Last week, in announcing his decision to vote against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Democratic Representative Ted W. Lieu of California issued a 23-page, single-spaced statement, complete with 79 footnotes, which reached the conclusion set forth in the title of this post.
The statement is, in my view, the definitive analysis of the Iran deal – written in an extraordinarily thoughtful manner by a liberal first-term Member of Congress, who was elected president of the 20-member Democratic Freshman Class. It is the document future historians will cite to show that the likely consequences of the deal were apparent to a bipartisan majority and ignored by a partisan minority: in Representative Lieu’s words, the deal gives Iran “a legal path to a vast nuclear infrastructure and lifts two crucial arms control provisions, the arms embargo and the ballistic missile ban,” which “exposes America to a grave, potentially existential threat” because those missiles will be pointed at us.
Here is Rep. Lieu’s analysis of the likely short-term, medium-term, and long-term consequences of the deal, even assuming Iran fully complies with it:
- In the short-term (years 1 to 4), regional wars and conflict will likely increase because Iran will use part of the upfront infusion of $50 to $100 billion to fund terrorist networks and violent proxy regimes in a volatile region of the world during a particularly volatile time. …
- In the medium term (years 5 to 8), regional wars and conflict could get even more lethal. Iran can considerably build up its military — including ground, air, and missile capabilities — because the deal specifically lifts both the arms embargo in year five and the ballistic missile ban in year eight. …
- In the long term (years 8.5 to 15+) … Iran’s nuclear breakout time goes down to a few weeks or near zero not just for one nuclear weapon, but rather for many nuclear weapons along with the potential ability to deliver those weapons onto American soil with intercontinental ballistic missiles. … The JCPOA thus exposes America to a grave, potentially existential threat that would be unlikely to occur but for this deal. [Emphasis in original]
Lieu cites but does not rely on the verification and compliance issues – “the lack of anytime, anywhere inspections … the confidential [IAEA/Iran] agreement … the all-or-nothing nature of the snapback sanctions mechanism that make it difficult to use … the difficulty of verifying what a closed regime may be hiding in a country that is larger than Germany, France, and Spain combined.” His opposition to the deal is “based on my analysis of the existential consequences to the U.S. if Iran simply followed the JCPOA for fifteen years. If Iran were to cheat, the potential existential threat to America would occur sooner.” He states that:
The scenario I predict is not based on some worst case scenario that involves Iran cheating or taking other extraordinary actions; rather it flows from Iran simply doing what the JCPOA allows it to do.
The JCPOA provides “massive sanctions relief upfront” plus “hundreds of billions more over time as a result of the continuing sanctions relief,” in exchange for temporary and reversible rollbacks, and “every single one of the [restrictions] expires, some in 8.5 years, some in 10 years, and some in 15 years.” Citing testimony by the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff (Gen. Martin Dempsey) and the secretary of defense (Ashton Carter), Lieu states that the deal is an egregious strategic mistake:
I believe it was a strategic error for the United States not to insist that restrictions for delivery devices of nuclear weapons be made a part of the deal. We should have insisted that Iran further limit its missile development, not go the other way and actually lift the ballistic missile ban. Right now Iran does not have the capability to deliver nuclear warheads onto American soil with ballistic missiles. As a result of this deal, Iran is more likely to get that capability. [Emphasis added]
Rep. Lieu is a graduate of the Air War College who served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force and is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserves. He holds an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a law degree from Georgetown. His statement is the result, he writes, of attending multiple classified and unclassified briefings; analyzing transcripts of other hearings and reviewing articles by commentators; meeting with think tank scholars, professors and organizations; considering the views of various foreign countries; discussing the deal with current and former Members of Congress; engaging in over 100 meetings and conversations with his constituents; and receiving thousands of constituent contacts — phone calls, emails, petitions, and letters.
It would be hard to characterize Lieu as a warmonger, dual loyalist or Republican. In his statement, he says he opposes even limited U.S. military involvement in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Nowhere in his long and detailed statement does the word “Israel” ever appear: his devastating critique deals only with the existential threat to his own country. He says he “wanted to support the JCPOA, wanted to find a path to yes, but couldn’t get there based on the totality of the information I considered.” Because of his “profound respect” for President Obama, whom he considers a “transformational president,” he gave the administration “the benefit of the doubt.” But he concludes as follows:
I believe the JCPOA will result in more regional wars and conflict in the Middle East, along with more US entanglement, in the short term; and increase the chances of a lengthy, difficult, and more deadly war with Iran in the long term. … [T]he Iran deal provides a legal path after 15 years for an Iran that would be (1) far stronger militarily and economically than it is today, (2) at a shorter nuclear breakout time to more nuclear weapons than it would be today, and (3) capable of delivering nuclear weapons long range, potentially onto US soil.
The Lieu Statement should be retained for future reference.