Pompeo Is Not Going To Save The Iran Deal

As Mike Pompeo’s confirmation vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee teeters on the brink of rejection, hawks eager to salvage his confirmation on the Senate floor are pushing an interesting argument: that only Pompeo can “save” the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA). This is like arguing that only the hamburglar can protect your Big Mac.

How could we expect Pompeo to save the Iran deal as secretary of state when he already worked to sabotage the deal as CIA director, a position supposed to be non-political? Contrary to promises of objectivity during his nomination hearing, as CIA Director Pompeo pushed the president to de-certify the Iran nuclear deal despite Iran’s continued compliance. According to a Foreign Policy report in July:

Although most of Trump’s deputies endorsed certifying that Iran was abiding by the deal, one senior figure has emerged in favor of a more aggressive approach—CIA Director Mike Pompeo. At White House deliberations, the former lawmaker opposed certifying Iran while suggesting Congress weigh in on the issue, officials and sources close to the administration said.

Pompeo was forced to acknowledge Iran’s compliance when, despite the full resources of the CIA at his disposal, he failed to find any evidence that Iran was not abiding by the deal. As he stated in his confirmation hearing last week, “I’ve seen no evidence that they’re not in compliance” with their obligations under the nuclear accord. That means that Pompeo was urging Trump to make a political decision to undermine American compliance with the nuclear accord and push the U.S. government to exit the deal, which was widely denounced by all other parties to the agreement. There’s no reason to expect Pompeo to change if he becomes secretary of state.

Furthermore, Pompeo has refused to assure senators that he would stand in the way of Trump walking away from the accord if an agreement with the Europeans is not forthcoming in less than a month. Many have fixated on Pompeo’s promise to try to “fix” the accord by May 12 in line with Trump’s directives. Yet, when pressed on what he would advise if an agreement is not forthcoming by the deadline—an increasingly likely scenario—Pompeo affirmed that he would let Trump snap back sanctions to kill the deal and then work for a “better deal.” Of course, the notion that there is a “better deal” coming after Trump abrogates the current deal and alienates U.S. negotiating partners is ridiculous. Pompeo would be letting the deal he hates die, not putting himself on the line to save it.

Then there’s Pompeo’s record as a member of Congress. Pompeo pushed 2,000 bombing sorties on Iran as an alternative to nuclear negotiations in 2014, routinely asserted that there were no benefits to the nuclear accord whatsoever, and suggested that the U.S. pursue regime change in Iran. That record has rightfully raised concerns among lawmakers questioning Pompeo’s record.

Yet, similar to his peddling of conspiracy theories over the Benghazi tragedy, Pompeo distinguished himself by launching disingenuous attacks on the nuclear deal along with his buddy Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). In summer 2015, Pompeo and Cotton met with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Austria for briefings on a confidential, technical implementation plan to resolve an inquiry into Iran’s past nuclear activities with possible military dimensions. Such inspection plans are routinely kept confidential to protect state confidentiality and preserve the IAEA’s reputation as a neutral arbiter. Rather than educate their fellow lawmakers, Pompeo and Cotton spun the plan as a “secret side deal” that Obama was withholding from the American public. The House of Representatives even passed legislation authored by Pompeo alleging that Obama had broken the law by failing to turn over the confidential plan and that the JCPOA was therefore void. Interestingly, a recent White House news clip cites an op-ed listing the side-deal episode as a reason to support Pompeo, rather than as a sign that he is politically toxic and has a history of playing loose with the facts.

Pompeo’s primary qualification for secretary of state is that he has Trump’s ear and that, because of his good working relationship with the president, his word will carry weight. But Pompeo won’t likely reverse years of advocacy against the Iran nuclear deal, particularly absent any serious assurances from the man himself.

Pompeo is an ideologue who has already encouraged Trump’s worst instincts and appears eager to risk a war with Iran. If senators vote to confirm Pompeo, they won’t be affirming a secret ally who will work a diplomatic miracle with Iran. They’ll be voting for a man who encourages the president’s worst instincts and aims to oversee the death of the nuclear deal.

Originally published in Lobe Log

Pompeo Nomination Threatens Iran Deal, Increases Risk of War

Washington, DC – National Iranian American Council issued the following statement regarding the nomination of Mike Pompeo to become Secretary of State:

“Mike Pompeo’s nomination for Secretary of State could have profound implications for the fate of the Iran nuclear deal and the prospect of a new war in the Middle East. While serving in Congress, Pompeo’s positions on foreign policy were often ideological and tended towards militarism rather than diplomacy. His opposition to the Iran deal – including the political hijinks he engaged in to undermine U.S. negotiators – and his comments suggesting that military strikes would be more effective than diplomacy, raise serious questions about his fitness to serve as America’s top diplomat.

“During his confirmation hearings to become CIA Director, Pompeo assured Senators that his opposition to the Iran deal as a Member of Congress would not interfere with his new role that would require ‘objective and methodologically sound judgements.’ We hope that Pompeo’s time as CIA Director has enabled him to take a sober look at the success of the nuclear agreement and the fact that diplomacy successfully rolled back Iran’s nuclear program. However, the evidence – including Pompeo’s efforts to urge Trump to decertify the Iran deal – suggest the opposite.

“If Pompeo has not moderated his views, it means that one of the most ideological opponents of diplomacy with Iran may soon be in charge of implementing Trump’s efforts to exit the nuclear agreement in May. That would only make Trump’s demand that Europe join his administration in violating the Iran nuclear deal in order to save it even less appealing. Europe should be preparing for potential counter measures to neutralize the impact of the U.S. abandoning the agreement. Unfortunately, the net effect of Pompeo at State may not just be the further isolation of America and erosion of our credibility on the world stage, it may result in a dramatic escalation of tensions in the Middle East and a war with Iran.”

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Cotton, Pompeo And Trump Are A Recipe For War With Iran

In March 2015, the junior Senator from Arkansas ― Tom Cotton ― was derided for writing a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader in the midst of sensitive negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, warning that any deal with Iran could be revoked by the next U.S. President “with the stroke of a pen.” The letter, signed by 46 of his colleagues, was unprecedented, helping to blur the lines between partisan politics and serious national security matters and potentially delivering a fatal blow to the notion that politics stops at the water’s edge. It provoked a strong outcry, with many casting the letter as traitorous and Cotton as in over his head. Few could imagine, however, that by today Cotton would be poised to become the next potential director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under a President even more committed to laying waste to the norms of Washington, Donald Trump.

As bad as the Trump administration has been, it can always get worse. And that is precisely what will happen if the Trump administration follows through with a reported plan to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and nominate Tom Cotton to take Pompeo’s old position. Both Cotton, a protege of Iraq war champion Bill Kristol who received nearly a million dollars from Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel in his 2014 Senate campaign, and Pompeo, a former Tea Party Congressman from Kansas until his elevation to CIA Director earlier this year, have been pioneers in blurring the lines between political hackery and national security, a terrifying notion for the potential chief diplomat and a top spymaster. If the moves are finalized, Cotton and Pompeo will do untold damage to U.S. national security, and their first order of business will almost certainly be to scrap the Iran nuclear deal and lay the groundwork for a disastrous war with Iran.

Pompeo and Cotton are close ideological allies on foreign policy, having worked closely to undermine President Obama’s negotiations and later prevent the Iran nuclear deal from surviving Congressional review. In 2014, the two spoke to reporters on the Iran negotiations, with Cotton saying “I hope that Congress’ role will be to put an end to these negotiations.” If there was any doubt what their alternative to negotiations was, Pompeo clarified “In an unclassified setting, it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.”

Time did little to sober Cotton and Pompeo’s hawkishness on Iran. After the nuclear deal had been finalized that summer, Cotton and Pompeo traveled to Vienna to review the International Atomic Energy Agency’s plan to finalize its long-running investigation into prior, possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. While such plans are routinely kept confidential in order to ensure that the inspected state’s security is not in any way compromised, the pair of hawks spun that technical plan into a nefarious, “secret side deal” they alleged the administration was withholding from the American public. Nothing could be further from the truth, but Cotton and Pompeo used their hyping of the facts to further their campaign against the deal.

Cotton downplayed military action against Iran again in August of 2015, stating “I don’t think any military expert in the United States or elsewhere would say the U.S. military is not capable to setting Iran’s nuclear facilities back to day zero.” Of course, there is a difference between capabilities and what is in the national interest, and many have warned that Iran could quickly reconstitute its program after bombing and move quickly toward a nuclear weapon. Cotton seemed to have recognized this, though the notion of repeatedly bombing Iran – known in hawkish circles as “mowing the lawn” ― did not seem to bother him. “Can we eliminate it (Iran’s nuclear program) forever? No, because any advanced industrialized country can develop nuclear weapons in four to seven years, from zero. But we can set them back to day zero.”

Add to this atrocious track record several other notable efforts from the duo to undermine the Iran nuclear deal during the Trump administration. Pompeo’s last tweet prior to being nominated as CIA Director declared “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” Pompeo vowed in his confirmation as CIA Director to halt his political efforts to sabotage the deal, which he later backtracked on. In his confirmation, he vowed “While as a Member of Congress I opposed the Iran deal, if confirmed, my role will change. It will be to drive the Agency to aggressively pursue collection operations and ensure analysts have the time, political space, and resources to make objective and methodologically sound judgments.” 

But once on the job, Pompeo made it his pet project to release documents to a hawkish Washington organization in an effort to tie Iran to al-Qaeda, quite literally copying the playbook for the Iraq War. Pompeo also emerged as one of the prime voices urging the President to make the political decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal. As reported by Foreign Policy in July, “Although most of Trump’s deputies endorsed certifying that Iran was abiding by the deal, one senior figure has emerged in favor of a more aggressive approach — CIA Director Mike Pompeo. At White House deliberations, the former lawmaker opposed certifying Iran while suggesting Congress weigh in on the issue, officials and sources close to the administration said.” Given that the IAEA has routinely certified Iran’s compliance, such a position was far from Pompeo’s vow that his role would change ― he was still trying to kill the deal, though this time not in Congress, but at the President’s ear.

Who else joined Pompeo’s efforts to push Trump into killing the deal? None other than his pal Tom Cotton, who laid out the case for withholding certification in July in a letter with three of his colleagues. Of course, that letter was full of falsehoods, but that’s par for the course for the man who may be Trump’s next CIA Director. Like his colleague Pompeo, there is little reason to expect Cotton to drop his Iran campaign once he earns a place in the administration.

What of the man that Pompeo would replace, Rex Tillerson? It is indisputable that Tillerson has been a disaster on many fronts, in particular, his campaign to gut the State Department which will do untold damage to American diplomacy for years to come. Yet, on the Iran nuclear deal, Tillerson has actually allied with Secretary of Defense James Mattis to urge Trump against ripping up the deal. The loss of Tillerson, combined with Cotton’s elevation, would mean that Pompeo and Cotton could face little resistance in their campaign to unravel a nuclear accord that is working and downplay the likely alternative ― war.

It’s possible that the reporting is inaccurate and that Cotton will not be elevated to Pompeo’s current position. But if it is, the Trump administration will be a giant step closer towards killing the nuclear deal and taking the US into yet another war of choice in the Middle East. Unless, of course, the American public ― including Trump’s own base ― massively rallies against such folly.