“I am of the opinion that we will find our conventional military back in Afghanistan [within] 18 months.”
In this episode of Kash’s Corner, Kash Patel and Jan Jekielek turn to national security and dive into the mounting debacle in Afghanistan, the push for a new Iran deal amid sanctions and death threats from Iran, and Russia’s recent maneuverings around Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
Kash Patel: Hey everybody. And welcome back to Kash’s Korner.
Jan Jekielek: Kash, I think we need to go back to talking a little bit about some important national security issues that basically are not being talked about much now because of Omicron, and because of a lot of things that are taking the forefront in the news cycle. We’ve talked about this before. We’ve talked about the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban taking over.
Now, we’ve been hearing about the Taliban’s intent to put, what was it, 2000 suicide bombers at the Afghani embassy in Washington, D.C. in response to a contingent of 2000 soldiers. We also have the Iran talks, which have been ongoing. Iran doesn’t seem to have been holding fast to the terms of the deal, so to speak. Let’s jump into this. What are things looking like in this?
Mr. Patel: Yes. I think generally speaking, I’m glad we’re back on foreign policy. It’s probably more of my bread and butter than the norm. But a year into the Biden Administration, basically, we’re almost exactly at a year. You have to look back and evaluate, has America gotten stronger, gotten weaker in its diplomatic relationships with Russia, China, Iran, Afghanistan, the Taliban, and things like that? Those are the big relationships that you monitor and spend time and energy in.
At least we did when I was in the administration under President Trump. And I think, unfortunately the answer for us is that, across the board, from a national security perspective, our relationships with those countries are weaker. They are taking more advantage of us as Americans generally speaking. And when we do engage in these “diplomatic” negotiations, or talks, or what have you, it’s almost just theater and there’s no substance to it.
And that doesn’t… And I understand in foreign diplomacy you have to have a certain stage of theater, but you also have to have a certain stage of action. And I haven’t seen the action. So I think we’re going to talk about Iran. I think Russia’s another good example. And I think with the Taliban and it just recently came out which is a third example. So, we can hop around the world and talk about our relationships, because the Biden Administration has recently directly engaged Iran, directly engaged Russia, directly or indirectly engaging the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, why don’t we start with Iran actually, because from what I understand, Iran intends to basically give retribution for the killing of Soleimani.
Mr. Patel: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: And they’re sanctioning people, and that sanctioning means something different for them than it does for Americans.
Mr. Patel: Yes. So yes, let’s take on Qassem Soleimani first, and then we’ll get back into the whole JCPOA and Iran nuclear program deal. Quick reminder, Qassem Soleimani was the head of the Quds Force. What is the Quds Force? It is basically the elite special forces unit for Iran’s IRGC, their revolutionary guard corps. Who do they work for? The Ayatollah. And so Qassem Soleimani, over the years, had built up quite the arsenal of terrorists that he would deploy through either Iran or Iran’s proxies around the world against Americans.
And just a reminder, Qassem Soleimani was responsible for more casualties for U.S. soldiers than any one person in U.S. history. That’s how bad he was. And President Trump decided to take, I thought, the courageous action in taking him out almost two years ago, almost two years ago to the day or the week. And if you recall, when that happened, obviously it was a massive global event.
And what I remember, I was at the White House at the time, we were getting calls from across the globe. Our partners across the globe were cheering that action, because they agreed with our position on who Soleimani was and how big of a threat he was, not just to America, but to England, to France, to Paris, to everybody.
And so, we also have to remind people that this was on the heels of we had killed Baghdadi three months before that. So the number one terrorist in the world was killed on October 31st. And then fast forward to January, a few months later, and Qassem Soleimani was taken out, the head of the largest state sponsor of terror. So that’s the landscape back then. And of course, Iran came out and publicly said there was going to be retribution against America. I’m talking back then.
But I think highlighting this shows the difference in security posture that we have. Back then Iran voiced their outrage. And if you recall, they launched a couple of, what we call, indirect fire rockets near and around a U.S. Army position, a U.S. military position that thankfully didn’t strike actual soldiers but hit some structures and caused a few people to have some very mild head injuries. And that was it.
They knew, I think, Iran knew that if they actually killed or caused an actual casualty to an American soldier, that President Trump would have unleashed the rest of the capability we have against Iran—immediately. And I think Iran knew that. And so Iran wanted to save face for us taking out the head of their terrorism program. And so they use their propaganda machine to say, look, we launched rockets against an American position.
Fast forward to this past week, what happened? Jake Sullivan, the current national security advisor, did go out on the record and say we will protect against any retribution for those who did serve in a prior administration and those who are serving, which is the right thing to say, I have to admit. The problem that we have is why is Iran, all of sudden, two years after the death of Soleimani, issuing 51 new sanctions against Americans who were supposedly involved in the strike against Soleimani?
Not just that, they issued effectively a kill order for all those same people. And they said, publicly, not only are we going to just do it if you come near Iran, they said, we’re going to come to American soil and take out those individuals responsible for Soleimani’s death. That is a drastic escalation against America by, I would say, our biggest enemy when it comes to terrorism. And we don’t really have a response to that.
I just don’t think the way we’ve handled it, a message saying we’re going to protect Americans who served and are currently serving, is a step in that direction. But this takes us into, I think, the next thing we’re going to talk about with Iran was the whole nuclear deal and all that stuff. I think it’s all intertwined.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s deeply connected, because from what we can see, the Biden Administration is deeply committed to enacting the JCPOA in some form, even as it was canceled under the administration you’re a part of.
Mr. Patel: Yes. So quick history, JCPOA commonly referred to as the Iran agreement, or the Iran nuclear agreement, executed and signed off under the Obama Administration. And at the time, and since then, I’ve deeply disagreed with us entering that agreement. The goal of the agreement, I will say, was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which is the goal, every Democrat and Republican shares when it comes to Iran. It’s the “how do we get them to do that,” was the disagreement.
Obama thought that by giving them billions in cash, that we had seized from them and frozen from them, would, I don’t know, muster some goodwill. I didn’t think it was a good approach. It proved not to be a good approach. And what they said in that agreement was not just America signed on it, but I think England and a couple other of our biggest allies all signed on it with Iran, France and a couple other people.
And they said, you, Iran, cannot go past X in terms of weapons grade production of nuclear material. So you have to get a fissionable material that’s 90 percent to hit the weapons grade mark, and back then they were at like 20. And then they couldn’t hit certain amount of other percentages, as it relates to their nuclear weapons program without getting to details.
But we now know, looking back, that they never abided by those agreements anyway, even when they entered the JCPOA. So that’s why I think President Trump came in and said, you, Iran, are not letting the UN, and the global community of inspectors for nuclear weapons, come into a fordo and look, and examine, that facility to see is it active? If it’s not active, what’s there? What kind of nuclear weapons are there? What kind of nuclear materials [are] there?
We were blocked out. So I think President Trump, rightly so said, “We’re out. Why are we in an agreement that’s supposed to prevent you from getting nuclear weapons, and nuclear material, when you’re breaking the purpose of that agreement?” And so that caused a big uproar, I think, in the public as to we’ve withdrawn from JCPOA and Iran is now definitely going to get a nuclear weapon.
And I disagree with that, because we actually, under Trump’s Administration, were extremely harsh on Iran. We levied more sanctions against them than any previous administration. We crippled their currency, literally, to the point where they added a zero, just as a number. This is how bad it got. It got so devalued because of our sanctions during the Trump Administration, they literally just took a zero and said, we’ll just help our currency regrow by adding a zero, which as you and I know, you can’t do that. But that’s how bad it got.
And so we knew it was working, it was crippling their government. What else were we doing? We were wiping out the Qassem Soleimanis of the world, and we were wiping out Iranian proxies and other terrorists related to Iran’s IRGC in Yemen, and around Somalia, in Iraq. So, we were taking them on around the region, and that’s what you have to do with Iran.
But they then said, well, we’re going to march ahead with a nuclear program that gets us to a nuclear weapon. We just didn’t let them, and they didn’t succeed. So, when you have a change in administration, then President Trump’s out and President Biden has come in and said, he wants, as you’ve said, come in with a form of the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear agreement.
I think that’s catastrophic for U.S. national security because they, Iran, already showed that, even when they signed onto such an agreement, they broke it anyway. So, what are we going to do, reward them by propping them back up on the world stage, giving their currency value again for continuing to produce nuclear material towards a nuclear weapon?
I just don’t see that as the appropriate national security approach for Iran. We’re basically rewarding them for their conduct. And I’m personally offended that when they issue these sanctions, they Iran, against Americans, American citizens, and death orders, kill orders, against these folks. In light of that, we’re going to continue to engage diplomatically with Iran and go to, I think the talks are in Vienna or wherever they are. I think that’s absurd.
I mean, we didn’t do that under President Trump, and I think it highlights the weaker position that America is now in, because Iran is just saying, we’re going to do whatever we want. We’re going to issue these death threats. We’re going to sanction all these people. We’re going to publicly say, we’re coming after Americans on American soil. And we’re going to do whatever it takes to get a nuclear weapons program.
So why would we offer them an out? Why would we offer them the ability to come back into this so-called program? It’s mind boggling to me. And the only other thing we haven’t talked about is the snap back provisions, but that’s getting into the weeds. We can do it really quick.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, no. The thing that strikes me here is, again, also that this is obviously these sanctions, as I said, sanctions seem to mean something very different for the Iranian regime than for the Americans. But most Americans probably don’t even know that those orders were issued at this point.
Mr. Patel: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Because we’re so consumed with these other things, but also not a ton of media coverage of this.
Mr. Patel: No, almost none. That’s why I wanted to focus on our show today on that, because a lot of people on that list, everybody on that list, is someone I serve with. Some of them are my friends. I don’t want kill orders out against them for doing the national security job of America. This administration shouldn’t want that either. But we can’t give Iran a leg up after they’ve taken such a posture against us, and that’s what I was talking about earlier when I think we have weakened our national security posture. This is one example with Iran.
And I think the Biden Administration has… And we’ll do snapback really quick. What is snapback? Snapback sanctions meant, when the JCPOA was signed, there were United Nations provisions on sanctions against Iran that were withdrawn. That is the UN had these pretty harsh sanctions on Iran from a number of different countries. And snapback was, if Iran violated the JCPOA, it would automatically snapback to the prior landscape. That is, all the sanctions that the UN had in place beforehand would automatically come back into place.
I don’t think that’s realistic. So, I think when people talk snapback now, they’ve already violated the JCPOA, so I just don’t understand the logic. We’re going to put them back in the JCPOA, and then have them violate it again, and then try to do snapback? I just think this is political theater when it comes to national security, especially as it relates to Iran.
And we’re giving them, and this goes back to what we’re saying, the theme we were saying at the beginning of the show, their propaganda machine is going 100 miles an hour, and they are out messaging America when it comes to their position in the world. And I don’t recall a time when we did that under the Trump Administration.
Mr. Jekielek: A quick comment on the effectiveness of the sanctions. And there are a number of people [who] say this, and I think it’s true. The sanctions can be really tough on the Iranian regime, but they’re also incredibly tough on the Iranian people, as well. And people take issues with this.
Mr. Patel: I think that’s a great point. And I’m glad you brought this up, Jan, because what I should have led with is, we, under the Trump Administration, and we, as America, should not be out to take out all of Iran, because most of the people in Iran are citizens in Iran that disagree with the Ayatollah and the Quds Force. It just so happens that the Quds Force and the Ayatollah run the country.
So, when you issue these crippling sanctions, yes, unfortunately they have an impact on the everyday citizenry who doesn’t necessarily agree with their leadership. And as we know, and as you know, in Iran only a minority of that population actually agrees with what the Ayatollah is doing in, and how Iran is run, and the Quds Force, and the IRGC.
And so that’s the unfortunate reality is when you issue sanctions, when you devalue their currency, or when you do something against Iran, you’re always cognizant of what you are doing with the everyday people there too. And that becomes a very difficult balancing act because you have to weigh America’s national security interest by the ruling faction versus how are you going to impact the everyday citizens.
At least us, under President Trump, we weighed those two every time we took action against Iran. But we always, and I think rightly so, erred on the side of protecting American national security interests. And sometimes that was, actually, every time that was a really difficult decision.
Mr. Jekielek: I can’t help thinking about the Taliban saying, we’re going to put 2000 suicide bombers, basically. It feels like a very similar type of thing almost, in terms of messaging, if we’re talking about propaganda.
Mr. Patel: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Because, of course, this is very much a lot about messaging. I don’t think that those 2000 are going to show up there.
Mr. Patel: Sure. No, you’re totally right. 2000 Mujahideen are not going to show up in Washington, D.C. at the Afghan embassy. It’s never going to happen. But it is what we were talking about, it’s an easy propaganda win that the world will look at and say, is the Taliban really telling the Americans that these soldiers, these mercenaries, are going to come in here and stand guard? They just didn’t say those things under the Trump Administration, because the posture we took against Afghanistan and the Taliban was so completely different.
We made it a priority to wipe out Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. We made it a priority to have the Taliban come to the negotiating table with the Afghan government. And this is one of the most important things that I don’t think people have realized. Since the transfer of administrations from Trump to Biden, the people that are now leading the Taliban are five individuals that used to be in Guantanamo Bay, known terrorists that we let out.
So, the leadership structure of the Taliban has changed. With putting aside the whole Afghan withdrawal and the catastrophe that that was, the Taliban has come in and said, we, the Taliban, are the government of Afghanistan. Why are they saying that? The United States has bankrolled the Afghan… It’s a law passed by Congress. They have funded the government of Afghanistan every year for the last, at least, a decade.
The Taliban are now coming in on the world stage saying, we, the Taliban, are the government. You, the U.S., per your law, have to give us those billions of dollars. Now, thankfully, to date, that Taliban has not been recognized as the government of Afghanistan. And I’m not sure where it’s going to go, but if we do end up giving them the billions that, by law, we have to give the Afghan government, we’re going to be funding terrorism.
Because look at what the Taliban’s doing in Afghanistan, and again, this is not getting coverage either. They’re going back, they’re reverting back to the old ways of how they treat women, of how they treat people who are not in the Taliban. Quick vignette, bath houses, who cares? Why is that important? Well, in Afghanistan, if you don’t allow the women to use the bath houses in the country, that’s one of the only ways you stay warm in Afghanistan during the winter.
And people don’t realize this, but Afghanistan gets really cold. It has nasty winters and snow. People don’t realize it’s not just a desert, it’s very far north in terms of the geography of the earth, and it has some harsh winters. And that’s just one example. They have also, lately, the Taliban has been implementing a string of bombings killing people. And to me, the most important thing, as an American, is we still have American citizens on the ground in Afghanistan that can’t get out—that haven’t gotten out.
And you have these great programs, like Project Dynamo and others, that have gone in and done the work of what I believe the government should have done. And the roadblocks they’ve run into are shocking. The U.S. government has told some of these private groups that you’re not allowed to go in and get these individuals, these American citizens out. If you do, we’re going to interfere, or we’re going to look at you and your operation.
And the Department of Justice has gone so far as to say that if you move American citizens across a border, technically that’s human trafficking, we might prosecute you. I mean, can you imagine this? These groups are charitable organizations, former military guys in the DOD that I served with, that are just trying to get American citizens out. That’s all they’re trying to do.
And they’re trying to get other people out, not just Americans, just people who are now targets of the Taliban and move them to a third country. And it’s been almost impossible. And the fact that we still have American citizens there, I think is tragic.
So, this goes back to our point, how’s the Taliban gained so much, at least, posture power on the world stage? Doing the same thing Iran’s doing. They’re using their propaganda machine. They’re dictating to America for the first time in a long time, what their position is versus what ours is. And I don’t see a response. I’m not saying we should go back into Afghanistan, but we should at least get our people out.
And we should also, at least, prevent some of these atrocities that are happening from happening. And no one’s covering them. It’s again, to your point, no one’s covering Iran. No one’s covering the Taliban going out there and slaughtering Afghans. It’s not like, since we left, Afghanistan is just this peaceful place. In my opinion, I think it’s gotten worse. And what happens when you let the Taliban, that is now run by terrorists, who comes back? Al Qaeda, that’s their homeland.
[Narration]: We reached out to the Department of Defense for comment, but they did not immediately respond.
Mr. Jekielek: And so when you said something, we should at least prevent some of these atrocities from happening. How would you do that? Because that does sound like saying you do want America to go back in there somehow? Or is there some other method you’re imagining?
Mr. Patel: No, I think there is a combination. Unfortunately, I’m of the opinion that we will find our conventional military back in Afghanistan inside 18 months. Just because it’s not going to go well with the Taliban increasing in power. What you could do, especially for supposedly taking on these diplomatic negotiations that this administration is supposedly entertaining with the Taliban, is you could say we know you, the Taliban, need money.
I mean, we do this with the world over. If you want our American dollars, it comes with all of these attachments, all of these strings: wipe out some of the leadership that has direct ties to terrorism and our terrorist themselves, tell them to stop killing people that are not on their side or their team, for lack of a better word, and give us access so that we can get our citizens and our allies’ citizens out of Afghanistan should they want to leave?
That’s an option because Afghanistan, their number one money maker, unfortunately, is the opiate trade, which is illegal. So, they have that funding coming in, but they don’t have any other capital. They don’t have a bank reserve. They don’t have trade going out of the country that’s bringing in billions of dollars. They don’t have a tourism industry. They don’t have anything like that. So, they solely rely on the west for funds, and at a certain point they’re going to run out of money.
So, you could do it that way, on a diplomatic front. But I just don’t see us posturing against the Taliban. I don’t see this administration taking a hard stance against them. I don’t see us going to Britain, going to France, going to wherever, pick a country, and saying, we cannot have you, the Taliban, act like this. I haven’t seen it. It’s not even talked about in this administration. Since the catastrophic withdrawal, or the evacuation as I call it, with Biden, we’ve almost stopped talking about Afghanistan and what’s going on.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes. Speaking of these strong postures, you mentioned Russia, you mentioned China earlier, which are likewise taking very aggressive postures, whether it’s to Taiwan and, of course, that’s intimately connected by law with the United States. And of course, Russia, which is making all sorts of very disturbing moves.
Mr. Patel: Let’s just talk about Russia, because they’ve actually been engaging in diplomatic talks with the U.S. just last week. We had our deputy secretary of state meet with their deputy foreign minister in, I want to say, Geneva or one of the fancy European countries. And that’s good, I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that. We should do that.
But Putin, unfortunately, I think has taken advantage of this administration to the detriment of the American people. He knows he can expend minimal amounts of money, use his propaganda machine, and posture a position that makes him look like he’s in a superior position to the United States.
He’s doing this troop movements in Crimea, and now he’s talking about the whole situation in Kazakhstan. Which, really quick, for people that don’t know, Kazakhstan basically sits under Russia, geographically, massive country, lots of gas and production there.
Mr. Jekielek: Former Soviet Republic.
Mr. Patel: Yes, former Soviet Republic. So, Putin’s now saying he’s going to move troops over to Kazakhstan. The Premier there just got either resigned or kicked out, I can’t remember, but their government’s having some serious problems in Kazakhstan. Why does that matter? Who cares? Because Putin’s taking the region and basically showing the rest of the world with… It doesn’t cost him a lot of money, him Putin, to move a few thousand troops here, or to put out some propaganda against Kazakhstan that makes Russia look good and doesn’t make us look good.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I mean, and frankly support… There were legitimate protests against the Kazakh government and Putin’s involvement essentially prevents those from taking their course. And of course, there’s a lot of discussion about what that’s all about, but Putin’s basically taken his position. I’m the guy in charge here.
Mr. Patel: Yes. And look, these talks that the deputy secretary of state was having with the deputy foreign minister of Russia, involved troop movements from Russia to the Ukraine. And what the deputy secretary of state rightly said was the United States will not allow an “invasion” of Russian forces into the Ukraine. Now, that’s the right position to take. You don’t want Russia invading Ukraine.
But I think the Russians are sitting there saying, if we do it, what are you guys going to do? You, the U.S.? And I don’t think we’re postured to do much of anything. What are going to do to send troops over to the Ukraine, American soldiers? I think Putin… I don’t think he’s going to invade the Ukraine, but I think he’s using this situation, again, to his advantage.
He’s saying he might. He’s putting troops around the Ukraine. And what are we doing? The world is fixated on that dance between Russia and the U.S. and foreign policy. And it’s another scenario where we’re, unfortunately I think, losing our global power position, because Putin’s like, I’m going to do whatever I want, whether it’s Ukraine, or Kazakhstan, or what have you, I’m going to do whatever I want.
And you mentioned China. So I don’t think we’ll get into the weeds on China stuff, but just a couple months ago, China… Putting aside Taiwan, China was in the South China Sea taking target practice at American dummy ships that they had built. They were literally shooting at, not our actual ships, I want to be clear. But the Chinese government, the CCP, had made dummy ships with U.S. flags and U.S. insignia on them, and we’re shooting them. Because, I think, Xi Jinping has taken a similar approach to Putin.
It’s great propaganda from their perspective. It costs them almost nothing. And it makes the American position in the world look weakened. We didn’t do anything in response to it. We haven’t done anything in response to, and I know we talked about this on a previous show, the Winter Olympics being in a country where there’s three levels of genocide there. And so, it’s almost as if we’re just looking the other way at some of these, and going to the microphone every now and then, and saying, that’s bad, don’t do it.
That has a purpose, but if there’s no teeth behind it, that’s what I think is the difference between this administration and the prior administration of Trump. When we said stuff, it was backed by action that we took. For example, in Afghanistan, when President Trump said, “You the Taliban, have to eliminate your ties with Al Qaeda.” They knew he meant it because we went on a serious manhunt to wipe out Al Qaeda and ISIS.
And they knew that if they tied themselves to Al Qaeda, they would be at the receiving end of that action. And similarly in Iran, President Trump was very harsh on Iran between economic sanctions and actions we took again. The IRGC and the Quds Force, not just around Iran, but in Iraq, in Yemen, places where Iran operates against American interests.
Most people don’t know that, but they move outside of Iran with their proxy forces and attack our interest there. But we ended up killing, for example, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula’s emir, because he was one of the number one targets on our terrorism list, and just couldn’t allow… The guy’s name was Qasim al-Raymi. And we knew that if we took him out, that would show the world and Iran that we’re going to come after you.
So that’s the difference in saying we’re going to do X and backing it up with actual action versus just taking this “diplomatic” posture, putting it in the media, and then Xi Jinping, Putin, the Ayatollah, the new head of the Quds Force. I don’t think they’re taking us that seriously. And for the first time, they’re dictating their positions to America.
Mr. Jekielek: I think I get a sense of what you would do, but what is Kash Patel’s prescription here?
Mr. Patel: I think, in short, one, we have to educate the American public that these things were happening. We have to talk about what’s happening with Iran, with Russia, with China and things like that. And then once you do that and you actually get the news out there of the facts about how, and the Taliban, then you start encouraging your government to act appropriately, or, at least, what I think is appropriate, which is not what we’re doing right now. So, it takes time. It’s a plan you have to put together and you roll it out over the course of 12, 18 months. I just don’t think we have any of those plans in place under this administration.
So, step one, hopefully people start paying more attention to how the Taliban is treating people in Afghanistan, what Xi Jinping’s doing in China against American interest, what Putin’s doing for very little money against American interest, and what Iran has just recently done, very publicly, against American citizens in America. And that’s how you have to move the needle. You have to educate enough people, get them to pay attention to and talk about it, so that it starts becoming an issue, and not just Congress, but over in the executive branch where they can take action.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Kash, I think it’s time for the shout-out.
Mr. Patel: Yep. So, today’s shout-out, Jan, goes to Andy Ostertag. Thanks so much for your comments on our board at Kash’s Korner, and thank you everybody else for submitting your comments. Jan and I read him every week and we really enjoy it, and we will see you next week on Kash’s Korner.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.