NBC’s Engel Accuses U.S. of Trying to ‘Provoke’ War With Iran

Appearing on MSNBC Monday morning, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel repeatedly accused the Trump administration of trying to “provoke” Iran into some sort of conflict by sending an aircraft carrier group to the region. He and anchors for the liberal cable channel portrayed the U.S. as a bully getting in Iran’s face.

During the 9:00 a.m. ET hour, Engel told host Stephanie Ruhle: “Well, if you look at the political chess board, right? I think what you’re seeing here with this aircraft carrier is just one piece, and it’s quite a troubling picture when you look at it as a whole.” Ruhle urged him on: “Paint it.” Engel continued: “It seems like this administration is trying to paint Iran into a corner, maybe even provoke some sort of conflict with Iran.”

 

 

The reporter argued that the U.S. ship deployment was “a very provocative action” and “very threatening” to Iran. Ruhle interjected: “Isn’t that like me going one inch away from your face going, ‘Hit me. Come on, hit me’?” Engel agreed with her school-yard characterization: “More or less, yes.” He reiterated her comments: “...it’s putting your face one inch from Iran and saying, ‘I’m doing this so that if don’t hit me – or if you hit me, I can hit you right back.’”

Referring to increased U.S. economic sanctions against Iran, Engel worried: “You’ve just taken Iran’s ability to earn a living, support itself, by tightening these sanctions.”

Wrapping up the discussion, Ruhle fretted: “On a one to ten scale, you being someone who has covered the Middle East for years,  how concerned are you about the recent actions from our administration towards Iran, in terms of creating real conflict?” Engel replied by suggesting Trump would start a war for political benefit ahead of the 2020 election:

I think probably about a five at this stage. There’s a lot of time between now and the next elections, so just under two years we’re looking at. That’s enough time. That’s enough time to find some sort of provocation, go onto a conflict footing, which may have an impact on the political conversation in this country....it’s a troubling picture. I’d put it at a five, but we’ll see.

Appearing again in the 11:00 a.m. ET hour, Engel warned: “So then why is this aircraft group going there? Is it to deal with a specific threat?...Or is it for some other reason? Potentially to provoke Iran.” Fill-in host Yasmin Vossoughian eagerly seized on his comments: “Let’s go with that, let’s go with what you just brought up....this idea that this could be a provocation to provoke Iran, to have Iran walk in – sort of walk into a conflict.”

Engel began noting that Iranians were already seeing it that way, prompting Vossoughian to jump in: “That’s how they’re spinning it.” Engel objected to the term “spinning”: “They are perceiving it, I don’t know if they’re spinning it.” He then proclaimed:

...they think this is a trap that is being set for them. And they are not taking the bait....what they think is happening is that the United States is trying to pick some sort of fight, and is doing a provocative action, floating this flotilla right near Iran with the hopes, according to the Iranian interpretation, that it will incense them and start some kind of shooting conflict.

When the U.S. takes action against one of its enemies, and the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, the media still find a way to make Iran look like the victim.

Here is a full transcript of the May 6 exchange with Ruhle:

9:12 AM ET

STEPHANIE RUHLE: Now we need to head overseas. The U.S. sending an aircraft carrier, warships, and fighter jets to the Middle East as a, quote, “unmistakable message to Iran’s regime.” But so far the White House is not saying exactly what prompted the move. Here’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talking about it overnight on a flight to Finland.

MIKE POMPEO: It’s something we’ve been working on for a little while. It is absolutely the case that we’ve seen escalatory actions from the Iranians and it is equally the case we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests.

RUHLE: Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, my lucky day, joins me here in New York. Richard, I’m so glad you’re here because this means a lot. What exactly is the White House doing?

RICHARD ENGEL: Well, if you look at the political chess board, right? I think what you’re seeing here with this aircraft carrier is just one piece, and it’s quite a troubling picture when you look at it as a whole.

RUHLE: Paint it.

ENGEL: It seems like this administration is trying to paint Iran into a corner, maybe even provoke some sort of conflict with Iran. So take it one piece at a time. So you’re seeing this aircraft carrier floating near Iran. That’s a very provocative action. If you’re in Iran, that’s a very threatening thing. Then, why –

RUHLE: Isn’t that like me going one inch away from your face going, “Hit me. Come on, hit me”?

ENGEL: More or less, yes. And then, the reason the White House is saying it, and anonymous defense officials, is that they say this is to prevent Iran from carrying out an attack. So to go back to your analogy, it’s putting your face one inch from Iran and saying, “I’m doing this so that if don’t hit me – or if you hit me, I can hit you right back.”

Then look at another piece on the chess board. The U.S. just increased sanctions on Iran, tightened sanctions on Iran, denying Iran to really sell its oil around the world, threatening Turkey, India, China with sanctions if they do any business with Iran. So you’re floating this aircraft carrier in front with the threat that, “Should anything happen to American interests in the region, we’re gonna whack you.” You’ve just taken Iran’s ability to earn a living, support itself, by tightening these sanctions. Even though the rest of the world says that Iran is complying with the old nuclear deal.

Then another chess piece. Look at the timing. This come right after the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu got reelected by the skin of his teeth. And the Saudis would like this and the Saudis are very close to the Trump administration. Bolton is an Iran hawk, who was giving speeches for the MEK –

RUHLE: Okay, stay on this for a moment. Help me understand John Bolton as he relates to Iran.

ENGEL: So there are several Iran hawks, people in this administration who have for years been speaking about, been advocating for a hard line against Iran, if not direct violence against Iran and regime change in Iran. Rudy Giuliani has been one of them. John Bolton has been another. And they have spoken at gatherings sponsored by the MEK. The MEK used to be a terrorist organization, it was taken off the terrorist list. Iran certainly considers it a terrorist organization. And you go to these speeches, generally the MEK gives you money to appear at these speeches, and you talk about regime change in Iran. And Bolton and Rudy Giuliani have both been deeply tied into the MEK, and both have said that they don’t – have not disclosed how much they’ve ever taken in financial remunerations from the group.

RUHLE: On a one to ten scale, you being someone who has covered the Middle East for years,  how concerned are you about the recent actions from our administration towards Iran, in terms of creating real conflict?

ENGEL: I think probably about a five at this stage. There’s a lot of time between now and the next elections, so just under two years we’re looking at. That’s enough time. That’s enough time to find some sort of provocation, go onto a conflict footing, which may have an impact on the political conversation in this country. But if you look at this administration, which is so close to President Trump personally, so close to Israel, so close to Saudi Arabia, Bolton and others in the inner circle, this warship going there, tightening sanctions on Iran even though the rest of the region – the rest of the world said Iran didn’t do it, it’s a troubling picture. I’d put it at a five, but we’ll see.  

RUHLE: Putting it at a five, a troubling picture. Again, we’re so fortunate that the expert is here, Richard Engel.

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