National Security & Defense

General Dempsey Undermines Obama’s Case for Iran Deal

General Dempsey on Capitol Hill (File photo: Mark Wilson/Getty)

President Obama’s claim that Congress must either back his deal with Iran or plan for war does not square with the advice he has received from his top general, Senate lawmakers learned on Wednesday.

Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, never presented Obama with such a binary choice. “At no time did that come up in our conversation nor did I make that comment,” Dempsey told Senator Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) during a Senate hearing on the Iran deal. “I can tell you that we have a range of options and I always present them.”

Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that Obama was not misrepresenting the situation. “It’s not a choice the president wants to make, but it’s the inevitable consequence of them moving to assert what they believe is their right in the furtherance of their program,” he said.

Dempsey also acknowledged that he advised the president not to agree to the lifting of sanctions pertaining to Iran’s ballistic missile program and other arms. “Yes, and I used the phrase ‘as long as possible’ and then that was the point at which the negotiation continued — but yes, that was my military advice,” he told Senator Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.). In the event the new deal goes into effect, the arms embargoes will expire over the next several years.

Citing chapter and verse of the deal, Ayotte pointed out that the “plain language” of the bargain requires the United States “to help strengthen Iran’s ability to protect against sabotage of its nuclear program” — even to the point of warning Iran if Israel tries to launch cyberattacks against the program.

#related#Dempsey seemed caught off guard when asked about that provision. “I hadn’t thought about that, senator, and I would like to have the opportunity to do so,” he told Ayotte.

That exchange came shortly after Dempsey and other administration officials acknowledged a concern that Iran could launch cyberattacks against the United States and even the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with key oversight of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program under terms of the deal.

“It’s not just Iran, but it’s others as well, but that’s why we’re trying to make investments in that area and pull up our socks in the cyber area, but I can’t reassure you on the cyber front,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Ernst.

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

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