It is not realistic to think that Congress can just chuck the Iran nuclear deal, according to former Michigan congressman Mike Rogers, a Republican who served in the House from 2001-2014.
He does, however, feel strongly that the U.S. and its allies can and should put pressure on Iran that will cause it to curtail its nuclear program.
Rogers, a former FBI agent and national security commentator on CNN, chaired the House Intelligence Committee for four years and had an insider’s view to the negotiation of the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He shared some insights on the JCPOA, on ISIS and on Hezbollah with the Chronicle in advance of his Oct. 30 appearance at the Embassy Suites Downtown as the keynote speaker for AIPAC’s annual Pittsburgh event.
The JCPOA, Rogers said, was done “for the wrong reasons.”
“Believe me, I opposed this deal, I don’t like this deal, I think this was a terrible deal in the long term,” he said.
“I think they were in a hurry to get it done,” Rogers continued. “I think they were looking for a win for President Barack Obama and not necessarily a win for international security. I think that seemed to edge out a commonsense approach to this, including by the way, giving them cash up front and opening up this economic commerce without extracting what many in the national security space believed were more solid commitments on the program.”
Pitfalls of the JCPOA include allowing Iran to maintain centrifuges and “leaving them with uranium to continue testing.”
“Now we’ve left the tools that they need for a breakout period on a nuclear weapon,” Rogers said. “I thought all of that was just not great. I happened to see it from the inside as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and some of the concessions and the giveaways that they were giving away up front made no sense for a real and sustainable nuclear deal. It just made no sense.”
Members of the Obama administration, instead, were focused on “talking about the president’s legacy and how this will be a legacy issue for the president,” Rogers said. “When I heard language like that I knew we were in trouble. I knew they were willing to give things away that you’d normally not even consider, knowing what you’re trying to accomplish.”
The cash that Iran obtained with the signing of the JCPOA — more than $100 billion — has enabled that regime to “promote instability in the region,” Rogers said. “We’ve seen it in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen. Clearly, they’re engaged in Syria in a way that is troubling as it’s right on the Israeli border.”
Although the deal is “bad for the United States,” European allies were eager to get it done to pave the way for trade with Iran, Rogers said.
“They wanted to be open for business, and they were eager to do it,” Rogers noted. “I get that, and I appreciate that. But at the end of the day, that unleashed this maligned presence across the Middle East with cash to do it.”
That cash helped fund the Quds Force — the arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard responsible for terror operations abroad — which previously had been “starving for money,” he said, “without asking for a change in that behavior. The Quds Force may have been directly or indirectly responsible for maybe as many as 600 American deaths in Iraq. When you’re willing to give that away, something doesn’t seem right to me.”
While Rogers does not think it is realistic to dismantle the deal with the support of U.S. allies in Europe, he would like to “hold [Iran’s] feet to the fire on certain elements of the deal.”
To put pressure on its nuclear development, Rogers would “try to push them back in the box on their missile development, their missile testing. Those are all in violation of U.N. sanctions. I think we ought to go back to our allies and say, ‘Let’s go down this path of tightening on their ability to develop, obtain and test more sophisticated, more accurate missile systems.’ I think we might have more success there.”
It is important for the U.S and its allies to “use our pressure points to try to push [Iran] back into being a good global citizen,” he said. “And I would start pushing back significantly on their support of terrorism in the region and destabilization. All our European allies know that. Some of them shrug, but we need to re-engage in that. This, to me, is where that diplomatic piece is so important.
“Undoing the nuclear deal will cause a lot of problems,” he continued. “So, we need to understand that, and we need to be realistic.”
In addition to putting pressure on Iran because of its missile development and testing, he said, there also needs to be pressure on its “engagement in international terrorism” by putting sanctions on its financial institutions.
“You can ramp back up some pretty serious sanctions with cooperation from Europe with what is now a growing body of evidence that Iran is engaged in supporting terrorism and destabilization efforts across the Middle East,” Rogers said.
While Iran poses a significant threat to the security of both the U.S. and Israel, the more immediate threat, according to Rogers, is “the vacuum of ISIS leaving Raqqa — which is a great thing, but now how do we continue to combat what we know will be a military campaign for ISIS that shifts to more asymmetrical, terrorist-focused events?”
That shift will be “dangerous,” he said, “because they’re going to lash out, not only in Europe, as we have seen — and that has certainly inspired events in the United States — but many of the analysts believe that surely they are going to attempt to lash out at Israel, because that is one of the things they think can bind together other extremists. That to me is the most immediate. We’ve got to try to get our arms around it, and that is going to be a very heavily intelligence-focused, special capability-focused pushback.”
Hezbollah, another serious threat to Israel, is now “battle hardened” from its time fighting in Syria, and its military leaders and combat veterans are “now returning, and knowing their propensity to blur the lines between conventional warfare and terrorism, this presents a real problem,” Rogers said.
Hezbollah has increased not only its arsenal of rockets, Rogers said, but has also improved the capability of those rockets, “meaning Iran is clearly sharing technology.”
Despite the threats of Iran, ISIS and Hezbollah, Rogers nonetheless sees some good news coming out of the Middle East. The question is whether the United States will take this opportunity in history to capitalize on it.
“I think Saudi Arabia talking about being a moderating force in Islam is huge and significant, and we ought to do everything that we can do [to encourage that],” he said. Egypt, as well, has indicated willingness to be “a moderating influence on Islam.”
“This gives us the building blocks to start pushing against extremism and the constant development of the next generation of jihadists,” Rogers explained. “This is a good news, long term fix on the influence of Islam that needs to happen. And it needs to happen from senior Islamic leaders like Saudi Arabia, like Egypt.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at