Not long ago, I was being interviewed by Erin Burnett on CNN about the fall of Ramadi. It was a dark conversation.
Late in the interview, though, Ms. Burnett offered a modest ray of hope. Secretary of State John Kerry had said that, “I am absolutely confident in the days ahead that (the fall of Ramadi) will be reversed.”
Asked for my views, I responded that that statement had no relationship with reality as I knew it to be. I could have added that the Secretary of State was understandably trying to put the best face on a bad situation, but he was letting the political and policy needs of the moment out run the facts.
That was not the first time that he had done so. In September 2013, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the opposition in Syria “has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive minority-protecting constitution.” He added that, “the opposition is getting stronger by the day.”
Mr. Kerry’s purpose was clear. He wanted the United States government to more strongly back the so-called moderate opposition in Syria, a position which I personally support. But any sentient human being who knew how to point to Syria on a map recognized that the secretary’s description was well beyond hyperbole. It was just wrong.
We should keep these incidents in mind as we approach the June 30 deadline on the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the UN Perm Five plus Germany. After all, when this all began in November 2013, the secretary claimed that, “We do not recognize the right (of Iran) to enrich.” Of course, conceding enrichment was the very premise of the Iranian-American bargain that got the talks underway (which the Iranians correctly pointed out).
If we get an agreement this summer, the Congressional review period that a deal will trigger must be used to ensure that what we say and understand about the agreement comports with what the Iranians have agreed and with facts on the ground.
In an April interview this year on PBS, Mr. Kerry outlined maximalist goal. This is “about denying them a nuclear weapon,” he said. “This is a guarantee that for the next 15 to 20 years they won’t possibly be able to advance that program.”
A fair question might be how that comports with President Obama’s description that “in year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.”
Mr. Kerry also claims that “we will have accountability” even “when they (the Iranians) become a more legitimate member of the nonproliferation community.” Another fair question to ask is how much the wisdom of any timelines in the agreement depend on that last assumption being correct.
One of the remaining issues in the current negotiations is what to make of PMDs, the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program. One could argue that assessing the adequacy of an agreement about the future of the Iranian nuclear program might be dependent on thorough knowledge about the past of that program.
To date, the Iranians have stiffed the International Atomic Energy Agency that has for years been trying to delve into this subject. In his PBS interview, Mr. Kerry guaranteed that the Iranians would be transparent. “They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done.”
No it won’t. The Iranians will never come clean on PMDs. Watch to see if the agreement papers this over with some sort of language about future processes to resolve outstanding issues (which will not be honored in any meaningful way). If you want a litmus test, demand that the IAEA get to conduct the interviews it has been demanding with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the J. Robert Oppenheimer of the Iranian nuclear program. It’s not going to happen.
Mr. Kerry conceded as much on Tuesday when he declared that focusing on PMDs was now misplaced since we already had “absolute knowledge” of past Iranian activities. I know of no American intelligence officer who would ever use that description to characterize what we know and do not know.
I fear we will see something similar with regard to “anytime, anywhere” inspections. We never expected the Iranians to create the fissile material for a weapon at Natanz, their declared facility. What they were creating there was technology and confidence, not HEU. The HEU would be created at another, secret site, away from the prying eyes of the IAEA. Hence, the need for anytime, anywhere inspections.
Mr. Kerry has promised “a very robust inspection system.” When pressed, he said that we will “have a means of dispute resolution that will permit us to be able to resolve questions if there are any unresolved issues of access.” If the dispute resolution system is what one consults when there are issues after the agreement has been signed and sanctions lifted (as it appears to be), you can write off “anytime, anywhere”.
It may be that things like knowing the history of PMDs or having the ability to conduct “anytime, anywhere” inspections have been judged non-essential to a final agreement or at least that it is worth the risk. If that is true we should say so and debate that. But we shouldn’t say things we know are not true.
Before he played CIA Director Saul Berenson on “Homeland,” a much younger Mandy Patinkin gained some fame as Inigo Montoya, a legendary swordsman, in “The Princess Bride.” In that movie, in response to his self-styled criminal genius boss repeatedly uttering “inconceivable” at events transpiring before his very eyes, Mr. Patinkin’s character complains, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Something for Congress to keep in mind this summer.
• Gen. Michael Hayden is a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.