Robert Spencer: ‘Iran Is What ISIS Wants to Be When It Grows Up’


Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch joined SiriusXM host Stephen K. Bannon on Tuesday to discuss his new book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to Iran.

When Bannon surveyed the current state of Sunni-Shiite tensions in the Middle East, coalescing into a regional conflict with Saudi Arabia and Iran as the respective leaders, and wondered if Western powers might be best advised to just let them slug it out, Spencer replied, “I don’t see why not.”

“In the 1980s, Iran and Iraq fought a war for eight years,” he recalled, describing it as “essentially a stalemate” akin to World War I trench warfare, with “immense casualties for both sides.”

“The Islamic Republic almost fell. Saddam Hussein had his own troubles. And the thing is, during that time, neither one of those were causing trouble for the West,” Spencer pointed out. “So, what’s the downside? We cannot prevent Sunnis and Shia from hating each other. Western leaders need to recover a sense that their primary responsibility is to protect their own citizens.”

Spencer said the arrogance Iran displays toward the West is a fusion of ancient Persian culture and Islamic supremacy. “It’s both. They’ve reinforced each other.”

“There’s no doubt that the Persians had a great civilization, long before Islam, long before they fell to Islam,” he said, adding:

That was a culture and a civilization that was always at odds with the West, always fighting the Roman Empire. So it’s really just a continuation of that ancient conflict. But Islam then reinforces that by giving the idea that Muslims have a responsibility to wage war against non-Muslims, and of course this is the basis on which Khomeini built the Islamic Revolution, and has kept Iran on a war footing against the U.S. ever since 1979, on Islamic principles.

In his book, Spencer makes the case that Iran is a far more dangerous and persistent adversary for the West than ISIS or al-Qaeda.

“Iran is what ISIS wants to be when it grows up,” he said. He continued:

Iran has a global network of terrorist organizations under its control – not only Shiite, but also Sunni Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is also Sunni. And those groups, Hezbollah most notably, have a presence in the West. Hezbollah is working actively in Mexico with the drug cartels, teaching them to behead, teaching them their tactics, and that’s all aimed at getting into the United States.

“They already have sleeper cells in the United States,” he warned. He elaborated:

Nine years ago, there was an FBI report that said there are Hezbollah sleeper cells in the United States – that’s Iran, essentially – and that they were waiting for a time to strike, but right now, they were making so much progress without striking that they were going to lay low because, of course, they didn’t want the police attention that would come from the strikes. Those cells are still in place, and there’s nothing but more of them now.

Spencer said the danger from these long-term terrorist plans is largely ignored by the U.S. government and media, even though it’s a “central” agenda for Iran and its proxies.

“Every week, in the mosques, they chant, ‘Death to America’ during the Friday prayers,” he said. “It is central to them to hate the United States, and to consider themselves to be at war with the United States.”

“Americans don’t know this,” Spencer said, “because it hasn’t been taken seriously by the U.S. military because the Iranian military doesn’t have anything near the capability of ours.” He added that “the idea that they would go to war with us, in an actual shooting war, is something that would just set them up for destruction, and so the military and the political establishment have not taken it seriously.”

He worried that the intelligence community does not take the asymmetrical threat of Iranian terrorist warfare seriously enough, either.

“I think that the Obama administration has made a conscious decision to empower Iran to be the stabilizing force in the Middle East,” Spencer said, adding:

I think they don’t take seriously the Islamic Republic’s ideological basis. They refuse to understand that Islam is not a “religion of peace,” that it is on a war footing with non-Muslims. And so a whole country that’s based on that proposition? They can’t even see it. They refuse to acknowledge the existence of such a possibility.

He described this mindset as a “period of irrationality” regarding Iran, in which the political establishment of the United States has become effectively insane because “they refuse to accept the fundamental premise, which is that this is a religion that counsels war, and that this is a state which is based on those religious teachings.”

Spencer said:

In 1979, when Khomeinei took over, nobody in the State Department had read a single book that he had written. Nobody knew anything about what he was all about. They just thought he was a religious fanatic. Nobody understands, or takes seriously, the depth and the power of the Islamic ideology, whether Shiite or Sunni.

He speculated that since the U.S. government has become ideologically incapable of seeing Islam, it looks at Iran and sees only the faded glory of the Persian Empire. Obama Administration strategic planners view Iran as “a powerful state, the only powerful state left with Saddam gone, in that region, and so if they are kind to it, it will be kind to us, and bring stability to that region.”

“They’re basing their principles on the way Western people think, and thinking we can sit down, and talk out all our differences, and figure this all out,” he said. “The idea that there’s this implacable ideology that will never compromise, never come to terms and be friends with us – they refuse to admit that as a possibility. They think we’re way beyond that stage in the world.”

Spencer found the Saudis, and other Sunni allies of the United States, unsurprisingly “appalled” by the Obama administration’s pivot to Iran – prompting the Saudis, and perhaps Egypt as well, to consider securing their own nuclear weapons as a check against nuclear Iran.

“What was intended to be a stabilizing force for the Middle East is essentially going to set the region even more on fire than it already is,” he predicted.

He said the Obama administration believed “Iran is going to get nukes anyway, and so if we legitimize the process, then they will look upon us more kindly, and return our kindness with kindness of their own.”

“It’s another false premise, based on the idea that everybody’s essentially the same, and that the Iranian mullahs are going to have the same kind of thought processes that Western secular politicians do,” he said.

Since most of the American people hold no such rosy beliefs about Iran’s leadership, Spencer said Obama and his deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, “devised a strategy to lie to the American people, to claim that Rouhani, the president of Iran, was a moderate – which he is most decidedly not – and that they could reason with moderate forces within the Iranian regime, to come to a nuclear accord that would bring peace.”

“It was all a lie, and Rhodes admitted it, right in The New York Times, and the adoring reporters didn’t even notice,” Spencer marveled. “They knew that there are reporters who will always do everything they can to make the Obama administration look good, and so they knew they could count on them, and they did.”

He found it baffling that “the Republican Establishment did not challenge Obama on this and let it go through,” speculating that some Republican leaders shared Obama’s delusion that “an olive branch held out to Iran is going to bring peace and stability,” while others are simply frightened of political clashes with the President.

“They’ve been lying down for seven-and-a-half years now, and it’s mystifying,” he said. “People wonder, how is it that Donald Trump has gotten so popular? Well, that’s why: because we don’t really have an opposition in this country right now, and he represents the frustration of the people in that regard.”

Spencer also was not willing to rule out espionage and political influence from Iran as a factor in U.S. policymaking, noting that a few years ago, the Iranian embassy in Canada was shut down because “it was found to be a center of espionage for the Islamic Republic.”

“Would they infiltrate if they had the chance and try to influence U.S. policy? There’s no doubt whatsoever,” Spencer said.

He also had no doubts there were powerful elements in the U.S. and European business communities that desired normalized relations with Iran, citing the discovery that Boeing was paying powerful lobbyists to push the Iran nuclear deal and is now poised to seal a $25 billion deal with Iran Air.

When Bannon asked why there were not constant congressional hearings about the influence Iranian money has on American politics, Spencer darkly mused that “maybe the people who ought to be conducting the hearings are also lining their pockets.”

He further suggested that politicians are absorbed into the D.C. establishment when they reach Washington, “and once you get into it, then you start thinking they way that they think. You want to fit in. It’s a conformity we see in every group. The problem is that it’s very detrimental for the American people, the political establishment right now.”

His number-one piece of advice for Donald Trump, should he become the next president, would be to “immediately understand that Iran is at war with the United States,” so he should stop all the deals. He stressed that sanctions were working before Obama lifted them – so well that the “Green Revolution” in 1979 came close to toppling the theocracy.

“That’s the only demonstration in the Islamic world that he did not support,” Spencer said of Obama’s attitude toward the Green Revolution, in contrast to how he viewed the Arab Spring demonstrations in Egypt.

“The Green movement wasn’t perfect. It might have been another Islamic government. But if Barack Obama had supported it, and If the United States had shown that we are actively going to support the Iranian opposition, the world would be a much safer place right now.”

This led to Spencer’s number-two advice for the next President: supporting the Iranian opposition. “Say that we are in favor of toppling the Islamic Republic, and any Iranians who are in favor of doing that will get every kind of support we can give them.”

Instead of that approach, Spencer noted the Obama administration, particularly in the person of Secretary of State John Kerry, is currently thanking Iran for its help fighting ISIS in Iraq.

The only silver lining Spencer saw there would be if “Iran exhausts itself fighting the Caliphate,” but unfortunately, Iran is the one presently sizing up the United States and seeing an exhausted “great power on the edge.”

“They think that they really can destroy the United States and conquer it,” he said, adding:

It might sound preposterous, but the Iranians have always considered themselves to be a great power in the world. The Shah of Iran, in the early Seventies, told Oriana Fallaci that he thought that within ten or twenty years, Iran would be one of the five great powers in the world. And he was working toward that.

The mullahs who seized power from the Shah have not abandoned the dream of Iranian supremacy, according to Spencer. They’ve simply embraced the tactics of “subversion and infiltration,” which they are actively pursuing because “they know they couldn’t win a shooting war.”

“We have to understand that Iran is doing everything ISIS wants to do, and more, with the exception of trying to get ‘lone wolves’ to try and kill, mass-murder, Americans in clubs and that kind of thing,” he warned. “They are working for the long term. They want to bring about the destruction of the United States and are working toward it in a smarter fashion than ISIS is.”

Iran is also much savvier about cultivating powerful allies than ISIS is. “Russia is palling around with Iran,” Spencer observed. “China, the same thing. There are a lot of economic dealings with China and North Korea, as well. And they are all doing it in a sense of, ultimately, to take down the United States.”

Spencer warned that when Iran finally gets a nuclear weapon, “they will probably try to use it.”

“They want to get nuked back,” he said. He explained:

That sounds crazy, but it’s not. It’s Shiite eschatology. Because the Twelfth Imam, their savior figure, is going to come back when the Muslims are more persecuted. … In the book, I have a president of Iran, the former president of Iran, saying, “We can sustain ten or fifteen million casualties if we’re nuked.” And they want that because the Twelfth Imam’s gonna come back when the Muslims are more persecuted than they’ve ever been before.

Spencer anticipated a possible military conflict with Iran “within the next five or ten years,” whose outcome is currently difficult to predict because “the American military has been so drastically weakened, and Obama’s using it for social experimentation, with the women in combat roles and the trans-gender rules.”

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