- Jeffrey Sachsleading economist and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.
President Trump’s comments at the United Nations General Assembly urging the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal sounded familiar to our guest, Jeffrey Sachs. “The last time we had this kind of rhetoric was George W. Bush with the axis of evil,” Sachs said. “It was immediately followed by the Iraq War, which was the most disastrous single step of American military action and 'diplomacy,' or anti-diplomacy, in modern times. So this is a setup, again, for war, for conflict. And it is extraordinarily ignorant and dangerous. Iran is in compliance with the agreement that was reached.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to President Trump’s comments also on Tuesday at the General Assembly, when he slammed the Iran nuclear deal.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it. Believe me. It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran’s government end its pursuit of death and destruction. It is time for the regime to free all Americans and citizens of other nations that they have unjustly detained. And above all, Iran’s government must stop supporting terrorists, begin serving its own people and respect the sovereign rights of its neighbors.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Trump speaking on Tuesday, saying that the Iran nuclear deal is an embarrassment to the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: And NBC is reporting that he is going to decertify.
JEFFREY SACHS: The last time we had this kind of rhetoric was George W. Bush with the axis of evil. It was immediately followed by the Iraq War, which was the most disastrous single step of American military action and, quote, “diplomacy,” or anti-diplomacy, in modern times. So this is a setup, again, for war, for conflict. And it is extraordinarily ignorant and dangerous. Iran is in compliance with the agreement that was reached. That’s—
AMY GOODMAN: Rex Tillerson has said that.
JEFFREY SACHS: He has said that. And it’s an agreement that is reached not just with the United States, but with the U.K., with France, with Russia, with China, with Germany, with all of the permanent members of the Security Council. It’s endorsed by the world. And, of course, this is Trump in this kind of bizarre sense of grievance, arrogance and ignorance that absolutely is a prelude to conflict.
AMY GOODMAN: And now Iran is saying that they may start enriching uranium.
JEFFREY SACHS: Iran is, of course—
AMY GOODMAN: Responding to President Trump.
JEFFREY SACHS: —bewildered. But after the deal was made, Iran had elections, and the moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, was re-elected, despite opposition from hardliners. And the U.S. response is to provoke. Now, why is this happening? Because two U.S. allies—Israel and Saudi Arabia—are luring our ignorant president into this kind of vehemence. This is Israeli and Saudi policy, Saudis because of the Sunni-Shia conflict and battle for regional power, Israel because of its own narrow concerns. And all the United States is doing, Trump is doing, is being lured into this and making the U.S. unsafe and making the world unsafe. It’s shocking.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, one of his first meetings on Monday was with Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister—Trump’s.
JEFFREY SACHS: Netanyahu is a threat, absolutely, and is a provocation and is gunning for war with Iran, and has been for years. And Trump is playing into his hand.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But as you say—you said that, you know, Trump is an ignorant president who’s being drawn into this by Saudi Arabia and Israel, so let’s assume that that’s true. You’ve also criticized Congress for ceding authority to this imperial presidency. And your assumption is, which is probably correct, that if Rex Tillerson and other members of his administration dealing with foreign policy continue to work with him, then that’s an implicit acknowledgment that they side with whatever it is that he’s saying. So, within the U.S. government, Congress or the executive, there’s no limit on what Trump can do. What you’re suggesting is no one will stand in the way of whatever it is that Trump intends to do, whether it’s to go to war or whatever it is that he decides.
JEFFREY SACHS: I believe the American people who do not want war—and we need to avoid war—need to speak out right now, because I believe these are the drumbeats of war. We’ve heard them many times before. Our government absolutely is war-oriented. We have a deep security state which believes in overthrowing other countries. We have a secret army called the CIA, which is engaged in covert wars all over the world. And we have a president who is openly provocative, openly gunning for war, it seems, with these two countries and heaven knows how many more.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been writing about Afghanistan.
JEFFREY SACHS: Well, Afghanistan has been in the U.S. gun sights since 1979. We know that the CIA went into a secret war in Afghanistan back in 1979 to try to lure the Soviet Union. And the Soviet Union said, “We’re going into Afghanistan in part because there’s destabilization by the CIA.” Everybody laughed, “Oh, look at the Soviet propaganda and conspiracy.” It was absolutely true, revealed by U.S. authorities decades later. Since then, that country has been in constant war. We have profoundly destabilized it. We invaded in 2001.
Trump has said during the campaign—it was one of the few glimmers of sanity, rationality—said we shouldn’t be in there. But, of course, once he got into the Oval Office, the generals assembled. He’s surrounded by generals, remember—his chief of staff, his national security adviser, his secretary of defense. Those are civilian positions in American tradition. They’re all generals. And they’re telling him, “You expand the military reach in Afghanistan.” We also found out that they had been lying about how many American military were actually in Afghanistan for years, keeping the number lower than the truth by various tricks of rotations and accounting and the timing. So, we don’t even know what really goes on with our secret wars. But Trump is absolutely not stopping any of it.