Is Trump Trying to Start a War With Iran?

Donald Trump violated the Iran nuclear deal this week. Are we one step closer to war?

NAHAL OZ, ISRAEL - APRIL 13: (ISRAEL OUT) Israeli soldiers take positions as Palestinian gathered for a protest on the Israel-Gaza border on April 13, 2018 in Netivot, Israel. Thousands of Gaza residents assembled on Friday at the border with Israel to stage another protest as part of their "March of Return" for a third consecutive week.  (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
NAHAL OZ, ISRAEL - APRIL 13: (ISRAEL OUT) Israeli soldiers take positions as Palestinian gathered for a protest on the Israel-Gaza border on April 13, 2018 in Netivot, Israel. Thousands of Gaza residents assembled on Friday at the border with Israel to stage another protest as part of their "March of Return" for a third consecutive week. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images) Photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Subscribe to the Deconstructed podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherRadio Public, and other platforms. New to podcasting? Click here.



When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a presentation purporting to reveal new intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program last week, many suspected he had an audience of one in mind: Donald Trump. And on Tuesday, the president cited the Israeli intel as one of the key justifications for his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. Does this move us one step closer to war with Iran? Has John Bolton taken the helm of U.S. foreign policy? On this week’s Deconstructed podcast, Tommy Vietor, who served as spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council under President Obama, breaks down Trump’s latest and scariest political gambit.

Tommy Vietor: I mean, there’s just no case I can understand that explains why he did this on the merits. So that to me leads to the second option for why he did it, which is that he hates Obama.

[Musical interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan and I’ll be trying this week to understand why Donald Trump made this mad decision on Tuesday:

President Donald J. Trump: I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

MH: So what happens now? My guest this week is the host of Pod Save the World and co-founder of the Crooked Media podcasting empire, Tommy Vietor, who also served as National Security Council spokesman under President Obama, who, of course, is the one who negotiated the nuclear deal that Trump trashed.

TV: To sort of throw that strategy out the window without anything to replace it, does feel like a partisan dogmatic, stupid thing to do from the neo-cons in the White House, now.

MH: Before I get to that interview, this week, I want to try to do something different. Recently, I was watching Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu do an entire PowerPoint presentation on the Iran deal, and on why the Iranians are supposedly lying and cheating, which was basically designed for Donald Trump to watch and lap up: the president of the United States was Bibi’s audience of one.

Now, I know it’s too late, Trump’s made his decision, but I want to try and do the same as Bibi. I want to try and speak directly to the president of the United States today — because obviously he’s a Deconstructed listener — and explain to him as simply as possible why his announcement on Tuesday was so monumentally disastrous and self-destructive. So, here we go.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want to talk to you about your decision to breach the Iran deal, because I think you’ve been kind of misled by some of the people around you. Especially the guy with the moustache!

And I know you must be busy, with golf games to play and porn stars to pay off. So I am going to keep this as simple and to the point as possible.

Mr. President, the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA, was working. And it wasn’t just working; it was in the national security interest of the United States. Don’t take my word for it: listen to your own defense secretary, retired General James Mattis, who you love, by the way.

DJT: Secretary Mattis, who is doing a great job, thank you. [Audience applauds.]

MH: Mattis said he backed the deal, on the basis of reading it three times.

General James Mattis: I’ve read it now three times, all 156 pages or whatever it is, the verification, what is in there is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability to get in.

MH: It’s robust and intrusive, he said! Your own guy! Yet you declared in the White House on Tuesday:

DJT: We cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement. The Iran deal is defective at its core.

MH: Well, hold on, how many times did you read it before you decided to tear the whole deal up?

OK, that’s unfair, you’re a busy man. You’re the president. I mean, “Fox & Friends” doesn’t watch itself. And I know, the deal document doesn’t have any colorful pictures in it, it’s hard to follow, I get it. I do.

But it wasn’t just Defense Secretary Mattis who wanted you to stay in the deal, as you know. There’s General Joseph Dunford, too, America’s top general, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff; General John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command; General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, CentCom. They all said to you, to Congress, that Iran was complying with the terms of the deal, that the deal had prevented Iran from building nuclear weapons. And yet, you just ignored them! Said the exact opposite of what they said!

Look, Mr. President: I know right now you want to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the war on the Korean peninsula. You really want one, don’t you?

[Audience chants, “Nobel! Nobel! Nobel!”]

DJT: That’s very nice. Thank you. Nobel! [He laughs.]

MH: But do you really think the North Korean government is going to do a nuclear deal with you if you’ve violated the nuclear deal that was done with Iran? Why would they trust you to stick to any agreement? I mean, we all know you’re a prolific liar whose word has no value, but by violating the Iran deal this week, by announcing you’re pulling out, you sent a message to the world that the U.S. government as a whole cannot be trusted either to stick to any kind of deals or agreements.

Again, don’t listen to me, just listen to General Dunford:

General Joseph Dunford: Sir, it makes sense to me that our holding up agreements that we have signed, unless there’s a material breach, would have an impact on others’ willingness to sign agreements.

MH: Now, I know you said on Tuesday that Iran can’t be trusted. And look, no one’s saying the Iranian government isn’t guilty of a lot of bad shit — especially in Syria — but the fact is that at least eight different reports from the IAEA, the U.N. agency charged with stopping the spread of nukes, eight different reports say Iran hasn’t been cheating; Iran was sticking to the terms of the nuclear deal when you decided to violate it.

I know, I know, you’ll say, “But don’t the Israelis say Iran’s been cheating?” “Don’t the Israelis claim to have a smoking gun?” You called it.

DJT: Definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie.

MH: You’ve been listening to Bibi, haven’t you?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Iran lied big time. The nuclear deal gives Iran a clear path to an atomic arsenal. This is a terrible deal. It should never have been concluded. And in a few days’ time, president Trump will make his decision on what to do with the nuclear deal. I’m sure he’ll do the right thing.

MH: Now Prime Minister Netanyahu has a flair for the dramatic, he has the gift of the gab, he’s a friend of yours, he’s got a record of dishonesty not dissimilar to yours, and, let’s be honest, that scary presentation of his was only for you, Mr. President: you were his audience of one.

But Netanyahu doesn’t actually speak for the Israeli security establishment, who actually support the Iran deal. Yeah, I know, it’s hard to believe. You’ve never heard their names mentioned on Fox or Breitbart, have you? People like General Gadi Eisenkot, head of Israel’s military; Efraim Halevy, former chief of Israel’s spy agency Mossad; Ehud Barak, Israel’s former prime minister, defense minister and most decorated soldier, who says abandoning the nuclear deal is a “mistake.”

Even Bibi’s own former national security adviser, Uzi Arad, says Netanyahu offered “no smoking gun.”

Interviewer: No smoking gun for you, huh?

Uzi Arad: None. At no point was there an indication of any piece of information that they violated the various clauses of the agreement.

MH: Mr. President, I know and you know that the reason you really hate the Iran deal is because it was signed by the black dude. I get it. You want to reverse anything and everything Barack Hussein Obama ever put his Kenyan-Muslim name to. But remember this wasn’t a deal signed only between Obama and Iran. Your allies, Mr. President, the Germans, the Brits, the French, signed that deal; the JCPOA, they still plan on staying in that deal. Listen to what your friend, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, said in front of Congress last week.

President Emmanuel Macron: That’s why France will not leave the JCPOA. Because we signed it.

MH: So I know you want to scrap it because of Obama, but it’s not just Obama who supports the Iran deal. It’s also your European allies, your own defense secretary and top generals, Israel’s top general and almost all of the top nuclear non-proliferation experts out there.

So Mr. President, I have some bad news because you listened to Benjamin Netanyahu, and to John Bolton and to the Saudis, about an agreement that you clearly haven’t read, with a country you probably can’t find on a map, you’re now much, much less likely than you already were, to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Sorry!

The North Koreans are going to be much more suspicious. You’ve pissed off your allies in Europe. And you’ve put the United States on the path to yet another potentially disastrous war in the Middle East, the kind of Middle East war you yourself slammed on the campaign trail.

DJT: Look at the mess we have. We’ve destabilized the Middle East, and it’s a mess.

MH: So well done! In your pretty, transparent attempt to undo the Obama presidency, you may have screwed your own. And, of course, screwed the rest of us, too the entire world. Good job, Mr. President.

Anyways, I’m done. You can go back to working on your swing.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: My guest today served as press spokesman for President Obama’s National Security Council and has since become a social media and podcasting star. Tommy Vietor is the cofounder of crooked media, co-host of Pod Save America and host of Pod Save the World. He’s also a supporter of the Iran deal, and as angry as I am to see it shredded by Donald Trump this week.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: Tommy Vietor, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

TV: Hey, thanks for having me.

MH: Tommy, when you heard Donald Trump say this in the Diplomatic Room, of all rooms, of the White House on Tuesday afternoon —

DJT: The United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

MH: — what was your instant response, your gut response to that announcement?

TV: Enormous frustration at a couple things. One, he clearly just didn’t have any handle on the substance of the deal. Two, I mean he was purposely offering disinformation. He said, once again, the White House said that Iran had violated the terms of the agreement that was put into place with the P5+1 in the United States Europeans, Russia, China and Iran, that limited their nuclear program. That is simply not true.

MH: Just on the on the substance of the deal and what it means now, the substance of this decision, the Obama administration was often criticized, you were part of the administration not in 2015, I think you were there until 2013.

TV: Right.

MH: But it was criticized back in 2015 when the deal was actually being signed, it was obviously hammered out in the previous years. It was criticized for saying that the choice was between the deal and war. Given America is now out of the deal as of Tuesday of this week, are we now on a path to war with Iran?

TV: It feels like we are certainly on a path to greater tension and conflict. You have hardliners in Parliament burning the American flag. I obviously, you know, I see that image, I think it’s abhorrent, but it shows you, I think, which side of the political spectrum is likely to be ascendant in the wake of this decision.

MH: You mentioned hardliners in Tehran, and obviously there are hardliners in Tehran, especially the ones who, as you say, you know, burn on flags ,encourage the burning of U.S. flags, I’m always wondering where the Iranians get all these U.S. flags at such short notice, so quickly. [Mehdi laughs.]

TV: Kinko’s.

MH: A roaring business in Iran. But there are undoubtedly hardliners in Tehran. Here’s the thing though, now America now has its own set of hardliners, pretty brazen hardliners, otherwise, how else do you describe Trump, Pompeo, Bolton, Stephen Miller on Iran and other issues, other than as hardliners? But we only ever seem to call the Iranians hardliners.

TV: Yeah I mean I think we, the United States, like, you know, I’ve never been to Iran. I imagine that 99.9 percent of the people commenting on the news on a daily basis or that work in the White House haven’t been to Iran. We have a pretty facile understanding of the people, the culture, their politics. But what we were trying to do with the deal is take the nuclear issue off the table, and hopefully empower some of the more moderate voices like Rouhani and others in their system. And to sort of throw that strategy out the window without anything to replace it does feel like partisan, dogmatic stupid thing to do from the, you know, neo-cons in the White House now.

And you know how big John Bolton is smiling. I mean, this has been his ambition for a long time.

MH: Oh yeah, he’s been chuckling on Fox News and elsewhere, all week long since Tuesday.

Laura Ingraham: Are you having fun in this job?

John Bolton: I’m having a great time.

LI: This is kind of like your dream job.

JB: It’s even more fun than being a Fox News commentator. [John laughs.]

MH: What’s baffling to me is that the Iran deal, and I wrote about this this week, the Iran deal is one of those issues where even the military in places like the United States, in places like Israel are actually almost 100 percent behind U.S. generals, U.S. spy chiefs serving and retired, Israeli generals, ex-Mossad spies, and they’ve all lined up and said Iran wasn’t violating the deal, the deal is working, it’s preventing Tehran from building nukes. And yet, despite the military, the top guys in uniforms coming out and saying, “We back it, too, for security reasons. You still have Trump able to just scrap it, just like that, Thanos-style with a click of his finger, getting rid of the deal in a single afternoon despite, you know, the military, foreign policy intelligence and diplomatic establishment all backing him.

TV: You’re right, you’re right. It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t understand why those voices aren’t given more credibility or taken more seriously. Especially, you know, when Netanyahu did his sort of dog and pony show.

MH: The PowerPoint presentation.

TV: Yeah, the PowerPoint presentation, which I should stipulate like, was an incredibly impressive intelligence success by the Mossad, by the Israeli government to go in there and get those documents and pull them out. Why, you know, what I took issue with in that presentation was there was no evidence that Iran had resumed its nuclear program since signing the deal, but I believe that the timing and the way it was talked about and the way there was coordination between the Trump administration made it seem like an effort to suggest that that had taken place, rather than these were historical documents.

But, you know, you had former national security advisors and Mossad officials, et cetera, saying, “This is old news.” And yet, that didn’t seem to matter.

MH: Let alone, a national security adviser, former one, went on TV and said there’s no smoking gun in this.

And interesting, you mention kind of the collaboration between the Netanyahu administration the Trump administration, if not between their intelligence agencies, and when you tweeted about Netanyahu’s very melodramatic presentation about Iran’s lies, et cetera, and secrets, you tweeted, and I quote, “After years of bashing U.S. intelligence agencies for getting Iraq WMD wrong, Trump is now cooking up intel with the Israelis to push us closer to a conflict with Iran.” And some people lost their minds.

You were attacked by Tablet magazine for pushing a “vile conspiracy theory,” that apparently, you were partly “blaming the Jews.” How do you respond to kind of batshit criticism like that?

TV: So, if I’m being totally honest, and I try to be self-critical, maybe the word cooking up was not the best word because it led people to interpret me as saying that they fabricated evidence. That’s not at all what I meant. What I meant was they presented old news in such a way to make it seem like it reflected on the current state of Iran’s nuclear program. And, I feel like, that was borne out by the fact that the Trump administration put out a statement that said Iran has resumed its nuclear program. Trump, yesterday, in a statement said the same and referenced, speaking in current tense, referencing Netanyahu’s government. So, you know, that seems like a pretty unassailable point.

You know, the notion that any criticism of Netanyahu or of Israel is somehow anti-Semitic, I think that’s, you know, that’s a ridiculous charge. I actually think throwing around an accusation like that makes it harder to call out real vile anti-Semitism, of which there is far too much in this day and age. It’s rising in places like Europe. It’s something we need to focus on and stamp out completely. But, you know, you shouldn’t attack, you know, someone for using an imprecise word in a tweet. Give me a break.

MH: And the Trump folks obviously have been building up to this decision for nearly eighteen months now, since the inauguration, since before the inauguration. Trump himself spent time on the campaign trail viciously attacking the deal.

TV: Yeah.

DJT: My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.

DJT: One of the worst deals ever negotiated.

DJT: They are laughing at us back in Iran.

DJT: One of the dumbest deals in world history.

DJT: And it’s a bad deal.

MH: But thanks to The Observer newspaper in the U.K., we now learn that they weren’t just kind of rhetorically attacking the deal, and Obama and the administration you were part of. We now know that they may have been laying the groundwork for this deal pull-out by going after prominent former Obama administration officials who defend the deal in the media, on social media.

The Observer newspaper in the U.K. reported last weekend that an Israeli private intelligence firm, Black Cube, was reportedly hired by people with ties to the Trump administration to dig up dirt on President Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Colin Kahl, as a way of trying to discredit the deal.

Isn’t this, Tommy, even by the low, low standards of the Trump political era, a bonkers story? I mean Nixonian doesn’t do it justice.

TV: Nixonian does not do it justice. I think anyone who ever served in government anywhere should be shocked and chilled to the core by the idea that they could, you know, work and do public service and then leave the government and have a White House-associated spy company start to go after them. Not to go after policy arguments, like personal stuff about them, to contact their families, to reach out to their spouses, to photograph their homes. I mean, this is some serious, dark, messed up stuff. And I am shocked by the collective yawn that seems to have come in response from Washington D.C. I’m shocked that members of Congress aren’t issuing statements and calling for investigations. I think Democrats in Congress and the Senate, on the Intelligence Committee, on the Oversight Committee, are falling on their faces and doing nothing in response to this. It needs to be fully investigated and this needs to be outlawed, prevented from ever happening again. We need to get to the bottom of what the hell happened here.

MH: And Trump is very proud of what’s going on in North Korea, what might happen in North Korea. He announced at the end of his Iran deal statement on Tuesday that, you know, he’ll be heading there very soon, Pompeo was on his way there.

What I love was in that same statement, he talks about how he’s cancelling the Iran deal because he wants to stand up to Iran’s nuclear blackmail, and then moments later he proudly reminds everyone that he’s heading to the Korean Peninsula to meet with a nuclear armed Kim Jong-un. How is that not giving in to nuclear blackmail?

TV: It’s so frustrating. There’s no consistency. I mean, it’s hard because tearing up the Iran deal, it’s clear the only motivation that’s leading him to do this is that Obama did it and he hates Obama, and antipathy to Obama drives everything that he does.

You know, I support negotiations with North Korea. I pray that we can come to some sort of peaceful diplomatic solution to solve that problem, but the fact that that consistency isn’t more glaring to the entire world, to the press, to everybody else is frustrating.

MH: You mentioned Trump undoing the deal because of Obama. So what I’m wondering is How much do you think Trump undoing the deal is about him wanting to undo Obama’s achievements and how much of that desire to undo Obama’s achievements is to do with the fact that Obama is a black dude and he thinks he wasn’t born here?

TV: I think that, I mean the fact that literally no one can articulate a national security benefit that comes from doing the Iran deal is, I think, telling. Certainly the birther movement that Trump was the chief supporter of was a racist movement. I think he probably also hates Obama because Obama mocked him and, you know, that’s everything for Trump. I mean he’s an ego-driven maniac. So that’s where we are.

MH: What a lovely combination, of racism and egomania. Tommy, I spent most of Obama’s two terms, like a lot of people on the left, slamming various aspects of his foreign policy decisions. I didn’t like his drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. I didn’t like him killing U.S. citizens without trial. I didn’t like the way he armed dodgy Syrian rebel groups. I didn’t like the fact he was complicit in Israel’s Gaza war, Saudis’ Yemen war. But towards the end of his presidency, I admit I softened on Obama’s foreign policy — you had the Paris climate change agreement, you had the reopening with Cuba and, of course, the Iran nuclear deal. In less than 18 months, though, Donald Trump has undone, scrapped, all of those three things — Paris, Cuba, Iran.

TV: Yeah.

MH: And basically, I’m forced to become a massive Obama defender. I get criticized by left-wingers that say, “Well, what about Obama —?” These were the good things that Obama did that Trump is now destroying.

How much damage do you think Trump has done to Obama’s foreign policy legacy in less than 18 months?

TV: Enormous damage, enormous damage. I mean, I think he’s done enormous damage to that record of accomplishments. I think he’s done enormous damage to U.S. security.

But Obama was criticized from the left on a whole host of issues, in part because I think folks on the left understood that Obama cared what they thought and would actually engage on the merits of those conversations. Like, for example, on drones: Over time, there was a pretty significant evolution in terms of talking about restraining, moving drone usage over to the Department of Defense, right? All those restrictions that Obama talked about, even if people think they were totally insufficient, which is a fair —

MH: They’re all gone now. Yeah.

TV: They’re all gone now.

MH: There was a recent report about how civilian casualties are massively up on drones.

I remember interviewing Ben Rhodes for my Al Jazeera show back in 2015, in the White House, and I kind of really grilled him hard on the failures in Syria, on drones, on all these issues. And he said to me afterwards, he said, “You’ll miss us when we’re gone.” And I kind of laughed. And unfortunately, it’s true! As someone who spent eight years criticizing a lot of what Obama did in international affairs, when you look at the Trump administration now, and there were so many people on the left unfortunately who thought Trump would be less hawkish or more isolationist than Hillary Clinton, you look at what he’s doing now, you can’t help but miss a lot of what a Obama did, and I was a critic of Obama. It’s just such a bizarre situation if Trump is that bad, that he’s kind of turned everything on its head, all these old positions, and that’s what he’s thrown out.

TV: It’s hard to know what to think or what to feel. I mean, you know, look, Obama, he was certainly not perfect. I don’t think anyone who worked on Syria policy can look at the situation on the ground and tell you today that that was anything but a failure. It is something that all of us will think about, will re-litigate in our own heads for as long as we live.

But it was also an impossibly difficult problem, and the conversation that usually emerged around it was about military action or no military action. It was about the red line or no red line, arming people or not. It was not about, you know, a broader set of diplomatic or humanitarian responses that helped people who are suffering about allowing refugees into the country, et cetera, and like Trump is just, you know, turned off all those humanitarian policies.

MH: So let me ask you this, I know we’re talking about Iran, but before we finish, the other big story of this week is the Gina Haspel confirmation hearings, the CIA director choice by Donald Trump, who is implicated in all sorts of torture, waterboarding, abuse in her CIA career.

A lot of people, and I would argue, justifiably are pointing the finger at the Administration, you were part of them, saying, you are partly to blame for this appointment. You did not prosecute people like Gina Haspel. Obama wanted to look forwards, not back. That is why Trump is able to bring back the torturers, promote the torturers. Because the Obama administration dropped the ball on this, didn’t want to prosecute these people, when they should’ve been prosecuted.

TV: Yeah, I mean, so, you know, the challenge here is that the Bush DOJ, a whole bunch of career people, non-political appointees evaluated that program and deemed it lawful. And then years later, the Obama DOJ, Eric Holder’s folks, career officials appointed a career prosecutor to investigate them and ended up clearing them, and said that none of their actions broke the law.

Now, if you want to say to me, “It’s really hard to investigate your own people and make a judgment that makes me feel confident in what was rendered,” that’s fine. But I think the CIA’s perspective was, the OLC, the Bush administration, Cheney’s office handed us these legal judgments.

MH: Yeah, I was only following orders has never been a defense. Listen —

TV: I’m not defending that. I’m not defending that. I think it’s fucking unconscionable to waterboard someone to the point where they die and you have to bring them back to life.

MH: But just to be clear, you worked for Obama for many years, you’re still a supporter, you said he’s not perfect. I think many people would go further than that in their criticisms. But let’s just agree on one thing — surely it was a mistake for him to come into office in 2009 and say, we’re going to look forward on this issue of torture, not backwards.

TV: So, I don’t know what I think about it. But let me just sort of tell you from his perspective, which is you are sitting on this enormous set of, you’re balancing these two things, which is accountability for this horrific program, this stain on our history and our legacy, which he has ended, but you also are dealing with a whole host of threats going forward in a CIA workforce that is demoralized and beaten down because of Iraq, because of EITs, because of torture and you’re trying to figure out how to keep that building functioning to gather intelligence to keep people safe.

Do I think it would have been a better idea to send some of these people to jail? I honestly don’t know. Like, would the world be safer, better off, if Gina Haspel was prosecuted? I don’t know. But I do know —

MH: Well she wouldn’t be up for the CIA job if she had been.

TV: But here’s what I’d say is: She should be voted down. I don’t think any Democrat should vote for her. I don’t understand why of all the human beings on the planet who could take this job, you name someone who ran a black site. That’s crazy to me. It’s unconscionable. It’s stupid.

MH: What do you think Barack Obama is thinking this week? I saw him post on Facebook in defense of the JCPOA, the Iran deal, a few days ago. But really, his two biggest signature achievements as president were health care at home, Iran deal abroad and Trump has taken an axe to both of them. Do you still talk to him? Is he depressed? Angry? Does he plan to say or do anything about it publicly?

TV: You know, what’s funny about him is after Trump was elected and everybody was despondent and like weeping at their desks, he was the person who was able to step back and say, “Guys, you know, progress is two steps forward, one step back.” I mean, I know that sounds like happy talk and spin, but he is someone who is uniquely able to sort of see the long game in all these things.

I haven’t talked to him in a year or so, so, you know, I don’t know how he feels after the Iran deal was torched. I imagine watching seven years of work go down the tubes must piss him off enormously.

MH: And here’s a last question for you Tommy, as someone who presents a podcast about foreign affairs, international policy, it’s a question often kind of troubles me, frustrates me as someone who writes about foreign policy: it seems to be easier to get people, especially people in the quote-unquote #resistance mobilized to defend health care or push for a higher minimum wage or come out against corporate tax cuts, but foreign policy is often seen, especially in the United States, as some sort of distant, elite, less important issue than the bread and butter issues at home.

How do you get progressives as worked up about something like the scrapping of the Iran deal, which could go on to cost American lives in the not-too-distant future if we go to war, how do you get them as worked up about that as they are over Medicare for all or debt-free tuition.

TV: This is a great question. You know, the way I think about it is, I think people sometimes feel like these issues are too complicated and that smarter people than them should focus on them and figure them out. The reason I started my show, Pod Save the World, is because I think the opposite is true, is that if you are not intimidated by the acronyms and by the faraway places, you can actually engage on these issues and learn and be a part of these conversations and vote accordingly.

I, though, I remain continually frustrated every day that when I do a show on genocide in Burma, against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority population that is being driven out en masse, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered, you see the numbers go way down and you get less listeners. I have not cracked the code on getting people to care, to mobilize and to focus on these issues, then I see a whole bunch of kids in Parkland, you know, get a million-some-odd people at a rally in Washington D.C., and I think, you know what? Maybe the answer is talking to that generation and engaging them as much as we can because those kids seem like they can do anything.

MH: Yeah, and if they don’t come out, the problem is it’s left to the geniuses in Washington D.C., who bring back people like John Bolton to decide foreign policy.

There’s that famous William F. Buckley, quote the conservative journalist said, “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard. And I often feel that way about foreign policy. U.S. foreign policy would be much better off with 400 people from the phone book than from some of the people in this town, sadly. And we’re seeing the effects of that this week.

Tommy, thanks so much for taking time out to come on the show and being on Deconstructed.

TV: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. It was great to be here. Good to talk to you, and hope to do it again.

MH: Good to talk to you, too. Thanks.

TV: Alright. Bye.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: That’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept, and is distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Zach Young. Dina Sayedahmed is our production assistant. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please do subscribe to the show, so you can hear it every Friday. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review — it helps people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much!

See you next week.

Join The Conversation