MSNBC Panel: Israeli PM 'Agitating for War' and 'Oppos[ing] Peace,' But 'Moderate' Iranian Prez 'Not a Hardliner'
On Monday's All In show on MSNBC, Chris Hayes accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of making himself into a "cartoon" by "tirelessly agitating for war" and "oppos[ing] peace," as the MSNBC host celebrated the "truly historic" news of President Obama's deal with the Iranian government over its nuclear program.
Before a clip of Netanyahu calling the agreement a "historic mistake," Hayes complained:
And once again, the people who have been tirelessly agitating for war are turning themselves into cartoons to oppose peace.
And during a discussion a bit later, liberal New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel found himself taking a relatively right-leaning position of being "skeptical" about the agreement and came under fire from NBC contributor Hooman Majd when Rep. Engel insightfully argued that Iranian President Rouhani is no "moderate," but instead the "least hardline" of a list of hardliners who were allowed to run for the presidency. Majd bristled:
I should correct Congressman Engel because, if he believes President Rouhani is a hardliner, I'd like to introduce you to some hardliners in Iran. ... Well, he's not a hardliner. I can assure you, he's not a hardliner.
As the two went back and forth, Majd rationalized:
You have a domestic audience in Iran as well. And if you don't understand that there's a domestic audience in Iran that he has to play to in the way that you play to your audience in America, then, you know, you're deluded.
At one point, Hayes oddly asked Rep. Engel if it was "irrational" for the Iranian government to want nuclear weapons, as he seemed to hint at an argument in favor of allowing the radical Islamic state to acquire the same weapons as the U.S. and Israel. Hayes:
Is it irrational for Iran to want a nuclear weapon? ... The U.S. has one, Israel has one, all sorts of countries have one. The question is, is it an irrational aspiration?
Hayes also brushed off some of Engel's objections to the deal as "a few technical things," and, presumably lumping in Netanyahu as wanting relations with Iran to be "bad," as he asserted that there are "camps on each side that want this relationship to be bad."
Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Monday, November 25, All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC, with critical portions in bold:
CHRIS HAYES: We are coming off a truly historic weekend, one in which the President of the United States, on short notice late on a Saturday night, addressed the nation live from the White House to announce the outline of an interim deal with Iran, a deal to cap its current nuclear program and move towards a full diplomatic solution between the two nations.
This is the biggest development in the relationship between the two countries in 35 years. What the President announced this weekend was the fulfillment of a promise a long time in the making.
HAYES: In 2008, then-Senator Obama said he would do something no President has done since 1979, speak directly to the leaders of Iran. It became a central issue of the campaign.
JOHN MCCAIN: It's hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another.
HAYES: The conservative media machine jumped on the chance to characterize the young Senator as weak.
KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISOR: But we have a candidate who says we'll talk to the state sponsor of Hamas, Syria's Assad, and we'll talk to the state sponsor of Hezbollah, Iran, without precondition.
HAYES: But candidate Obama responded by reiterating his intent to do something that the U.S. had all but abandoned: practice diplomacy.
HAYES: After just nine months as President, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but in his first five years, much of his foreign policy has been dominated by the wars he inherited. His expansion of the global war on terror has made his supporters uncomfortable and earned disingenuous praise from former Bush acolytes.
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: The Obama administration has clearly reached the point where they've agreed they need to be tough and aggressive in defending the nation and using some of the same techniques that the Bush administration did.
HAYES: At times during the Obama presidency, the possibility of direct talks with Iran, once a central foreign policy goal, seemed remote. But this weekend everything changed.
HAYES: On Saturday evening, the United States and Iran came to an historic agreement to limit Iran's nuclear capabilities, a dramatic step towards fulfilling the central promise of an Obama presidency, using diplomacy to move towards peace and away from war. And the right wing promptly lost it.
HAYES: Former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer offered the world a lesson in spelling and bitterness. Red State's Erick Erickson tweeted his congratulations to Iran on their acquisition of the nuclear bomb.
Over at Breitbart, the conspiracy theorist who broke the story about President Obama hugging his radical Harvard professor-
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a clean bust.
HAYES: -are comparing the President's diplomacy to appeasing the Nazis. And once again, the people who have been tirelessly agitating for war are turning themselves into cartoons to oppose peace.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: What was concluded in Geneva last night is not an historic agreement, it's a historic mistake.
HAYES: There's, in some ways, a mirror image, obviously, of extremely different systems of government and different internal domestic political conditions, but there are camps in each side that want this relationship to be bad and want kind of maximalism and threatening and there are camps inside who are favoring diplomacy. What is it, why have the diplomatic camps been empowered on both sides?
HOOMAN MAJD, NBC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think because it's in the interests of both countries. I mean, I think it's in the interests of both countries to resolve this nuclear issue first of all and then resolve other issues that are existing between the U.S. and Iran.
And the only way the other issues are going to be resolved is if this nuclear issue is resolved first because that's the priority, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is constantly threatening to go to war with or without us against Iran, and you have to put a stop to that. You have to be able to get past this nuclear issue. This gives time. It's not a final agreement. There's a lot of work to be done and we should remember that.
MAJD: For everybody who's a naysayer right now, they should remember taht this is not a binding agreement, and this is not Munich, and Iran is not the Nazi regime.
HAYES: Yes. I want to bring in Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, Democrat of New York, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, what's your reaction to this?
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY): Well, my reaction is, I never quoted Ronald Reagan, but it's trust but verify. The Iranians, you know, have not been friends of the United States, and you do negotiate with your enemies. You don't necessarily negotiate with your friends. I think the sanctions worked, and that's the reason why the Iranians are at the table.
The President has decided to go on this course of action, and we'll have to see. But I'm skeptical, I must tell you, I'm skeptical. I'm skeptical because I think that it's not so unusual to expect the Iranians to stop enriching while they're talking. If there are going to be six months of talks, and that's fine, where at the end, everyone says there hopefully will be an agreement where Iran will not have a nuclear weapon, I think it's a show of good faith, Iran should stop enriching.
Now, the U.N. Security Council has met a number of times, has passed resolutions calling on Iran to stop enriching, and yet, in this agreement, that's not in there. That's troubling to me and troubling to a lot of other members of Congress.
HAYES: Okay. So there's a few technical things and we can get into weeds a little bit on nuclear policy-
ENGEL: More than technical.
HAYES: But it's important, right? So one of the big things, the biggest win for the U.S. in terms of fear of progress towards a nuclear weapon in this agreement is that, actually, the uranium that has been enriched up to a 20 percent threshold, right, is going to be diluted back down. So that is actually a very big, concrete step, and that dilution is going to happen with some kind of international monitoring regime.
That strikes me as a pretty big, concrete, more than a sign of good faith. I mean, nothing can happen in those six months that brings themcloser to a nuclear weapon, right?
ENGEL: Well, look, there are parts of this agreement that are positive and good, but I think we have to hold the Iranians' feet to the fire. And look, people say Rouhani is a moderate. He's not a moderate. No moderates were allowed to run in the Iranian election. They were all eliminated from running.
There were six essentially hardliners allowed to run. He's the most moderate of all the hardliners, and it's true that the Iranian people voted for him because I believe the Iranian people do want peace. But I think we have to understand that Rouhani may not have the ability to make these decisions, that the supreme leader is the one who really holds the power.
And let me just say, just a few days ago, he was at a rally where they still chanted "Death to America," where they still called Israel a "rabid dog" of the region.
So, again, I think we have to be very careful, we have to be dogged. I'm for it. I hope there's an agreement, but we have to make sure that if there's an agreement, that it's not just Iran suspending its program, they have to dismantle it.
HAYES: Is it irrational for Iran to want a nuclear weapon?
ENGEL: Is it irrational?
ENGEL: I think nuclear weapons by themselves are irrational.
HAYES: The U.S. has one, Israel has one, all sorts of countries have one. The question is, is it an irrational aspiration?
ENGEL: Well, I don't know. It depends. And what's worrisome about Iran having nuclear weapon, Iran is not a democracy like the United States or like Israel. Iran is a theocracy. And if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, so will Turkey, so will Saudi Arabia, so will Egypt, and you'll start a whole race in the Middle East.
HAYES: But, Congressman, the idea that sanctions are what brought them to the table, which is what you're hearing from a lot of people, how accurate is that?
MAJD: It's dangerous to assume that. First of all, I should correct Congressman Engel because, if he believes President Rouhani is a hardliner, I'd like to introduce you to some hardliners in Iran.
ENGEL: There are plenty. And he was allowed to run. I don't think any moderates were really allowed to run. He's the least hardline of the hardliners-
MAJD: He's not a hardliner.
ENGEL: We delude ourselves if we don't think he's a hardliner.
MAJD: Well, he's not a hardliner. I can assure you, he's not a hardliner.
ENGEL: Well, he was the negotiator for-
MAJD: President Khatami, who was a reformist.
ENGEL: Well, and he talked openly about how he saw the United States during these talks.
MAJD: You have a domestic audience in Iran as well. And if you don't understand that there's a domestic audience in Iran that he has to play to in the way that you play to your audience in America, then, you know, you're deluded. I'm sorry. But anyway, my point with-
ENGEL: I'm not deluded. I just call it the way it is, the way I see it.
MAJD: Well, so do I, so we see it differently.
HAYES: I want you both-
MAJD: But in terms of the sanctions, it's dangerous, Foreign Minister Zarif has said this a few times, he said it to me and he said it to Ann Curry and he said to a few people, other than reporters, it is dangerous to assume that Iran came because of the sanctions. In terms of the enrichment, and Congressman Engel and others want Iran to suspend enrichment completely. Well, the fact is, the Obama administration understands that they will not do that, so the alternative is to find a way that you can prevent them from having (INAUDIBLE).
HAYES: Are your colleagues in Capitol Hill going to give space for this to work? Are we going to see movements towards new sanction bills that the President will have to veto?
ENGEL: Well, let me says this. First of all, I think that sanctions absolutely brought Iran to the table. Their currency is worthless, the economy is hurting, and I think it did. Look-
HAYES: People are hurting, too.
ENGEL: Look, I hope that this works. I mean, there's no one who wants any kind of clashes between Iran and the United States. I hope it works. I have my doubts, but I hope it works.
And I think we have to hold their feet to the fire, and we have to make sure they don't game the system, that they don't lie. And if it works, wonderful. I'm for it.
HAYES: Quickly, though, this is important, will we see movement from Congress to impose new sanctions, which would actually violate the terms of the deal that have been signed?
ENGEL: Well, I don't know. We passed the sanctions in the House. That's up to the Senate. They haven't passed theirs. We passed ours 400-20 on the House floor several months ago.
MAJD: And Foreign Minister Zarif was very clear in his exclusive interview with Ann Curry on Sunday morning in Geneva that if the United States passes new sanctions, they will have violated the treaty, and therefore all bets are off.
HAYES: And that's a very worrisome idea. Congressman Eliot Engel, Ambassador Christopher Hill, NBC News contributor Hooman Majd. Gentlemen, thank you all.
--Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Brad Wilmouth on Twitter.