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The Joint Chiefs of Staff: Our Last, Best Hope to Stop a Bad Nuclear Deal with Iran

We are days away from the June 30th deadline by which the U.S. and Iran are to have finalized a comprehensive nuclear agreement. The framework agreement President Obama announced in early April ignored the mandate of six U.N. Security Council resolutions as well as his own promise to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Nonetheless, he made it clear, with or without U.S. Senate approval, the deal would become reality—threatening to use his veto if necessary to do so.

The U.S. Senate has a constitutional mandate to ratify all treaties. However, on May 7th, the Senate passed a bill relinquishing that authority as to this treaty. The bill reversed the normal Senate ratification process. Instead of 67 votes being required for treaty approval, 67 votes are now required to block the deal.

The normal treaty process puts the onus upon a President unlikely, in this case, to amass the necessary 67 votes for approval. However, this bill now puts that onus on a Senate majority unlikely to muster the necessary 67 votes to block it. This leaves but one authoritative body positioned to de-rail Obama’s runaway “nuclear-deal-with-Iran-at-any-cost” train.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) need to take a bold step, never before taken, to demonstrate to the American people just how bad this deal really is.

In writing the U.S. Constitution, our Founding Fathers provided us with an amazing tool for governance. Interestingly, as Obama exercises authority in ways never intended by them, he does so relying upon others today not to follow his own example. What role then can our senior military leaders, working within the confines of the Constitution, play in the midst of a constitutional crisis endangering our national security? While recognizing the need for a military, our Founding Fathers wisely subordinated it to civilian authority.

For two plus centuries, the military has never challenged the constitutional reins placed upon it. This is a tribute not only to the Founding Fathers but generations of military leaders loyally adhering to this mandate.

Little known to most Americans, there was one time in our history when concerns the military might be used illegally generated action to prevent it. The fear was not of a rogue military leader but of a rogue civilian one. During the Watergate crisis, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger became concerned Nixon’s mental state might prompt him to take illegal action. In an unprecedented act circumventing his own constitutional authority, Schlesinger ordered the JCS to disregard any call to nuclear arms by Nixon. Thus, military authority has always remained true to its oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Obama’s desire for a nuclear agreement with Iran despite its disastrous consequences—an end result to which Senatorial malfeasance will have contributed if it fails to muster the 67 votes needed to block the treaty—calls for extraordinary JCS action.

Much better so than their civilian masters, the JCS understands the true threat posed by nukes in the hands of Iranian mullahs driven by an apocalyptical mindset. The JCS knows this deal becomes the means by which those mullahs, now only holding an empty gun, will be given a nuclear bullet to load into it. Regardless of whether Tehran gets the bullet sooner (through an illegal breakout), or later (through legal compliance), the JCS understands the folly in believing Iran will act responsibly and not use it.

These military leaders also know it is foolish to put faith into the retaliatory concept of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). While MAD may have worked well during the Cold War to prevent a nuclear exchange between adversaries, it will not work well with Armageddon-minded mullahs.

Party politics and an irresponsible media also cloud the public’s understanding of the real dangers presented by this deal with Iran.

Thus, extraordinary action by recognized experts who can truly define America’s national security interests would carry tremendous weight with an American public struggling to understand its terms. As the Constitution precludes the military from forcefully imposing its will upon its civilian masters, the JCS is left with but one option.

To underscore the danger the deal poses, the JCS should resign en masse should Obama insist on signing it.

There are few examples of senior military officers protesting civilian authority decisions they believed endangered our national security. In late 1965, the JCS requested a private meeting with President Johnson to express concerns America was sinking into a Vietnam quagmire. But after being rebuked by Johnson, they failed to take the next step in registering their concerns by resigning. Years later, one who proved willing to take such a courageous step against civilian authority was Marine Corps Lieutenant General Greg Newbold.

On track for promotion in 2002, Newbold was serving as JCS Director of Operations when he abruptly resigned to protest the Bush Administration’s plan to invade Iraq. Because in both these examples civilian authority failed to heed military advice, two very costly wars resulted.

An en masse resignation in 1965 by the JCS may well have awakened the American public to the dangers ahead. Similarly, thirty-seven years later, an en masse JCS resignation supporting Newbold’s position may have avoided another war.

In 1836, during the last days of the siege of the Alamo, the American commander, Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis, drew a line in the dirt with his sword. Vastly outnumbered by the Mexican army and knowing death was imminent, Travis asked those willing to stay and fight to cross the line. All but one did so.

JCS members must now draw their own line, deciding whether to cross it and resign en masse should Obama insist on signing a bad nuclear deal with Iran.

Their decision pits survival of self against survival of country. Hopefully, remembering the Alamo, they will opt for the latter.

Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.

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