Last Friday, I moderated a panel at Hudson Institute titled, “Why is Qassem Suleimani Smiling? The Iran Deal and Sanctions Relief for Terrorists.” (See video of the event here.) The panel’s focus was not speculative—for instance, how the regime might spend the signing bonus promised by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or how the deal might moderate the regime, or reconfigure Iranian society—but rather looked at the regime’s actual behavior over the last 36 years. In particular, the panel discussed Iran’s acts of terror against Americans, especially servicemen and women.
The panel included three career, now retired, U.S. army officers, all with first-hand knowledge of Iran’s war against America—Captain (retired) Michael Pregent, Colonel (retired) Derek Harvey, and General (retired) Jack Keane. Pregent, a former intelligence officer and now executive director of Veterans Against the Deal, talked about the physical suffering and mental anguish that the Iranian regime has brought to American homes (here’s heart-wrenching testimony from Robert Bartlett, a combat veteran who was severely wounded in Iraq). Harvey, another former intelligence officer who worked with General David Petraeus in Iraq, and has concentrated on the Iran account for two decades, described not only Iranian strategy and tactics but also the character of particular IRGC officers, like Suleimani himself. Keane, a retired four-star who served for 37 years, filled in the big picture, explaining what it would mean for American interests if Iran came to control the Persian Gulf.
The three panelists provided both interesting details and larger perspectives with which to understand the ongoing conflict with Iran. I only wish that we’d had more time to delve further into the issues. For instance, I’d have liked to hear more details of Harvey’s interrogations of IRGC officers. And is it true that American forces once had Suleimani in their crosshairs, but our political leaders decided against killing a man responsible for killing so many Americans? As Keane explained, both Republican as well as Democratic administrations have neglected to punch back against the Iranians, leading to where we are now.
For me, the most striking observation was when Keane noted that while it’s true the Iranians do not now pose the same sort of threat to America that the Soviets did during the Cold War, the Soviets also did not attack American forces, and civilians, directly, as the Iranians have done since 1979. It’s worth considering how the JCPOA, and a multi-billion dollar cash windfall, might further embolden an aggressive regime that’s been making war against the United States for more than three decades.