The Corner

National Security & Defense

On Secretary Mattis and the Iran Nuke Deal

Supporters of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (the JCPOA) have been very active on social media this afternoon claiming that Secretary of Defense James Mattis broke with President Trump when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the United States should remain in the Iran deal.

JCPOA supporters are worried that President Trump will not certify to Congress by an October 15 deadline that the JCPOA is in America’s national-security interests and that Iran is in compliance. But after the president called the agreement “an embarrassment to the United States” in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month, JCPOA advocates are even more worried that he will withdraw the U.S. from the agreement, possibly using a plan drafted by Ambassador John Bolton, which National Review published on August 28.

Prodded by JCPOA supporters, the media is playing up Mattis’s statement today as showing that the Secretary has suddenly turned on the president. This is not the case.

In fact, General Mattis made clear during his Senate confirmation hearing on January 12, 2017, that he supported America’s remaining in the Iran nuclear deal. Mattis also sided with other cabinet members in April 2017 and July 2017 in recommending that Trump certify the nuclear deal to Congress. Media stories that Mattis suddenly decided to oppose the president on the JCPOA are fake news.

General Mattis is a good man and an American hero, but he is wrong on the JCPOA and is siding with the foreign-policy establishment. I wish Mattis would listen to the 45 national-security experts who sent a letter to Trump on September 21 urging him to follow using Ambassador Bolton’s plan and implement a “clean” withdrawal from the deeply flawed Iran nuclear deal. The experts said in their letter: “It is time to move beyond President Obama’s appeasement of Iran and to begin work on a comprehensive new approach that fully addresses the menace that the Iranian regime increasingly poses to American and international security.”

This letter is far more important than Mattis’s repeating his earlier position on the Iran deal; it was signed by many former senior U.S. government national-security experts, including the former director of Sandia National Laboratory, Paul Robinson; former undersecretary of state for arms control, Robert Joseph; former undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith; former undersecretary of defense for intelligence, General William Boykin; and dozens of other former State Department and Defense Department officials.

We will soon learn President Trump’s decision on how he wants to proceed on the Iran nuclear deal. The deal is so extremely flawed that there is no realistic chance of fixing it. The only option is a clean withdrawal using the Bolton plan. Whatever the president decides, I doubt he will be swayed by fake news on Mattis’s testimony today.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is the editor of the 2020 book Defending against Biothreats.

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