Statement by Jim Walsh at the House Subcommittee on National Security Hearing: Protecting America From a Bad Deal

June 6, 2018

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member, and Members of the Committee:

It is an honor to appear again before your committee, this time to discuss the consequences of the Trump Administration's decision to unilaterally abrogate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the international nuclear agreement with Iran and our P5+1 partners. Congress will face difficult but critical decisions going forward as a result of this decision, and so I laud the committee for beginning to prepare for the future ahead.

I come to today’s hearing as someone who has provided assessments to Republican and Democratic presidents, as well as to Republican and Democratic Members of Congress, as they have wrestled with these policy challenges. I have studied Iran, its nuclear program, its role in the region, sanctions, and terrorism for more than 15 years. I have written extensively on Iran and its foreign policy, and have had the honor to share my views in testimony before Congress on a number of occasions.

In my testimony today, I want to directly address four issues raised by this hearing.

1) The domestic and international reaction to the President's decision

2) An accounting of what had been accomplished by the nuclear agreement

3) A review of various criticisms of the JCPOA

4) The negative consequences of violating the agreement for US national security and America's standing in the world

My summary judgment is that the JCPOA was successfully addressing the single most important American national security interest in the Gulf, namely, preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. By violating the agreement and having no real strategy to replace it, the Administration has increased the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, raised the probability of military conflict between the US and Iran, undermined America's single most important national security alliance, and likely worsened the very problems the Administration said it was trying to solve, e.g., Iran's regional activities and its ballistic missile program.

1) The domestic and international reaction to the President's action A long list of government officials and nuclear experts had urged the President to comply with the agreement, including many who had previously criticized the JCPOA as well as important national security officials in the Trump Administration and in the US military. Secretary of Defense Mattis and CENTCOM Commander Votel, men who may have to respond to what happens next, both argued for staying in the JCPOA. While serving in office, Secretary of State Tillerson had also argued for remaining in the agreement. Similarly, in the US House of Representatives the chairs of the two committees most directly involved in these issues, Chairman Royce of Foreign Affairs and Chairman Thornberry of House Armed Services, urged the President not to break the agreement. In addition, dozens of former officials and nuclear experts cautioned against undermining the JCPOA.

Internationally, America's closest and most important allies --Britain, France, and Germany-- pleaded with the President to not violate the deal. Conservative British Foreign Secretary Johnson said breaking the agreement would be a "mistake," and that "every alternative is worse." Echoing those views were the UN Secretary General and also the President of the European Commission, who warned that it would constitute "a major threat to security in the region."

Less well appreciated were concerns emanating from Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu's views received extensive press coverage, but not former Prime Minster Euhud Barak, who had been a critic of the agreement and who at various points while in office had considered a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. He pointed to the "logic in maintaining" the JCPOA. He is not alone. Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, the former research chief at Military Intelligence, also a critic of the agreement, expressed a similar view as did others in Israel's professional military and intelligence community.

In short, an overwhelming consensus, including central figures serving in the current administration, cautioned against violating the deal. As with the decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate accord, the President ignored his own advisers, America's allies, and members of his own Congressional leadership and tore up the agreement.

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Read the full testimony below.

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