Howard Dean, former Governor of Vermont and Chair of the US Democratic Party, attended a panel discussion in Paris on June 12 on “Policy on Iran and Countering Islamic Extremism” organized by the French “Foundation for Middle Eastern Studies” (FEMO) and chaired by Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield Jr., former US Special Envoy and Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs. In his remarks while addressing the nuclear issue he emphasized that it was time for the United States and Europe stop looking for the peaceful way out at any price and begin to stand up for human rights.
The meeting was attended by some 200 and among speakers were Olli Heinonen, former Deputy Director General of the IAEA, Bruno Tertrais, senior fellow at the French Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), James Woolsey, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Clinton, Yves Thréard, Leader writer and columnist for the French daily Le Figaro, and Frédéric Encel, Professor of international relations at the ESG Management School.
The following is the text of Governor Dean’s remarks:
“I am a proud Democrat, and I do not hold President Obama responsible for everything that went on, and I think it’s somewhat of a ludicrous position to do so. When I was running for president in early 2003, I said at the time that if we go into Iraq, the result will be that Eastern Iraq will become a de facto province of Iran, that the Kurds will become a de facto independent state, and that at the time I said that the Western Iraq would be controlled by Al Qaeda. With the exception of not foreseeing the creation of ISIS, I think I was pretty right. And if the governor of Vermont at the time, an aspiring presidential candidate, could figure that out and be right, then some people in our government did not figure out much about Iraq or Iran when we went in there. I believe, and I said this at the time and I’ll say it again, I think that Iraq is finished as a country and I think it’s foolish of the United States to continue to believe that we’re going to put it back together again. And I think Syria is fin
ished as a country. It is foolish to believe that we’re ever going to put Syria back together again.
Many of the people in the Democratic Party who were my supporters flocked to me because they believed I was a dove on defense. In fact, I am not. What I do believe is you cannot start a war without telling the truth to the people who you’re asking to go fight it. And I lived through Vietnam where our government was lying to us, both Democrats and Republicans, and I hoped that I wouldn’t have to live through another such circumstances, but we did. So why am I here now? Because I believe one of the failures of both the United State and the Europeans is that hope outweighs experience. The truth is, and we see a parallel in how we’re dealing with Ukraine, that thugs and dictators and bullies respect only strength. They do not respect appeasement. And of all the continents I could possibly be on to mention appeasement, this would be the one that has had the most to lose by appeasement. Nobody wants war. I believe in negotiation. I do not believe in giving things up in negotiation that will lead to more wa
r. And I’m very pleased that the president is talking to Cuba and is talking to Iran. I am not pleased if there is any possibility of maintaining any nuclear option whatsoever as a result of these talks. I am not pleased to give up the sanctions before we know if the Iranians are keeping their word or not. Once we give up those sanctions it will be very politically difficult to get them back. And the United States will be able to do it but the Europeans won’t. Why? In fairness to the Europeans, you’re right next door to Russia. It’s easy for us to bluster about Russia, a little harder for you. When the bear roils over he crushes you, he just annoys us. And the same with Iran. You have different interests. Germany does a tremendous amount of business and has for a long time with Iran. So I don’t want to hold Europeans to a different standard and claim it’s not easier for us. But we’re all in this together.
And what we have to do in America—I thought that Jim Woolsey did a wonderful job talking about the legacy of America. And it is in our Constitution, there’s nothing exceptional about Americans. But there is something exceptional about America, and it’s because of the documents that formed us, because of the intelligence and the foresight of the people who wrote those documents. I think it’s very important for us to understand—and the EU is now leading the way in human rights. Your human rights laws are better, your protection for labor is better, your protection for the environment is better. You do many things very, very well—although some would argue that your regulations could be slightly slimmed down. We are together, the United States and Europe, in standing up for human rights. And there cannot be compromise in standing up for human rights, there must never be compromise. You cannot give away human rights. There was a wonderful exchange between Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King during the cvil rights era in the United States, when Johnson said, “You can’t push me anymore. I can’t do more, the time isn’t right.” And King said, “If not now, when?” We cannot ask the Iranian people to give up any additional rights in order to get some objective which may never be reached.
And I believe it is naïve to think that this is an Iranian government that is going to be in favor of anything to do with human rights. Human rights are not a value in the Iranian government. And here’s why. I teach an American foreign policy course at Yale, and I had an Iranian expat as my teaching assistance. And I learned a tremendous amount. They actually do have in Iran a government of checks and balances. They do. If you look at the org chart it’s incredibly complicated. The problem is that a group of thugs known as the Iranian National Guard has taken over a good piece of the economy. Nothing that we do—any amount of money that America allows Iran to get as a result of lifting the sanctions, is going to the IRGC. And that money will not only be used to continue the lifestyle of the people in the leadership, it will be funneled into places like Iraq to destabilize them further. It will be funneled into places like Syria to destabilize it further. It will be funneled into Yemen. All we can do
by settling with Iran for a deal that does not protect human rights is make people miserable, not just in Iraq which we’ve already succeeded in doing, not just in Syria, not just in Iran, but spread the misery to the entire Middle East. We have to stop the IRGC, and in order to do that we have to make a deal that strengthens the people who want to do that. And making a bad deal on nuclear weapons is not the way to do that. So I actually am not interested in a big partisan fight about whose fault all this is, but I am interested in not making it worse.
The United States in 2004 promised at that time about 3,000 people that if they gave up their arms to American forces we promised them in writing and gave every single one of them a piece of paper saying that the United States would defend them. I do not believe that realpolitik works. I am not a particularly big fan of Henry Kissinger, nor was I of Metternich. People who make deals and sell out human rights on principles because it’s realpolitik are simply kicking the can down the road, and somebody’s going to have to fix those problems later on. I do not believe the United States—if the United States can’t keep its word to the 3,100 people who we promised to defend in Ashraf—many of us talked those people into going to Liberty on the guarantee the State Department that they were going to be safer there and they were going to be moved out, and four years later our State Department and our president has not kept his word and they haven’t kept their word since they signed those papers in 2004. I want bett
er for the people in the Middle East. We’re not going to get it by dealing with unscrupulous people whose main goal is to keep themselves in power.
So what should we do? Yes, we should keep talking. Talking is always good. But there are some bottom lines, there are red lines for us. One, we must not sign a deal which allows them to continue with any nuclear capacity whatsoever, and if the talks fall apart because of that so be it. The power, as many of the speakers have said before, is in the hands of the United States. The reason they’re at the table is because the Iranian people are sick of their standard of living that Khamenei and Khomeini have not kept any of the promises of the revolution. They’re tired of it, they want to move on. We have the power to decide whether they get to do that or not, and the price ought to be no nuclear weapons of any sort and no capacity to have nuclear weapons.
The power also ought to be better behavior inside Iraq. Iraq cannot be saved, but it can be made even more dangerous and more worse. And another price I think we ought to put on the table is stop supporting Assad. I actually believe we ought to have a no-fly zone over southern Syria to stop Assad dropping barrel bombs on his own civilian people. What kind of people are the Iranian people supporting? I think we can judge the Iranian government by who they’re supporting. And the murderous regimes that they’re supporting, in addition to their own, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, which they’ve done since they took power.
So the bottom line is although I come at this from a different point of view, I share the points of view of many of us in the room. It’s time the United States, and Europe I might say, stop looking for the peaceful way out at any price and begin to stand up, as we have in the past, for human rights for everyone in the entire world. That is our mission on earth and I think we ought to take that mission seriously. Can we get everything we want? No. But we can get a much better deal than what I can read about in the New York Times where we’re headed. And I personally believe now is the time to walk away from the table. We’ll be back at the table because the Iranian people are going to demand that their government does so.”