Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey testified Wednesday that the United States has "a range of options" if it does not accept the Iran deal, contrary to President Obama’s assertion that the choice is between his deal and war.
Dempsey was pressed on this point by Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"I understand that you advise the president on these issues," Ernst said. "Is that what you have told the president—that we either take this deal or we go to war?"
"No, at no time did that come up in our conversation nor did I make that comment," Dempsey said.
"Who is advising the president, then, that we must go to war if this deal is not signed?" Ernst said.
"I can't answer that. I can tell you that we have a range of options and I always present them," Dempsey said.
Dempsey repeated later that the U.S. has alternatives "between here and there"—that is, between accepting the deal and going to war with Iran.
This contradicts the assertions of top U.S. officials, including the president, who have tried to shore up support for a concession-heavy nuclear deal by presenting the alternatives as worse.
"There really are only two alternatives here. Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war," President Obama said. "Those are the options."
Secretary of State John Kerry presented the consequences of rejecting the deal in more vivid language.
"You can hear the prime minister of Israel calling up, ‘Time to bomb,’" Kerry said. "What are we going to do? When they’re enriching like crazy and we’ve passed up diplomacy and we’ve passed up the non-proliferation treaty, what is left to us to enforce this? So, what’s your plan? Knock out their entire capacity? Erase their memory of how to do a fuel cycle? Totally go to war?"
Ernst, an Iraq War Combat veteran and lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, fired back at the administration’s dichotomy.
"I think it's imperative everybody on the panel understand that there are other options available out there, and a multitude of options," Ernst said. "We're taught in the military about DIME: diplomatic options, information operations, military operations, and economic types of sanctions and opportunities. So for the president to outright reject everything but war is outrageous to me."
Military experts have presented a number of options that fall short of war if the deal is not accepted, including proposals to rebuild the effective sanctions regime against Iran.