Thursday afternoon on MSNBC, "Velshi & Ruhle" co-anchor Ali Velshi sparred with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt over the Trump administration's escalation of tensions with Iran and Hewitt's high praise for National Security Adviser John Bolton.
"I think John Bolton is a war hawk," Velshi said.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC: Joining us now Hugh Hewitt, host of "The Hugh Hewitt Show" on the Salem Radio Network, a conservative commentator. Hugh, you wrote in an op-ed in "The Washington Post" today: "Most U.S. media outlets are far behind the news curve, and many pundits are generally trying to pigeonhole their limited coverage of this escalating crisis into their long-running opposition to national security adviser John Bolton, whose clarity and intelligence have long cowed his opponents inside the beltway." You had me until Bolton there, as you know, we cover this in remarkable depth on MSNBC and on this show. My concern about Iran has nothing to do with John Bolton, it is separate. I'm concerned about Iran and this escalation. And I think John Bolton is a war hawk.
HUGH HEWITT: Thanks for having me on, it is good to see you again. I believe the most important aspect of this confrontation is that the nature of the Iranian regime has not changed since 1979. It’s not about John Bolton. It’s not about Mike Pompeo. It’s not about President Trump. It’s about the fact that we have a theocracy run by a dictator. There's only been two, Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khameini now. And they have the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is an expeditionary force called the Quds. They've blown up four oil tankers in the last week. They've attacked Saudi Arabian pipelines, and they're providing missiles to Hezbollah on Israel's north and missiles to the Houthi rebels in the Civil War in Yemen.
ALI VELSHI: I could say all of this stuff about the Saudis, right? The Saudis are bombing the Yemenis. The Saudis have forces -- they had them in Syria, they had them in Iraq. What changed? What's changed?
And the Saudis are run by a dictator too.
HUGH HEWITT: I don't think you can say that they act like the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime exports chaos. They're a terrorist organization. And they announced last year--
ALI VELSHI: Hugh Hewitt! Hugh, just stop, Hugh, for heaven's sake. The Saudis don't export terror? The Saudis don't have expansionist tendencies?
I'm not in a position to defend the Iranians because I'm not interested all in. You're inventing this situation that Iran is some kind of danger and--
HUGH HEWITT: I'll tell you right now, the Iranian regime is quite different from the Saudi regime in its intent to destroy stability in the middle east. Saudi Arabia does not have an expeditionary corps like the IRGC Quds force. Saudi Arabia does not attack shipping in the Persian Gulf from Iran or the UAE--
ALI VELSHI: Because we're allies with Saudi Arabia, we're enemies with Iran. That's simple, right? Your allies don't attack you, your enemies do. All I'm saying is what has changed? The thing that's changed we got out of the Iran deal. Can you imagine if we had negotiated with them when we had a deal?
HUGH HEWITT: That's completely wrong.
The JCPOA -- the Iran deal --
ALI VELSHI: It's not even a little bit wrong.
HUGH HEWITT: The JCPOA did not deter any aggressive action by Iran vis-a-vis their ballistic missiles, their arming of Hezbollah. Their participation in the genocide and the stoking of the Yemeni war. They didn't change a thing. It was a terrible deal.
ALI VELSHI: Sorry, in what genocide?
HUGH HEWITT: In the Syrian genocide. It was partially Iranian-backed, in fact, it was the Iranian IRGC that saved Assad's skin in that game.
ALI VELSHI: I got you on that. The point is, we were in a deal that was acknowledged by the International Atomic Energy Agency in which Iran was in compliance with the deal. The deal didn't address any of those things that you just mentioned. So that was never actually what it was supposed to do. It was acknowledged by Americans that Iran was in compliance with the deal, but the deal didn't address any of those things that you just mentioned. So that was never what it was supposed to do, but we had a dialogue with the Iranians. We were at a table with them. It took ten years to get there. The only thing that changed America pulled out.
HUGH HEWITT: And we pulled out because that deal had promised to chain Iranian behavior and ti did not. And if anything, it got worse. I go back to before the IRGC was labeled as terrorist organization, lst summer, the FARS news agency published the remarks of a Quds general saying we're going to have our proxies attack Saudi Arabia and UAE shipping. That's exactly what they've done now, they deny responsibility. The key fact, it's not about Bolton, it's not about Pompeo, it's not about President Trump, who doesn't want war. It's about the nature of this regime in Tehran which is a despotic tyrannical regime that is absolutely hated by their people. That regime was propped up by the JCPOA and the end of appeasement has come about under Donald Trump.
I think the news media is coming around, Steph and I talked about this yesterday. I would point you to Admiral Stavridis and my conversation with him this morning. He is a center/left guy. But he's very aware what Iran is doing is trying to provoke us into a miscalculation. I don't think we're going to do that. But if they miscalculate and they hit an American navy ship, we will repeat what happened in 1988 in "Operation Praying Mantis" where Ronald Reagan sank half of the Iranian navy in two days.
I hope it doesn't come to that. Hugh, thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.