Panetta: Deal ‘A Dangerous Gamble’

Former Secretary of Defense, and former Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta weighed in on the Iran deal this weekend.  His advice accepts as a political reality that the President has the votes for the Iran deal.  It is, he says, a “dangerous gamble.”

Let’s face it, given the situation in the Middle East, empowering Iran in any way seems like a dangerous gamble. Islamic State is on the march; the Arab Spring is in shreds; Syria and Yemen are failed states; Iran is supporting Syria’s Bashar Assad, Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen; the Saudis are fighting in Yemen; Egypt is fighting in the Sinai Peninsula; Hamas and Hezbollah are rearming to confront Israel; the Palestinians are languishing; Libya is fighting itself; Turkey is fighting ISIS and the Kurds.

The response of the United States to these threats is driven more by the crisis of the moment than by any overarching geopolitical or military strategy. The principal driving motivation appears to be to avoid being trapped by another war in the region.

Like a man who has spent a career advising Presidents, however, he does not tell the President not to do what the President is clearly going to do.  He goes on instead to lay out how to do what the President is clearly going to do in the least disastrous way.

The following steps are crucial for such a strategy:

Enforce the deal… Any violation, even a small one, must be swiftly and strongly addressed.

Maintain a strong military presence. Force projection by our naval, air and ground forces is vital for defending our interests.

Expand intelligence capability. If Iran violates the agreement, it will do so covertly. For that reason, the United States must restore its cooperative intelligence relationship with Israel and invest in intelligence operations with our other allies. Monitoring Iranian activity, targeting terrorist leaders and networks, and assessing potential threats and hidden activities will be crucial for both stability and security in the region.

Make it clear that force is an option…. Congress should pass a resolution authorizing the current and future presidents to use force to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon….

Bolster the Middle East coalition. When I was secretary of Defense, working with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, we began to build a security force with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Emphasis added.  In his analysis of Panetta’s piece, “Iran deal is bad:  pass it and prepare for war,” Joel B. Pollak pointed out that this advice is for a different President.  Pollak is right.  The terms of the UN Security Council Resolution that provide the mechanisms for enforcing the deal largely tie America’s hands on enforcement of the deal, placing sole authority instead in the IAEA to certify that Iran appears to be obeying the terms.  The IAEA is going to operate according to a secret deal that reduces inspections at Parchin to a one-time affair.  The first leg of Panetta’s platform is thus off the table.

The second leg requires a bond of trust with Israel regarding intelligence activities.  Israel has reason to doubt our good faith under any President given that we would be signatories of an agreement promising to defend Iran’s nuclear program against sabotage.  But it simply cannot happen under a President who winked at the leaking of the STUXNET operation by General Cartwright, whom President Obama then declined to prosecute even though he has been one of the sternest prosecutors of government leaks of any modern President.  General Cartwright went on to head the list of former general officers supporting the President’s Iran deal.

The third leg requires a President who believes we have a military option.  It appears that this President believes that option exists only in accord with the United Nations Security Council.  The resolution requires us to submit to their leadership in enforcement, including on the use of force.  He has discouraged rather than encouraged Congress to express any sentiment to the contrary, and may well believe himself controlled by an international veto led by Putin or China.

Finally, the Gulf States have been divided from the United States by the Iran deal, which they rightly find alarming.  They have begun to shy away from cooperating with us in favor of constructing a unified front to counterbalance Iran.  This is an understandable move.  Yemen is the main front in the chaotic wars engulfing the Middle East in which we still seem to be supporting their interests against Iranian interests, and even there US ground forces will not be part of the coalition the Gulf States are putting together to rebuff the Houthis.

The Iran deal is indeed a reckless wager, and Panetta’s sober advice would serve as a hedging of our bets.  Unfortunately, it appears that for the near future none of his suggested methods are actually available to us.  Peace through strength requires leadership that is both tough and wise.  Without such leadership, we must remain opposed to this dangerous gamble.