Devil Dog Barks Out Truth
Top US commander: Iran sanctions not working
Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, says Iran is “enriching uranium beyond any plausible peaceful purpose” and that diplomatic efforts and sanctions are not working • Mattis: Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would be the “most destabilizing event that we could imagine for the Middle East.”
The Obama administration’s program of sanctions and diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities is not working, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East told a Senate committee Tuesday, adding that Tehran has a history of denial and deceit and is “enriching uranium beyond any plausible peaceful purpose.”
Marine Gen. James Mattis, the outgoing commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East and South Asia, said it still may be possible to use sanctions and other pressure to bring Tehran “to its senses.” But he also warned that he believes Iran is using the ongoing negotiations to buy time.
“That should not be in any way construed as we should not try to negotiate. I still support the direction we’re taking,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I’m just — I’m paid to take a rather dim view of the Iranians, frankly.”
Mattis at one point was asked point blank by Republican Senator James Inhofe whether he thought diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions were working to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“No sir,” he said.
“Good,” Inhofe replied.
According to Foreign Policy, Mattis is due to leave his command soon, following much reporting (and some speculation) that the White House was pushing the revered marine general out a few months earlier than planned because he was believed to be too hawkish toward Iran than the administration preferred.
The Obama administration has not ruled out military action to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And, under questioning from senators, Mattis said the U.S. military has the ability to bring Iran to its knees.
“There are a number of means to do that,” he said, “perhaps even short of open conflict. But certainly that’s one of the options that I have to have prepared for the president.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, asked what the U.S. needs to do to prove that it is serious that it will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran.
“I fear that if they (Iran) continue to use negotiations to delay, that we will be at a point where they have nuclear-weapons capability, and then it’s too late,” Ayotte said.
Mattis said that if Iran is allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, another country in the region has already pledged to do the same.
“At least one other nation has told me they would do that. At a leadership level, they have assured [me] they would not stay without a nuclear weapon” if Iran had one, he said, without naming the country, although it is widely assumed that Saudi Arabia would seek nuclear arms should Iran have them.
Mattis did not identify the regional actor to which he was referring, but answered in the affirmative after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked if it was a “Sunni Arab state.” And Mattis said he didn’t believe it would necessarily end there, saying other “non-Sunni Arab states in the general region” may seek a similar capability.
Mattis said he feared that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would be the “most destabilizing event that we could imagine for the Middle East.”
Mattis spent much of the hearing discussing budget cuts in the United States that prompted a decision to reduce the U.S. aircraft carrier presence in and around the Gulf from two to one aircraft carriers. Mattis said the cuts, known in Washington jargon as “sequester,” would hurt the military but warned potential adversaries that he could respond, if needed, to any scenario.
“I would just caution any enemy that might like as an opportunity to take advantage of this situation, that that would be very ill advised,” Mattis said.
“If the president orders [us] into action, I have what it takes to make it the enemy’s longest day and their worst day. And we’ll get the other carrier out there quickly to reinforce.”
Mattis also painted a daunting portrayal of events on the ground in Syria, where he said the situation was too complex at this point for him to support arming rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Mattis said the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is “both on the ground [in Syria] and are bringing in foreign fighters.”
“We don’t want to inadvertently, with the best of intentions, arm people who are basically sworn enemies,” he said before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Iran supports Assad and Mattis predicted that a fall of the Assad regime would represent a major setback for Tehran, prompting an Iranian backlash that would see it arming militias in Syria to “try to create a Lebanese-Hezbollah-type effect.”
“The collapse of the Assad regime, sir, would be biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years,” Mattis said in response to a question from Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
Asked by Reed whether the United States would plan for that scenario explicitly, Mattis responded: “And we are, Senator.”
Mattis said “quiet planning” was also underway with regional allies for potential stability operations if needed after the Syrian regime’s collapse, and pointed to regional organizations like the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as groups “that may be able to take this on.”
“We are doing some planning with the regional militaries and getting basically a framework for what this would look like,” he said.
Still, Mattis said the situation in Syria remained “fundamentally unpredictable,” even though Assad’s power base and geographic area of control were eroding.
Asked how long he believed Assad could hold onto power, at least in a sub-region of Syria, Mattis said: “I really don’t have the ability to forecast this well, Senator.”
“I’d hate to give you some kind of certainty that I don’t sense right now,” he said.
General, you are a breath of fresh air.
I didn’t think it was allowed to speak the truth in D.C., but this one Marine proves that wrong.