Last week in an op-ed about the Iranian nuclear deal, Juneau resident Richard Moniak raised questions about an earlier column I wrote in this paper, and about the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s recent passage of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which I co-sponsored. If the act passes in both the House and the Senate, it will allow Congress to have an up-or-down vote on an eventual nuclear arms agreement with Iran — one of the most significant national security issues facing America in a generation.
As a public official, I am accustomed to criticisms of my views and policy positions. Indeed, I welcome them. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for me to respond to every article or letter to the editor written about me or the policy positions I have taken. But the issue about which Mr. Moniak writes — whether or when Iran, the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, obtains a nuclear weapon — is so important, and some of his claims so inaccurate, that I felt compelled to respond.
But first, I’d like to compliment Mr. Moniak. He obviously cares enough about this important issue to put pen to paper and articulate his views in public, for which he will surely be criticized. An engaged American public on matters of national security is critical to our democracy. His op-ed is an admirable example on that score.
At the same time, his op-ed airbrushes this important issue of public involvement on critical natural security matters. The first sentence of his piece states: “This week President Barack Obama agreed to sign a revised version of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.”
The truth is that the president had been threatening to veto this act for weeks, and only “agreed” to sign it after it became clear that a veto-proof bipartisan majority of U.S. senators, myself included, would override the president’s attempts to keep the public from weighing in on his deal with Iran through their representatives in Congress.
That Congress must be involved was the key point of my original Juneau Empire column on Iran, as evidenced by its title: “Congress should have a say in any nuclear weapons deal between the US and Iran.” And now we will have a say; not because the president “agreed,” but because a bipartisan group of senators forced his hand.
Second, Mr. Moniak questions whether Iran was involved at all in killing and maiming U.S. troops in Iraq. He wonders what I saw during my “brief tours” in Iraq in 2005-2006 as a Marine Corps staff officer to the commanding general of U.S. Central Command, (CENTCOM) Gen. John Abizaid, and why that is “relevant” now.
He is correct that my tours in Iraq were brief, as were my tours in Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia during that time. But I certainly saw that one of the most pressing issues in Iraq was the growing threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), especially Explosively Formed Projectiles, or EFPs, the most deadly and sophisticated IED on the battlefield. Almost every time I was in Iraq with General Abizaid, he and his staff were briefed in detail on this threat, showing captured weapons systems and the twisted, charred remains of destroyed American vehicles hit by EFPs.
Those EFPs killed more troops per attack than other roadside bombs. They blasted through tanks, Humvees, anything that they hit. They were deadly. According to the Wall Street Journal, one former U.S. general estimates that EFPs resulted in nearly 1,500 deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Mr. Moniak wants to know what I saw in Iraq: I saw the trepidation and courage in the eyes of our brave military members who had to face this deadly threat on a daily basis. To this day, I loathe and deeply distrust the leadership of the country that was responsible for these EFPs.
Make no mistake: that country was Iran.
Mr. Moniak cites General Abizaid’s 2006 Senate testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, claiming that the general said that he had no proof that EFPs were coming from Iran. That’s not true. I should know. I was sitting behind the general at that hearing. Specifically, General Abizaid said that “sophisticated bomb making material from Iran has been found in improvised explosive devices in Iraq.” In a later 2006 hearing, Abizaid said that it was “clear” that IEDs, supplied by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds, were moving from Iran to Iraq.
By 2007, the evidence was overwhelming that EFPs used to kill our troops in Iraq were supplied by Iran. CENTCOM and intelligence officials held briefings with reporters laying out the evidence. Major news outlets ran comprehensive stories on these briefs. The State Department confirmed as much in 2009, and by 2011, the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, who was appointed by President Obama, said that “there is no doubt,” that these Iranian weapons were being deployed in Iraq.
Finally, Mr. Moniak takes issue with my statement that Iran has “consistently cheated on its nuclear commitments under the U.N.”
He cites 2012 testimony from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr., who said that intelligence officials don’t know if Iran will eventually decide to build a nuclear bomb.
But that’s not the same issue as whether Iran has adhered to the 1970 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it is a signatory to, and to U.N. Security Council Resolutions about its nuclear program. In 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Iran has “violated the terms” of the agreement, and has “not complied” with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). More recently, the IAEA says that Iran is possibly in violation of the treaty and the country continues to thwart the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions and refuses to make public its complete program. Just last month, Yukiya Amano, IAEA’s director-general said, “We are still not in a position to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is (for a) peaceful purpose. … Progress has been very limited in clarifying issues with possible military dimensions.”
As noted, I appreciate Mr. Moniak’s desire to engage with the public on this critically important issue. He believes that Iran continues to try to “resolv(e) this issue peacefully.” However, if someone is going to defend the Iranian regime, as Mr. Moniak appears to be doing, they need to have their facts straight.
For me, the bottom line is that I don’t trust Iran’s leadership. And from my years working on these issues — as a U.S. Marine officer in the Middle East, as a U.S. assistant secretary of state who helped lead efforts to encourage our allies to economically isolate Iran, and now from the information I’ve received as a U.S. senator — I have good reason not to.
My job is to keep my state and my country safe from declared enemies of the United States, like Iran. I’ll continue to lay out the facts in order to do so.
• Sen. Dan Sullivan is Alaska’s junior U.S. Senator. He took office in January 2015 and is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Sullivan is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and continues to serve as a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.