defense Language Institute in Modern Standard Arabic and Egyptian Dialect. His writings have been published in Foreign Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Al-Jazeera, among other major publications.
This lecture was hosted by IWP Research Professor Dr. Paul Coyer.