Gen. Martin Dempsey is soon stepping down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and was candid with the Senate Armed Services Committee today about the nuclear deal and threats that remain with Iran.
Dempsey was sitting next to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew showed up uninvited to testify about the Iran deal.
The Joint Chiefs chairman was brief in his opening remarks. “If followed, the deal addresses one critical and the most dangerous point of friction with the Iranian regime. But as I’ve stated repeatedly, there are at least five other malign activities which give us and our regional partners concern,” Dempsey said.
“These run the gamut from ballistic missile technology to weapons trafficking, to the use of surrogates and proxies to naval mines and undersea activity, and last but not least to malicious activity in cyberspace,” he said. “The negotiating deal does not alleviate our concerns in those five areas. The negotiated deal does not change the military options at our disposal, and in our efforts to counter the Iranian regime’s malign activities, we will continue to engage our partners in the region to reassure them and to address these areas.”
“Ultimately, time and Iranian behavior will determine if the nuclear agreement is effective and sustainable. In the interim, I will continue to provide my best military advice and present military options.”
Dempsey did tell committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) that he ultimately supported the administration’s deal, though stressed to Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that it “will require us to strengthen our relationships and our collaboration in that part of the world.”
“This does cause us to have to increase our military — we have to pay more attention to the malign activities,” he said.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) noted, “It would seem to me that your brief nine-sentence opening statement to this committee today amounts to damning disagreement with fainted praise.”
“That, sir, does not give me a confidence level. And I just have to tell you that based upon your very brief and I think tepid endorsement of this — of this agreement,” the senator added.
Dempsey replied that his attitude toward the deal was not “tepid, nor enthusiastic, but rather, pragmatic.”
“I’ve said from the start that relieving the risk of a nuclear conflict with Iran diplomatically is superior to trying to do that militarily. But I will sustain the military options in case that becomes necessary,” he said.
The general said military action would “disrupt the program by several years.”
“But there’s nothing to say we couldn’t repeat it if necessary,” he added.
Asked by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) if he advised Obama “that we either take this deal or we go to war,” Dempsey replied, “No, at no time did that come up in our conversation nor did I make that comment.”
“I can tell you that we have a range of options and I always present them.”