- - Wednesday, July 22, 2015


The hot topic around the Capital for the past 10 days has been the Iran nuclear deal.

First, we’ve seen the Obama administration’s hard sell. President Obama last week was knowledgeable, confident and combative in several lengthy soliloquies on the deal before the press corps in the East Room.

He was also dismissive and delegitimizing of any opposition.

“My hope is that everyone in Congress also evaluates the agreement based on the facts, not on politics, not on posturing, not on the fact that this is a deal I bring Congress, as opposed to a Republican president, not based on lobbying,” Mr. Obama said.

Translation: Support for the deal is virtuous; opposition is vile. To drive home the point, the president issued a red card prior to the kickoff, pledging to veto any bill that undercut the nuclear agreement.

The hard sell continued with locking down the deal at the United Nations before Congress could consider it. On Monday, the Security Council unanimously approved a legally binding document that will lift most U.N. sanctions against Iran under a process that will begin in 90 days. In a real sense, the deliberative body in New York already has preempted the one in Washington. The European Union also started work Monday on lifting many of its sanctions. Congress still can refuse to lift U.S. sanctions, but Monday’s hurried work would make the U.S. odd man out.

Beyond the hard sell, there are intense debates over details of the agreement, details that are not always what the administration once said they were.

One example of bait-and-switch were the promised “anywhere, anytime” inspections that have morphed into something called “managed access.” Previously, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz characterized America’s potential access to nuclear facilities in Iran as “anywhere, anytime,” but now chief negotiator Wendy Sherman explains, “We have all been rhetorical from time to time.” (Forgive the analogy, but this kind of puts “anywhere, anytime” up there with “If you like your health care plan .”)

Unrepentant, Secretary of State John F. Kerry told successive Sunday talk shows, “There’s no such thing in arms control as anytime, anywhere. There isn’t any nation in the world, none that has an anytime, anywhere.”

Which, even if true, doesn’t explain the sloppy (I’m being kind here) language earlier, and I’m not sure that Mr. Kerry’s analogy even holds. Is this really an arms control agreement, like those voluntarily arrived at by equals such as the START accord between the U.S. and the USSR, or is this more like a renegade state, Iran, sanctioned by the international community, now with a heavy burden of proof to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the international community that it has ceased its sanctioned behavior? (Hint: it’s the latter.)

Then there is the announced sanctions relief on Iran’s ballistic missiles and conventional arms.

More than a few close observers of the talks were shaking their heads and asking, “Where did that come from?” — especially since the Iranians refused to discuss their ballistic missile program even after then White House spokesman Jay Carney said they “have to deal with matters related to their ballistic missile program.” Ms. Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, had told lawmakers that shutting “down all of their production of any ballistic missile that could have anything to do with delivery of a nuclear weapon is indeed something that has to be addressed as part of a comprehensive agreement.”

Of course, nothing like that happened and ballistic missiles showed up at the eleventh hour, not as an American demand but an Iranian (and Russian and Chinese) one.

In the end, we conceded an end to ballistic missile limitations after eight years (sooner under certain conditions).

Shortly before the agreement was announced, ABC News’ Jon Karl tried to pin down Mr. Carney’s successor, Josh Earnest, on the arms embargo against Iran. Three times, Mr. Karl asked whether the president would approve lifting the conventional arms embargo as part of a nuclear deal, at one point reminding Mr. Earnest that Iran was still listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. Although Mr. Earnest once referred to dealing with sanctions that were on Iran because of its nuclear program (which could conceivably be stretched to include the conventional arms strictures), four times he said that the relief under consideration concerned those sanctions applied to Iran’s nuclear program (which, of course, would not include conventional arms). In any event, Mr. Earnest steadfastly refused to give Mr. Karl a yes or no answer.

The answer was yes. The final agreement will lift the arms embargo in only five years (sooner under certain conditions). Based on just these examples, Congress has a lot of work to do in the next 60 days to just nail down what our government believes the deal actually says (let alone what the Iranians believe it says), and there will be lots of questions as to why we agreed to many things. Then both houses are going to have to weigh the impacts of these provisions on overall American security.

The president, who could not prevent the congressional 60-day review period, now says that “it’s important for the American people and Congress to get a full opportunity to review this deal so you can see what the deal is. We don’t have to speculate.” He added with no apparent sense of irony, “We don’t have to engage in spin.”

“Our national security policies are stronger and more effective when they are subject to the scrutiny and transparency that democracy demands,” he concluded, with no comment on whether “democracy” demanded advice and consent or even allowed amendments to the document.

So Congress will really have to step up its game this summer. The Iranian deal is the most important international agreement since the end of the Cold War. There are legitimate intelligence perspectives on it that I plan to share in future columns here.

In the meantime, we should all button our chin straps.

Gen. Michael Hayden is a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency. He can be reached at [email protected]



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