Newt Gingrich talks about the IRGC designation on the terror list and the new US policies

Newt Gingrich 10–20–2017

National Press Club

GINGRICH: Thank you, Lincoln. Thank you all for coming out today. This is a very interesting time. I think that the president in his October 13th decision and speech to not recertify, actually I think followed just about exactly the right path. He didn’t break out of the agreement but the communicated that the agreement was vulnerable. He also reminded all of us that the agreement is not jus about nuclear weapons, but that the way the Corker-Cardman bill was written part of decertification can be a function of national interest and a function of activities other than the nuclear program. And I think in that sense it is a really watershed event for him to say this is not going well enough for me to be able to certify as president that it’s in our national interests to continue it. But at the same time I think it was prudent to not leave the agreement but rather to say the agreement has to be revisited, it has to be rethought, and it may well have to be renegotiated.

My position, and I did an article which both appeared at and then as a newsletter that I wrote last week, which was entitled Death to America. Because I think it reframes what this is really about. This is in the end not about the nuclear program. This is in the end about a dictatorship which defined in its very constitution that it was a revolutionary regime with global aspirations. This is about a regime which just I think three or four weeks ago the Parliament in passing a defense bill was chanting “Death to America.” Now as a historian, I am always leery when I see dictatorships that use certain kinds of language. I think if you’re an academic intellectual of the right kind of liberal persuasion you can probably say to yourself, well, death to America is really a symbolic communication that means we’re unhappy, we’d like to order tea or something. But actually historically, one of the reasons that Churchill understood Hitler, is he actually was probably the only British parliamentarian of his generation who read Mein Kampf. And when you read Mein Kampf, you realized Hitler was insane, and you also realized that he was determined to live out his insanity by hating people. And that when he hated people he wanted to destroy them. And so from the time when Churchill read that, his entire view of the world changed because he understood that in fact Hitler was not somebody who you could negotiate with, compromise with, because he represented such a terrible future. Well, we’ve gone through a long elaborate process in the Western world of trying to continually reexplain the Iranian dictatorship. And let me emphasize first of all, it’s a dictatorship with a façade of democracy. If you’re not part of the dictatorship, and you’re not acceptable to the dictator, you can’t run, and therefore to pretend that the elections actually offer any serious choice to the Iranian people is simply a fantasy.

Second, the regime itself routinely consistently tells you who they are. When they have a missile, for example, on which they paint “Death to Israel” before they test it and they take a picture of the missile so you can see that it says “death to Israel,” there is some reason to believe they’re giving you a hint. They also have other missiles that have death to America, they sort of alternate which one they really want to kill first. And so I think what President Trump did in his decision, and I thought this was a very important moment for his administration, I think if he had said gee — and remember he had gone to the United Nations, and he had made a speech which had probably the strongest condemnation of Iran, of the Iranian dictatorship, ever uttered in the United Nations. For him to then turn from that and passively certify would have made a mockery of everything he said, and what he said was very strong. But instead by decertifying he signaled that he was actually listening to his own words. And that maybe the rest of us should also listen to his words. And then if you look at the decertification speech, which I think without question is the most methodical outline of how bad the dictatorship is, that any American senior leader has ever uttered, I mean it’s quite a remarkable speech. And what it tells you is that in the long run it is not just in the interest of the United States to find a better way to do inspections or to find some other device that allows us to continue with the current agreement, it is in the long run in the interest of the United States to find a way to replace the dictatorship. As long as that dictatorship is in power, as long as it’s able to spend money, as long as it is able to project terrorism around the world, it is ultimately a mortal danger to the United States. And of course, it was a terrible thing for the Iranian people. A dictatorship which in 1988 killed 30,000 people, something which for some reason the New York Times and the Washington Post don’t find to be horrifying. Again, they’re surviving by sheer repression. It is a fantasy to suggest that the dictatorship would survive without repression. And so you have a repressive dictatorship which projects power now all the way to the Mediterranean, has plans to build a port in Lebanon that it would control, has plans to build missile factories in both Syria and Lebanon, ultimately designed to destroy Israel, already has helped Hezbollah get something on the order of 75,000 to 100,000 missiles, creating I think a much bigger problem on the northern front for Israel than anybody has come to grips with yet. I mean we have no models for how you deal with a threat on this scale. And it’s all going to get worse.

And so I think what the president has begun, particularly by extending beyond talking about the nuclear agreement, by talking about the IRGC, and beginning to say, look, here is the heart of the problem. It is a revolutionary guard corps dedicated to terrorism. It’s a revolutionary guard corps dedicated — and this goes all the way back against the Americans, to the 1979–1983 period. From the perspective of the revolutionary guard corps, they’ve been at war with us even if we weren’t aware that we were at war with them. And so I think you have to see it in that context. I think the Treasury took the first step in beginning to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. I think that’s step — and this will be one of the great challenges the president faces across the whole government, that you can make big decisions at the top but you then have to find ways to get a bureaucracy that actually implements them in an aggressive effective way, and I think that it’s perennially a challenge when you have a system our size outside of a war the size of World War Two. The bureaucracies are very cumbersome, very slow, very often — the thing you want to do is understaff and the thing you no longer want to do is overstaff, but you can’t figure out how to get rid of the overstaffed part to be able to transfer the resources to build up the understaffed part. And so I think the administration is going to have a period here of coming to grips with how do they effectively implement the president’s directions. And part of it’s going to be in Treasury, where I think they have the potential to really dramatically weaken the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps if they could apply the resources to it and if they’re tough minded and extend it to all the institutions. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is a large part of the Iranian economy, and if in fact we’re serious about isolating them and restricting them we’re going to have a huge impact that ripples back to the entire Iranian economy. So this is an example of the sort of thing that we have to think about.

I also think that we have to look at — and this is a real sea change — I’ve been actively involved in this, including involvement in trying to defend the good name of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the MEK all the way back to when I was Speaker. Because basically the Iranian dictatorship ran a false flag operation to set up a totally phony designation which the State Department and bureaucracy went along with, so for a long period of time we were willing to listen to the actual dictatorship while not listening to the resistance, even though the resistance was trying to tell us the truth about the dictatorship which was lying to us. And we’ve gradually worked our way back, some of you have been involved in this for your entire adult lifetime, you know that this has been very difficult, at times at places like Camp Liberty and Camp Ashraf, very painful process. But I think that we’re beginning to move the right direction. My hope is that the administration will now go all the way in the direction of reaching out to and working with the source of that information. In my experience, the elements of the National Council of Resistance of Iran who are still inside Iran, and there are thousands of people who are obviously highly quiet about this otherwise they would be picked up by the secret police and killed, but they have been the best source of information on the nuclear program consistently, and have found things when the CIA has telling us they didn’t exist . And I hope that this administration will now as part of this process of beginning to unravel both the IRGC and then ultimately the dictatorship, will reach out in a much more collaborative way to coordinate information and to coordinate advice and find ways to work together. Because I do believe that in fact the National Council of Resistance of Iran has a tremendous potential, and I also want to say that I believe that Mrs. Rajavi has done an amazing job of leading an organization through a very long, very difficult period. And I would hope that at some point in the near future that she would be given an invitation to officially visit the United States, and have a chance both to meet with American leaders in Washington, but also to go around the country. And I think that she is one of the examples of a symbol of resistance to the dictatorship that would have a huge impact across the whole country and would also send an important signal to Europe about the way in which our policies are moving.

So I think these are dangerous times. I think between the North Korean crisis and the Iranian challenge, particularly the Iranian challenge in Southern Lebanon and southern Syria, that we may well have — we may well be in the most dangerous since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And I think we have to take it very seriously, it’s going to take a great deal of work and a lot of courage. But I do think that the president began that process and that he deserves a great deal of credit for having been willing, one, to insist on decertification and two, twice now both at the United Nations and in his speech on decertification, telling the truth, vividly and clearly and decisively, about the Iranian dictatorship in a way that no senior American political leader’s ever done before. So I give the president real credit for starting to move in the right direction. And it’s a direction, frankly, that almost every single American military leader understands because they are infuriated that Iranians have been routinely helping kill Americans and have paid virtually no cost for it, whether you go all the way back to the Marines in Lebanon in the ’80s or you look at what the Iranian equipment that was coming into Iraq and being used for IEDs and clearly it was manufactured in Iran and was being sent in for the purpose of killing Americans. So I think you will find the senior military is very willing to work a diligent and direct way to undermine and isolate the Revolutionary Guard and begin the process of rolling back the Iranians out of places like Lebanon and Syria, ultimately replacing the dictatorship with a popularly elected government. So I am strategically optimistic. I think it’s an enormous amount of work ahead of us, but I think it’s doable and I think the tide of history is with freedom, it’s not with the dictatorship, and that’s why despite occasional setbacks I think in the long-run we will get stronger and they will get weaker. I think I’m going to join Linc over here, and we’re going to have a dialogue and then maybe people will be able to ask questions too. But thank you all very much for coming out. I think this is a very important time and an extraordinarily important topic [applause]

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