WASHINGTON, D.C. – At yesterday’s 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) continued her line of questioning to another panel of witnesses on whether they agreed with the President’s ultimatum to accept this nuclear agreement with Iran or face war. 

Witnesses on the panel included Professor Walter Russell Mead, Distinguished Scholar in American Strategy at the Hudson Institute and Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs at Bard College; Mr. Michael Singh, Lane-Swig Senior Fellow and Managing Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Dr. Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; Dr. Philip Gordon, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Mr. Richard Nephew, Fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. Watch their responses here.

Senator Ernst followed a similar line of questioning to General Hayden and Former U.S. Ambassadorswho echoed that there are other alternatives between the President’s two extremes. The Iowa Senator also asked Admiral John M. Richardson, the President’s nominee to a top U.S. Navy post, if he thought the only alternative to the Iran nuclear agreement is war, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin E. Dempsey on whether or not he advised President Obama that if we were not to accept the agreement with Iran, we would face war.

Senator Ernst also addressed the need to examine regional repercussions if Iran obtains greater means to empower the Shia militia. Dr. Singh responded, “I worry that you’ll see is Iran using some of its resources, using the freedom from sanctions to further strengthen its own militias, which are answerable to Tehran rather than to the government in Baghdad… it doesn’t contribute to our goals and our interests in the region – quite the opposite, in the longer run.”

Click here or on the image below to watch.

TRANSCRIPT 

SENATOR ERNST: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, gentlemen, for being here today. This has been one of many of a series of great discussions that we have had on this issue, so thank you for taking the time and providing the input necessary. I’m going to sound a little bit like a broken record – I’ve asked this question over and over again of the last few panels, but I would like to ask each of you. In the middle of July, the President came out and he stated we either sign this nuclear agreement or it’s war. Sign the agreement or it’s war. Not, “We’ll work a little more on diplomatic relations, sanctions,” he said, “It’s war.” So we either go along with this or America’s going to war, evidently. Do you believe that to be true, yes or no? Dr. Mead?

PROFESSOR MEAD: No, Senator.

SENATOR ERNST: Mr. Singh?

MR SINGH: No, Senator.

DR. TAKEYH: No, Senator.

SENATOR ERNST: Dr. Gordon?

DR. GORDON: I don’t think it’s automatically war, but it does, as I tried to underscore, put us in the position of either seeing Iran’s program continue or implementing that credible use of force, which is war.

SENATOR ERNST: Okay, and I’ll come back to you in a second, Dr. Gordon, thank you. Mr. Nephew?

MR. NEPHEW: Senator, I’d agree with Dr. Gordon. I think that, over time, it will lead to an escalatory spiral that leads us to war, yes. 

SENATOR ERNST: In time, it could lead to war, but not definitive. Is that correct, Mr. Nephew?

MR. NEPHEW: Senator, I would say that I find the likelihood of getting a diplomatic resolution dims dramatically if we reject this deal, so therefore I do believe that we will have an escalating Iranian nuclear program, an ever-expanding one, that sanctions will not be able to control, and I think that leads us to war.

SENATOR ERNST: Okay, and Dr. Gordon, I’ll go back to you, because you stated you did work in the administration for a period of years. You were assisting with these efforts for the nuclear agreement, is that correct?

DR. GORDON:  Yes.

SENATOR ERNST: Okay. When I spoke to General Dempsey the other day, who is the president’s senior military advisor, I asked him if he had recommended that to the president, and he stated no, that he had not recommended that. He did believe that – 

DR. GORDON: I’m sorry, recommended?

SENATOR ERNST: That we would go to war if this agreement were not signed, and he stated that he did believe there were other options that could be explored before we automatically made the assumption that the United States would engage in war with Iran. So he rejected that. I asked him if he knew who was advising him on that and he said that he did not know. Yesterday, the panel rejected the notion that war was the obvious solution if we did not sign the agreement. So are you the one that was advising the president that we would go to war or we should go to war if this deal was not signed?

DR. GORDON: Senator, I don’t think and I don’t know anyone who thinks that if this deal is not implemented that very quickly Iran makes a dash for a bomb and the United States uses force. That’s not, I think, the realistic way to think about it. I think the realistic way to think about it is there are one of three options if this deal does not go ahead. Either, and ideally, we get a better deal, the Supreme Leader decides that, after all, he can make more concessions, he comes back to the table in three months or six months or a year, and he gives us everything we want. That would obviously be ideal; I just don’t think it’s realistic. If that doesn’t happen, if the Iranians don’t come back and agree to all of the things we would like, then it’s really one of two things: they steadily proceed with their program, as they’ve been doing over ten years, and instead of 19,000 centrifuges they have 30,000; instead of an LEU stockpile of 10 tons, they have 20 tons; they complete the heavy water reactor at Arak; they do their research and development on the IR-8s and then we have to decide. We either watch that happen and have a hearing in a year or two when they’ve done all of that and they’re basically on the verge of a nuclear weapons capability or have one, or we implement the credible use of force to stop them. That’s what I think people mean when they say they’re worried that if we don’t do this deal, there will be a conflict. 

SENATOR ERNST: I would reject the outright notion that we would go to war. I do think that we need to take a step back and consider this. I want to look at the – because we are talking about regional strategy, I do believe that Iran has a regional strategy and they are a state sponsor of terrorism. I think this furthers their reign of terrorism in the region and around the globe. I think it makes them very powerful. On the other hand, the United States does not have a strategy in that region. If we had a strategy and this nuclear agreement was involved in that, I don’t think it would have been necessary to send Secretary Carter from country to country to talk with our allies in that region to, you know, ease their fears. I don’t see that that would have happened if we had that strategy. I would love to visit more, Mr. Singh, about just very briefly, if I might, Mr. Chairman? Just very quickly. I would like to look at the repercussions in Iraq. Iran is a very powerful nation through its proxies of terrorism, whether it’s in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, you name it. What does this do to Iraq with Iran having further means to empower the Shia militia? Does that really lend credibility to a multi-sectarian Iraqi government or do we see that falling apart with greater power going to the Iraqi Shia militia?

MR. SINGH: I don’t think that it’s helpful. I think the problem with this alliance of convenience with Iran in Iraq to combat ISIS, even though neither the U.S. or Iran likes ISIS and both would like to see ISIS defeated is that Iran’s actions are meant, I think, to sort of bolster Iranian influence and the influence of Iran’s proxies in Iraq, and so what I worry that you’ll see is Iran using some of its resources, using the freedom from sanctions to further strengthen its own militias, which are answerable to Tehran rather than to the government in Baghdad, as well as to buy political influence. We’ve seen this pattern in places like Lebanon, and it doesn’t contribute to our goals and our interests in the region – quite the opposite, in the longer run. 

SENATOR ERNST: Thank you very much, that –

DR. TAKEYH: Senator, can I just respond to that –

SENATOR ERNST: Yes.

DR. TAKEYH: – Mr. Chairman, very briefly, because I think there’s been a discussion about this windfall, where it’s going to be felt. I think the ramifications of this nuclear agreement, the economic ramifications – I don’t know how it will affect the trajectory of terrorism. I suspect it will be more, but it will be particularly felt in Iraq and Syria, in terms of prolongation of the Syrian Civil War and the military balance changes in the favor of President al-Assad. And in Iraq, the Iranians are talking about application of the Hezbollah model to the Shia militias. Namely, those Shia militias will be used outside Iraq, whether it’s in Syria or whether it’s elsewhere. So, essentially, the notion is that in due course, you have mini-Hezbollahs being created along that – Lebanon being the model for Iraq, a fragmented state, and Shia militias following the model of Hezbollah in terms of being employed by Iran in various other exigencies in the region. 

SENATOR ERNST: Okay, thank you.

# # #