Had President George W. Bush’s national security advisers Condoleezza Rice or Stephen Hadley bragged to a journalist that the administration constructed a phony narrative to justify an unpopular foreign policy initiative, using intellectually corrupt members of the press to spread disinformation, surely the Democrats would be calling for impeachment and would drag the braggarts to Capitol Hill to testify under oath. The reporters involved in the deception would be fired, shunned and disgraced. But that’s the standard for a Republican president. The left falsely accused the administration of doing just that in the Iraq War yet when the real thing — a blatant deception in pursuit of a rotten foreign policy decision — comes along there is a collective yawn.
That’s what has occurred with national security aide Ben Rhodes, who, dripping with contempt for those he deceived, told the New York Times magazine that the administration constructed a phony timeline so as to con Americans into believing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was the result of “moderate” Hassan Rouhani’s election. Rhodes did so by creating an “echo chamber” of willing journalists who essentially took dictation from the administration.
As Lee Smith put it, “For the last seven years the American public has been living through a postmodern narrative crafted by an extremely gifted and unspeakably cynical political operative whose job is to wage digital information campaigns designed to dismantle a several-decade old security architecture while lying about the nature of the Iranian regime. No wonder Americans feel less safe—they are.”
Rhodes’s deception is deeply disturbing in at least several ways. “First, he ignored a CIA assessment that determined that Rouhani was not a moderate. Former Undersecretary of State and chief Iran deal negotiator Wendy Sherman reflected this assessment when she said recently that Rouhani was not a moderate and that the choice in the Iranian parliamentary election was between hardliners and hard-hardliners,” explains sanctions expert Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Second, the JCPOA itself makes no sense unless there is an evolution in the nature of the regime over the next decade. As a result of sunset clauses in the deal that see most of the key restrictions disappearing over an eight to 15 year period, Iran will be left with an industrial-size nuclear program with near-zero nuclear breakout, easier advance centrifuge-powered clandestine sneak out, an ICBM program and a more powerful economy increasingly immunized against sanctions”
The latter is key, for the essence of the JCPOA rests on the assumption that by the time key sanctions are lifted the West need not fear Iran. Moreover, substantial compromises before that (e.g. lifting sanctions up front, delivering less than anytime/everywhere inspections) were premised on the notion that Iran was, unlike decades of past conduct, willing to abide by an agreement and cooperate with the IAEA. As soon as the deal was inked however it became clear that Iran was not changed at all — grabbing U.S. sailors (much to Rhodes’ annoyance according to the Times story since it revealed the regime’s true nature) and conducting illegal tests. Rhodes may have used the press, but the Iranians used Rhodes, President Obama and the rest of the hapless administration to get what it wanted: sanctions relief with no irreversible changes to its nuclear program or moderation in its non-nuclear conduct.
If Iran’s moderation is a fairytale at the point Iran reaches nuclear breakout, “the United States will be facing a much more formidable and dangerous enemy and may have little choice but to use military force (as sanctions power will be severely degraded) to stop Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon,” says Duboswitz. ” At that point, Iran will be stronger and the consequences of military action more devastating. In selling the Iran deal on a lie, Rhodes may have made war with Iran more not less likely.”
The entire democratic process in this country was usurped. Senate Democrats were bullied and cajoled into going along with the deal and critics discredited based on a lie. “At the very least, Rhodes’s mendacity prevented a proper debate on what will we do in ten years if the Iranian regime is the same regime,” Dubowitz remarks. “Of course that was his intention in spinning the false Rouhani is a moderate story: To head off this debate to prevent a focus on the fatal flaw of the deal.”
Many Senate Democrats, having realized how weak the deal is and how unwilling is the administration to check Iran’s non-nuclear behavior (another misrepresentation, this one by Secretary of State John Kerry who vowed to go after missile tests, human rights violations and regional aggression) may have been embarrassed by their spinelessness. They claim to be “profoundly” concerned about post-JCPOA events. They should now be outraged; they were lied to in order to obtain votes on the deal in contravention of their own deep concerns. (We know how concerned they were; they said so in speeches that were often more critical of the deal than opponents.)
What to do about this now?” First, Congress should conduct hearings and call Rhodes to testify under oath. Any executive privilege he might have had was waived when he went blabbing to the press. Since he claimed to enjoy a “mind meld” with the president it’s critical to understand the degree to which the president and other officials participated in the deceit. (While Rhodes is there they can ask about his role as author of the infamous “talking points” in the Benghazi fiasco.) Second, if Congress concludes members were scammed, then resolutions of condemnation are in order. (Unfortunately it cannot impeach members of the president’s staff.) Moreover, Congress should by legislative enactment return to the status quo prior to the JCPOA, which was obtained in essence by fraud. Sanctions due to expire should be reauthorized (with no executive waiver authority for now) and re-implemented. New sanctions should be passed to address Iran’s human rights violations, support for terrorism, regional aggression and illegal missile tests.
In this year’s Senate elections this issue should be front and center. Any Republican challenger should castigate his incumbent opponent as a gullible victim of a scam. And frankly, if Senate Democrats do not respond to the latest revelation now they know they were scammed, they can rightly be dubbed as willing victims. This debacle (both the process and substance of the JCPOA), by the way, is yet one more reason for a third candidate: a qualified, fit president who understands the fatal flaws in the deal and is willing to reverse the damage to our national security and democratic process is sorely needed. It’s also a reminder why we cannot elect a “pathological liar” (as Sen. Ted Cruz described Donald Trump) to the presidency.