SENATOR ERNST: “Simple yes or no. If we don’t sign this agreement, are we going to war?”
GENERAL HAYDEN: “There is no necessity to go to war if we don’t sign this agreement. There are actions in between those two extremes.”
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DR. HAASS: “I would echo that …”
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AMBASSADOR EDELMAN: “Yes Senator Ernst, I agree with you, I don’t think those are the only alternatives.”
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AMBASSADOR BURNS: “I don’t believe that war would be inevitable...”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing entitled, “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the Military Balance in the Middle East.” U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) asked the panel of witnesses about alternatives to signing the Iran nuclear agreement and President Obama’s ultimatum to accept this deal or face war with Iran.
Witnesses on the panel included General Michael V. Hayden, Principal at the Chertoff Group and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency; Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, Goodman Professor of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School; Ambassador Eric S. Edelman, Distinguished Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy; and Dr. Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and Former Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State.
The Iowa Senator also pointed to the Obama Administration’s failure throughout the negotiating process in discussing options to push back on Iran. To that, Dr. Haass replied, “Violently, I agree with that. And I think we would have had far more negotiating leverage had Congress been involved sooner.”
The Senator followed a similar line of questioning to when she asked Admiral John M. Richardson, the President’s nominee to a top U.S. Navy post, on his opinion if the only alternative to the Iran nuclear agreement is war, and a question directed to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin E. Dempsey on whether he advised the President that the only options were the agreement with Iran or face war.
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SENATOR ERNST: Thank you, Mr. Chair, gentlemen thank you very much for being here today. This has been an enlightening discussion, I think, very good for all of us to participate in and hear your areas of expertise. It has been brought up a couple of times already today, and I want to make it very clear: a couple of you have affirmed this, but I would like to ask each of you, yes or no, a simple yes or no question, and then we can come back and talk a little bit more about it, but the President made very clear several weeks ago, very, very clear, that it was either this nuclear agreement or war. There was no in between – it was either the agreement, sign it, have it done, or we’re going to war. General Dempsey pushed back on this, Admiral Richardson pushed back on this, they agreed that there are other options available, so just simple yes or no: if we don’t sign this agreement, are we going to war? General Hayden?
GENERAL HAYDEN: There’s no necessity to go to war if we don’t sign this agreement. There are actions between those two extremes.
SENATOR ERNST: Than you. Dr. Haass.
DR. HAASS: I would echo that, but I can’t rule out that Iran would take steps that would force the United States to contemplate the use of military force. We would have to decide what, at some point, we deem to be intolerable.
SENATOR ERNST: But do you think there are other options before we get to war?
DR. HAASS: Absolutely, from sanctions to covert action of various types and so forth.
SENATOR ERNST: Thank you. Ambassador?
AMBASSADOR EDELMAN: Yes, Senator Ernst, I agree with you. I don’t think those are the only alternatives.
SENATOR ERNST: And Ambassador Burns?
AMBASSADOR BURNS: I don’t believe that war would be inevitable. Possible, but I do think congressional disapproval would weaken the U.S. and our ability to hold the sanctions regime together, which has been the key factor.
SENATOR ERNST: And I think there has been some very good discussion today. I think it’s very, again, enlightening that we have gone from, a number of weeks ago, many people, whenever I would bring up this topic about having other options available, why are we just talking about war? Now we’re having very good discussion about other things that we need to do as the United States to protect not only our population, but our friends in that region and around the world. A number of weeks ago, this was not happening. People were either saying that either we sign this agreement or we’re going to war. There are a lot of things that we can do, and unfortunately I think these discussions should have occurred much more significantly during the negotiations process. Now we’re at a point we either take the deal or not and try and unilaterally come up with things that we can do as a country to push back on Iran. Do you agree with that?
DR. HAASS: Violently, I agree with that. And I think we would have had far more negotiating leverage had Congress been involved sooner. I remember, and Senator McCain and Senator Reed and others will remember because we all go way back, we used to have Senators and Congressmen as part of delegations. I would – I think the idea of joint negotiating approaches, so Congress, if you will, is in on the takeoff as well as the landing, because right now, you’re right – we have, I always say, have poor choices and very few of them. It would have been much better to have expanded the range of choices and to improve the quality of the choices, and I think there ought to be some lessons derived for future Administrations and future Congresses about how to conduct negotiations, because we’re leaving ourselves in a very difficult place if we only get to this point after the deal, if you will, is signed, sealed, and delivered.
SENATOR ERNST: We are between a rock and a hard place right now, most certainly. Iran’s chief terrorist is, of course, I think, General Soleimani, and we have talked a little bit about this, gentlemen, today, and great article just out by Lieutenant General (retired) Michael Barbero: “Empowering the Iranian who Murdered Americans.” I think 20 percent of the deaths in Iraq have been attributed to the EFPs that the General had put in place, Soleimani. I think it’s good that we remember that this gentleman now is in good standing once this agreement goes into place. And this is a man who I don’t think is going to curb his terrorist activity or his backing of Hezbollah and Hamas and many of these other organizations. How will this deal empower this General? General Hayden, can you speak to that, please?
GENERAL HAYDEN: Sure, Senator. In terms of direct impact, he wasn’t going to travel to the United States anyway or show up at the UN, so – but we talked earlier about unleashing resources that can now be put at his disposal to continue doing what he’s been doing, and frankly, it couldn’t possibly come at a worse time. I mean, the man routinely is on the ground in Iraq directing Shia militia, and now we’ve given him additional resources.
SENATOR ERNST: Yes, thank you, and I think that it’s wise to remember that all of us that serve in the Senate probably have constituents and families in our states that have members that were killed overseas as a direct result from those EFPs. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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