Former U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump does not want war with Iran.
“The president hasn’t shown a lot of inclination to put himself on a very risky course with respect to Iran,” he said in response to a question from JNS on Trump’s Iran policy during a question-and-answer following a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., about his new book Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons From a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon.
However, Carter warned, “I do worry about us getting into a tangle because we’re so wound up.”
Carter, who led the Pentagon from Feb. 17, 2015 until Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, recalled that the day after the Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015, he told then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, “I’m glad that this agreement, if it succeeds, that it’s implemented, takes off the table a future headache for me. I still have Hezbollah. … I still have the dangers to our friends and allies in the region including, especially in Israel. All these other things … ballistic missiles.”
“The nuclear deal was not, and never could have been, a grand bargain,” he continued. “In that sense, I can’t speak for today’s government, but it looks to me that they have the same view that there’s a lot that Iran does that’s problematic even if it’s not running forward on the nuclear front, we still have a lot of problems. … I think there’s been continuity in that respect.”
Carter reiterated his opposition to the United States withdrawing from the accord in May 2018.
“I would not have left the nuclear agreement unless it was being violated because, as Secretary of Defense, it took one problem off,” he said. “Iran’s problematic enough. Iran with a nuclear weapon is tougher to handle, I’d rather not have that difficulty if I could avoid it.”
Nonetheless, said Carter, “We’ve gone a different route and so we need to pick ourselves up and move on from where we are.”
Along with withdrawing from the nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions lifted under it, the Trump administration has increased pressure on Tehran that has included enacting new sanctions, designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist entity and deploying two warships with fighter jets, in addition to a Patriot missile battery, to the Gulf in response to Pentagon reports that the IRGC was planning an attack on U.S. forces or interests in the region.
Carter also remarked on the United States suspending the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, blaming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“We’ve come to this point because Erdoğan has decided to disalign himself, first of all, with Europe. It all started with that,” said Carter. “The original sin was the European Union rejecting Turkey, from his point of view. We got swept up in that and he had this idea that he could flirt with the Russians and with others, which I don’t think were going to do any good.”
He added that “Turkey is part of the supply chain of the F-35, so they’re going to be taken out of the supply chain as a consequence.”
“This is all not ideal. It’s Turkey’s choice, but it’s not the right choice for Turkey,” which he labeled as “an important partner. We’ve always had great relations [with Turkey].”