Washington, DC – The latest chapter in ongoing Congressional efforts against the Iran nuclear deal unfolded on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with Republican lawmakers accusing the Obama administration of misleading the American public in its efforts to sell the deal. The hearing, held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was the latest recrimination of both the accord and the administration by opponents of the deal who have seized on a controversial New York Times Magazine profile of White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes to claim that the deal was won on spin rather than merits.
In the past several weeks, Congressional Republicans have held up an appropriation bill by seeking to block purchases of Iranian heavy water, threatened new legislation to block the Obama administration from addressing sanctions relief complications, floated new sanctions proposals that risk violating the agreement, and have now called for Rhodes to be fired.
The Tuesday hearing offered more of the same and largely became a debate between supporters of the Iran deal versus supporters of the Iraq war. The three witnesses who testified before the panel – John Hannah, Michael Doran and Michael Rubin – all worked in the George W. Bush administration and helped sell that administration’s narrative for war against Iraq, and vociferously opposed the current administration’s negotiations with Iran. Several of them defended the decision to invade Iraq at the hearing while arguing against the Iran deal as an Obama-led plan to extract the U.S. from further wars in the region.
Republican lawmakers focused much of their arguments on the claim that the White House only won the bruising battle over the deal because of spin from Rhodes, suggesting, for instance, that Rhodes and other White House officials had actually invented the notion that there are factional divides between moderates and hardliners in Iran. Doran cited NIAC as one of the administration’s allies in this effort.
The Democrats on the committee were not convinced by the Republican lines of attack, and even Democrats who had opposed the nuclear accord noted the partisan nature of the attacks and the irony in hosting witnesses who helped sell the George W. Bush administration’s war in Iraq to condemn the Obama administration’s effort to sell a diplomatic accord with Iran. Democrats particularly criticized the inclusion of Hannah, a former advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney that was heavily involved in the Bush administration’s effort to sell the Iraq war based on faulty intelligence, throughout the hearing.
“[This hearing] is nothing but a smokescreen – yet another in a long chain of attempts by my friends on the other side of the aisle – to deny what is manifestly true, that the Iran nuclear agreement is working,” stated Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). He listed the numerous successes of the accord, including Iran’s moves to reduce its centrifuges and uranium stockpile, reconfigure the Arak reactor and permit additional inspections.
The panels’ top Democrat, Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), observed “If our goal is to hear from an expert who actually promoted false White House narratives, then I think you picked the right person,” referring to Hannah. On the unbalanced witnesses called to testify, Cummings argued that the committee had “created its own Republican echo chamber” to attack the administration, and that the hearing was “exactly what it purports to condemn: a partisan narrative designed to mislead the American people.”