Will Congress Unravel the Iran Nuclear Deal?

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Former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell Larry Wilkerson says despite its flaws, real national security experts are all in favor of the deal

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On Tuesday Republican lawmakers in the House grilled Secretary of State John Kerry and other members of the Obama administration on the Iran nuclear deal. This is part of the 60-day review of the deal which still faces a vote in Congress. But it is still unclear whether Republicans and some Democrats who object to the deal will actually be able to get two-thirds in Congress to override President Obama’s veto.

Now joining us to discuss all of this is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former chief of staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he’s a regular contributor to the Real News. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: So Larry, you’ve been watching this Iran deal closely. Do you think the deal is on the brink of falling apart?

WILKERSON: I don’t. As a matter of fact, just today I was reviewing a number of nuclear physicists and others who really [has] some expertise in these affairs, and others in national security, people like Brent Scowcroft, Frank Wisner, Tom Pickering and a host of others. And the statements they’re making and the unanimity they’re showing in favor of this deal, I think that if the American people or at least the majority of them listen to these kinds of experts they’ll understand that this might not be the best deal in the world but it certainly is a better alternative to the other possibilities that are out there, the most ominous of which of course is war.

DESVARIEUX: And this week on Capitol Hill, Larry, we should also mention that a lot of groups have been lobbying. Specifically AIPAC, the pro-Israel group, has hundreds of members meeting with members of Congress, and liberal pro-peace group J Street put out an ad in the New York Times.

So let’s speak specifically about the interests here and what’s at stake for them. Can you just map out what’s the level of influence of these outside groups?

WILKERSON: AIPAC has tremendous interest in this, and influence over what I will call the cretins in my political party, the Republican party. And to a certain extent over some of the Democrats, Chuck Schumer, of course, big question mark by his name, and others who I [inaud.] think have a misplaced loyalty to Israel that blinds them to seeing that this agreement, as many Israeli security experts are saying in private, is the best assuredness of Israel’s long-term security, and a break with the United States over this deal which Netanyahu I think has fostered is the worst possible outcome for Israel’s long-term security. So in these instances, most of these Israeli experts even are coming out in private at least in favor of this deal.

J Street has been an alternative to the AIPAC that I’ve watched grow over the last decade or so. Jeremy Ben-Ami runs that organization. And I think that organization now represents more of Jewish Americans than AIPAC does. AIPAC still has lots of money, gets tons of money from essentially the right wing in my political party. AIPAC is still powerful in that sense.

But I think AIPAC has been eating and drinking and imbibing from its own table for so long now, and it has become just that, an ultra-right wing instrument of Israeli policy in the United States, that it’s alienating itself and is going to increase its alienation with its opposition to this deal.

So I look to J Street in this instance to defeat AIPAC rather roundly with regard to this deal. And I hope J Street becomes the more, the softer, more interested in Israel’s long-term security, lobby group in the United States for Israel’s interests.

DESVARIEUX: What do you think is important to pay attention to during this review period? What are you looking at?

WILKERSON: I’m looking at how many people in the national security establishment who have real bona fides to comment on this deal, how they stand. And I’m not talking about Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas who has no bona fides whatsoever, who is stupid enough to have said with a war in Iran, it would last a few days, echoing the sentiments of those who said we’d be met with roses in the streets in Iraq in 2003. I’m not talking people like Lindsey Graham, who is a JAG officer in the Air Force Reserve. I’m not even talking about people like John McCain, who hasn’t seen a war he didn’t like for at least two decades.

I’m talking about people who really have national security bona fides. I’m talking about Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisor to Gerry Ford and George H. W. Bush. Zbig Brzezinski, former national security advisor to Jimmy Carter. Tom Pickering, a career ambassador. Frank Wisner, under secretary of defense for policy. Ryan Crocker, ambassador in Iraq and a host of other places. I’m talking about real security experts who are all to a person in favor of this deal.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Larry Wilkerson, joining us from Virginia. Thank you so much for being with us.

WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

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