How do you assess this confrontational reality between Iran and the United States? How serious is it?
It's very serious. ... The Iranians are clearly quite aggressive. It might have something to do with the pressure they're feeling due to the economic sanctions, wanting to show the Iranian population that they're tough, that they're not going to back down. They want to mobilize the population.
That's one question mark. The other, of course, is Donald Trump. Yes, he gave the reason of 150 deaths being disproportionate, but I would say that the real conflict for him is between the interests of the United States, which are to defend itself from attack, and the interests of Donald Trump, which are not to go to war. That's what he promised. And so he's indecisive between the two, and we saw that play out a couple days ago in real time.
So he can't afford to be seen as Barack Obama, who drew the red line for Assad, saying "If you use chemical weapons again, that'll be the red line – I'm coming for you." And then Assad used chemical weapons and Obama did nothing. ... Does that give the Iranians the upper hand and are they looking for a fight with the United States?
"The Iranians have the advantage. Look at what they've done, and so far no response from the U.S."
I think it does give the Iranians the upper hand, not so much because he doesn't want to be seen like Obama, but because he doesn't want to go contrary to his pretty strong promises not to get into war. And that was what he kept saying – that he's not going to follow other Republicans and he's not going to get the U.S. into war.
Yes, the Iranians have the advantage. Look at what they've done, and so far no response from the United States.
What do you expect from the Iranian regime in the short term? Will they be emboldened by the fact that they shot down the drone and there was no military response?
Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes
Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes
I should think so. I would not be surprised if they engage in other aggressive activities, either directly against U.S. forces and interests or against our allies. They called in the Emirati ambassador and gave him a piece of their mind. There could be sabotage or other problems in the UAE, or other countries.
Yeah, the Iranians are probably feeling – If I were in their shoes, I'd certainly be feeling quite confident myself.
How should the United States respond? How should Trump have responded to the shooting down of the drone?
"I think he should have responded by knocking out some of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure."
I think he should have responded by knocking out some of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure – to make it clear that this is unacceptable and that, more broadly, we do not accept Iranian nuclear infrastructure.
That still might happen. He has many advisors who are of that mind, and the potential is still there. But now there is a credibility problem, and it's more dangerous because the Iranians are more prone, I think, to engage in further adventurism, not really believing that the U.S. government is going to do anything. So if the U.S. government does do something it'll be a bit of a surprise.
The Iranians have been accused for quite a few years of being international terrorist sponsors. Do you think it's conceivable that they would feel sufficiently emboldened now by Mr. Trump's lack of action to take some terrorist-style action, or put some of their funded groups to work?
Very much so. I was alluding to that before. Yes. Against Israel. Against American interests. Against Western interests in general. Who knows? The Iranians have plenty of enemies. Against the Saudis or Emiratis. Plenty of targets.
They have internal problems, do they not?
They have serious internal problems, and this is the irony of the Iran deal. The Iran deal sent a signal to the Iranian population that things are going to get better – "you are going to get a lot of money." $150 billion in Iranian terms is vast, a gigantic amount of money.
And yet, things did not get better, because that money was spent on military and related adventurism. So the Iranian people became disillusioned, frustrated, and there have been many small revolts, demonstrations and the like throughout the country.
So I think it's in this context that the Iranian government is acting in an aggressive way, to say, "Well, never you mind about the price of meat. We are representing you on the world stage, and we are forwarding your interests internationally. And you'd better support us because we are doing something great and majestic."