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.
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 false choice is also a key talking point from J-Street, who incidentally is hosting a conference call with President Obama this evening to help him sell his disastrous nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, the President's willingness to oppose Congress even if he couldn't override his veto unnerved at least one member.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who has been one of the more skeptical Democrats on the agreement, said that Obama appeared ready to ignore Congress, even if lawmakers vote to kill the deal and then marshal the two-thirds majorities to override a White House veto.(h/t Mike, Yenta)
“The main meat of what he said is, ‘If Congress overrides my veto, you do not get a U.S. foreign policy that reflects that vote. What you get is you pass this law and I, as president, will do everything possible to go in the other direction,’” Sherman told reporters off the House floor after the meeting.
“He’s with the deal — he’s not with Congress,” Sherman added. “At least to the fullest extent allowed by law, and possibly beyond what’s allowed by law.”
Sherman suggested that Obama could refuse to enforce the law and could actively seek to undermine congressional action in other countries, if Capitol Hill insists on stymieing the plan.