Monday

September 25th, 2017

Declassified

Obama kept military out of the loop on Iran payments

Eli Lake

By Eli Lake Bloomberg View

Published Sept. 26, 2016

Obama kept military out of the loop on Iran payments

One might think President Barack Obama would have asked his top military officials to weigh in on his administration's decision in January to send $400 million in cash to Iran. After all, Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, and terrorists prefer cash to wire payments because it's so difficult to track. And its armed forces have both directly and indirectly threatened the U.S. military in the Middle East.

But Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry did not consult Secretary of Defense Ash Carter or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford.

This news came out of a hearing Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, about the cash payment to Iran, Carter made it clear that he had been out of the loop.

"We weren't involved in this," Carter said, adding that it was part of the settlement of a decades-long legal dispute between Iran and the U.S. over arms sales. "I don't know all the details of it, and the chairman and I were not involved in that. It is a decision that was taken by the law enforcement and diplomatic and I would refer you there."

When Dunford was asked about the cash payments, he responded: "I am not trying to be evasive but I don't know the details of that arrangement and it really was a political decision that was made to provide that money and I don't think it's appropriate that I comment on that."

Christopher Sherwood, a press officer at the Pentagon, later told me pretty much the same thing. "It was worked out through the administration. The Department of Defense had nothing to do with that."

All of this is important for a few reasons. For starters, in response to repeated questions about the cash payment, which coincided with an intricate deal to release Americans detained in Iran, the State Department defended the decision by saying it went through an inter-agency process. At an August 4 briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was asked about whether the payment was a form of ransom. Toner began by saying, "There's always an interagency discussion around any decision like this, and every relevant agency weighs in."

The disclosure that the Pentagon did not participate in the decision-making process also comes after reports that at least some lawmakers were not consulted about other payments to Iran. This week, the Weekly Standard reported that key members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including its chairman Senator Bob Corker, were not told about wire payments to Iran, even after Obama last month said the U.S. had to send cash because such wire payments were not possible. Politico reported this week that the U.S. had been wiring cash to Iranian banks long before the cash payments were flown to Iran.

The disclosure is also the latest example of how U.S. military leaders have been distancing themselves from Kerry's Middle East diplomacy. Senior military leaders could barely disguise their opposition to Kerry's latest cease-fire plan for Syria, which would have resulted in the U.S. cooperating with Russia to select bombing targets had a cessation of hostilities held for a week. It didn't. At the hearing Thursday, Dunford said the Pentagon had no plans to share any intelligence with Russia.



Most important in all of this, though, is that the fissures between the military and the White House, which have been growing since Obama's first term, are coming out in the open in his presidency's final months. Since leaving office, all three of Obama's prior defense secretaries have talked publicly about their frustrations with the White House.

Robert Gates, who was Obama's first secretary of defense, wrote a scathing memoir where he complained about being ordered around by senior White House staff. Leon Panetta, who headed the Pentagon between 2011 and 2013, told the New York Times Magazine earlier this year that he never saw the letters Obama sent to Iran's Supreme Leader, when he served as CIA director or secretary of defense. Panetta's successor, Chuck Hagel, told Foreign Policy last December that he believed the White House had set out to destroy him.

We'll have to wait, but if recent public testimony is any indication Ash Carter will write a lively memoir once he leaves office.

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Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about politics and foreign affairs. He was previously the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast. Lake also covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI, and was a contributing editor at the New Republic.

Previously:
09/21/16: Preparing for North Korea's inevitable collapse
09/20/16: Why this neocon spy chief has joined Team Trump
09/12/16: U.S. spies think China wants to read your email
09/05/16: Kerry's soft words blunt U.S. hard power at sea
09/01/16: China's 'little green boats' have Japan on alert
08/31/16: Obama's CIA director wants to stick around for Clinton
08/29/16: Here's what Kerry should do to divide Iran and Russia
08/17/16: U.S. special ops in Syria are told, 'Don't get shot'
08/10/16: Why #NeverTrump movement is also #NeverGaryJohnson
08/04/16: Why Russia keeps getting away with hacking the U.S.
07/19/16: When clues nearly led the FBI to America's favorite Saudi
07/12/16: General Flynn outlines an all-out war on terror
07/11/16: The Palestinian incentive program for killing Jews
06/28/16: Obama's Iran policy is at odds with Hillary's message
06/22/16: Is Israel a pariah? Not according to its powerful new friends
06/10/16: U.S. taxpayers are funding Iran's military expansion
06/08/16: It's for good reason that aiding Kurds in and around Iraq is among the only bipartisan goals on America's foreign policy agenda
06/07/16: Why the U.S. Needs Russian Rocket Engines to Spy on Russia
06/06/16: Hillary Targets the 'Blame America First' Republicans
06/02/16: Hollywood and Korean pop could bring down Kim Jong-Un
05/25/16: REVEALED: The secret history of the Iran-deal 'echo chamber'
04/27/16: Pakistan has a China connection to nuclear trouble
04/19/16: Obama still not finished reinvigorating Iran
04/08/16: 'Panama Papers' could help go after Assad's wealth
04/05/16: Fascist or con man: The duelling Trump narratives
03/23/16: Hillary's convenient evolution on Israel
03/21/16: Cruz assembles an unlikely team of foreign-policy rivals
03/07/16: Trump turns out to be a politician, and not a good one
02/17/16: As Obama urges Congress, military says it can't send Gitmo detainees to U.S.
02/06/16: Hillary's security clearance is under scrutiny
12/23/15: Iran deal restricts U.S. more than Congress knew
12/11/15: Iranian troops abandoning Assad, Western officials say
12/09/15: Obama team weighs cyberwar options on Islamic State
11/20/15: After the Paris attacks, Bush whiffs on his war speech
11/18/15: What Obama's incoherence and anger at post-Paris press conference reveals
11/17/15: Dems begin to embrace 'regime change' --- again
11/13/15: Hurt feelings, unsafe spaces and other Israeli crimes
11/09/15: Egyptian leader seen as target of jihad
11/04/15: How Ahmad Chalabi survived his war to free Iraq
10/26/15: Now we know: AIPAC and the Dems who supported Iran deal
10/21/15: GOPers at Hilary hearing taking cues from Dems?


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