While some people may think that Washington achieved its Iran-linked antiterrorism goal with the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, it appears that they would be sadly mistaken. A recent interview that appeared in a London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat with United States Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, has telegraphed Washington's future moves against Iran which I will outline in this posting. Since the interview was posted in Arabic on Asharq al-Awsat, I have used Google Translate to translate the entire interview into English.
Let's look at some background before we look at what Mr. Hook had to say to Asharq al-Awsat. Brian Hook, educated as a lawyer, has had several key positions in Republican administrations starting as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Special Assistant to the President for Policy in the White House Chief of Staff's office during the Bush II Administration. He worked on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign as a staff advisor on foreign policy and was the foreign policy director for Governor Tim Pawlenty's presidential campaign. He served as the Director for Policy Planning in the Trump Administration from February 2017 to September 1, 2018 when he was took over his current position after the firing of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Here is his background as supplied by the United States Department of State:
"Hook will lead a newly established Iran Action Group to coordinate the State Department’s pressure campaign on Iran, Pompeo told a news conference on Thursday.
The appointment came despite the fact that Hook had opposed Trump’s exit from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran….
Hook has been leading the State Department’s talks with allies in Europe and Asia to persuade them to support US sanctions and cut off Iran’s oil supplies as of November.
“The Iran Action Group will be responsible for directing, reviewing and coordinating all aspects of the State Department’s Iran-related activity, and will report directly to me,” Reuters quoted Pompeo as saying.
Hook, who was a close adviser to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, worked with US national security advisor John Bolton on Iran sanctions while Bolton was the US Ambassador to the United Nations under Republican President George W. Bush.
He also served as an assistant secretary of state during the Bush administration and was an adviser to the Republican presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.
According to Foreign Policy, for over a year, Hook was one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes officials at the State Department. He was one of Tillerson’s closest confidants, as career diplomats were shut out of policy deliberations and senior State Department posts went unfilled.
Tillerson’s unceremonious sacking via Twitter earlier this year was accompanied by other dismissals and resignations among senior appointees and secretary staff. But Hook survived the purge and helped shepherd Pompeo through a contentious confirmation process on Capitol Hill.
Some analysts view the announcement as more symbolism than substance. “There were no new resources, no new strategy, and no new authorities announced [for the action group],” said Brett Bruen, a former US diplomat who now runs the Global Situation Room, a Washington consulting firm.
“Instead, it should be interpreted as a typical Washington move to create the appearance of action by putting in the title,” Bruen added.
Dennis Ross, a former US official in Democratic and Republican administrations, also said Hook’s new post might be a bureaucratic maneuver.
“It creates an address within the administration for … making the approach a more coherent one, with someone being given broader responsibility across departments to try to shape the policy,” said Ross, now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. “At least that would be theory.” However, some other analysts say since Trump shows no tolerance toward his opponents, the new mandate given to Hook is “strange”. They say the appointment on the anniversary of the 1953 coup shows neocons are firm to heighten economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran.
They are of the opinion that for Washington “regime change” is given priority over “change of behavior”. (my bolds)
Given Mr. Hook's past association with John "I never saw a war I didn't like until it was my turn to serve" Bolton, I think we have a pretty good idea of his views on Iran. If you want to get a better sense of Mr. Hook's philosophy on Iran, please watch this relatively short video of a press briefing held on December 5, 2019:
As well, here is a quote from his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 16, 2019 with was dealing with Washington's relationship with Iran:
"Furthermore, under the deal, Iran was given a clear pathway to import and export dangerous arms. Two days from now, on October 18th, we will be exactly one year away from the expiration of the UN arms embargo on Iran. Because of the Iran nuclear deal, countries like Russia and China will be able to sell conventional weapons to Iran. The Iranian regime will also be free to sell weapons to anyone. This will trigger a new arms race in the Middle East.
The moment Iran is allowed to buy advanced drones, missiles, tanks, and jets, it will do so. This will be a win for its proxies across the region, who will use such arms to then attack other nations on Iran’s behalf. The United Nations Security Council needs to renew the arms embargo on Iran before it expires. We have made this a priority….
In recent months, Iran has launched a series of attacks in a panicked bid to intimidate the world into halting our pressure. Iran was responsible for the attacks at the Port of Fujairah, the assault on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, and the attack on Saudi oil facilities at Abqaiq.
Iran should meet diplomacy with diplomacy, not with terror, bloodshed, and extortion. Our diplomacy does not entitle Iran to undertake violence against any nation or to threaten maritime security.
This Administration does not seek armed conflict with Iran. We have been equally clear to the regime that we will defend our citizens, forces, and interests, including against attacks by Iran or its proxies." (my bold)
Remember the statement – Washington does not seek armed conflict with Iran as you read the remainder of this posting.
With that background, let's look at two key excerpts from Mr. Hook's interview with Asharq al-Awsat, particularly the portion relating to the recent assassination of Qassem Soleimani with all bolds being mine.
Question – After the American operation that targeted Soleimani, it was reported that the initial European response was disappointing to Washington. How true is that? And did you threaten the Europeans with imposing customs duties if they refused your support?
Brian Hook – I will not comment on bilateral talks with the Europeans. But we gained broad support for the defense work we did to protect US diplomats and soldiers, and to prevent a massive and imminent attack that Soleimani was planning on US diplomats and soldiers in the region. The most dangerous terrorist in the world neutralized us from the battlefield. As a result, the region will be safer, because Soleimani was the "gum" that brings together Iran's agents in the region, and his death will create a vacuum that the (Iranian) regime will not be able to fill…
Question – Iran has appointed Qaani as the successor to Suleimani at the head of the "Quds Force". What do you know about him? Will he adopt a different strategy from his predecessor, and have you received threats from him?
Brian Hook – If Qaani continues the approach of killing Americans, he will meet the same fate. For years, President Trump has been clear that any attack on Americans or American interests will be met with a decisive response, as the President demonstrated on January 2. Consequently, this is not a new threat, as the President has always said that he will respond decisively to protect American interests.
And I think the Iranian regime now understands that it cannot attack America and deliver on it. We will hold the regime and its agents responsible for any attack on Americans or American interests in the region.
Question – American interests only? What about the allies in the region?
Brian Hook – No, we have also talked about our allies in the past, and we work closely with them. Consequently, the response is not limited to that (i.e. an Iranian assault on American citizens and interests).
And, to switch gears momentarily, this exchange is most interesting:
Question – The United States has expressed support for the Iranian demonstrators, do you think they welcome this support?
Brian Hook – We know they welcome it. And President Trump's tweet in Persian broke the Twitter numbers. When we look at last November's demonstrations, we see brave Iranian women tearing the flags of "Death to America", as we see brave demonstrators burning the images of the Supreme Leader and tearing up the pictures of Qasim Soleimani. I think that the international media does not do a good job conveying the true beliefs of the Iranian people. They (the Iranians) hate this system and love America, and they want to witness a partnership between Iran and the United States. The Iranian and American peoples share a lot, and this system has separated us over 40 years.
We will continue to support the Iranian people. Countries around the world are not making enough efforts to stand by the Iranians, and they have suffered the most from the regime. We would like to see more countries follow our example, and stand with the Iranians and against the Iranian regime."
As I quoted earlier in this posting, Brian Hook has made it abundantly clear that Washington is not interested in having Iran change its behaviour, it is interested only in regime change in Iran.
Let's close this posting with a thought. America's Special Representative to Iran has stated very clearly that Washington will, once again, assassinate the current head of Quds, Esmail Qaani, if they deem that he has any connection to an attack on any American personnel or interests as well as any attack on its allies in the region, stating that he will suffer the same fate as his predecessor. Remembering that Mr. Hood testified before Congress that Washington does not seek armed conflict with Iran, this most recent threat seems to be a very odd way to achieve that goal. Why is it that many of those who occupy positions of influence in Washington are the same people who have never served in combat but are quite willing to sacrifice the young men and women of Main Street America for their nebulous causes?
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