The chair of a council of prominent military leaders argued in testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday that the Iranian nuclear deal could encourage U.S. allies in the Middle East to align themselves with other world powers such as Russia or China.
Retired Air Force Gen. Chuck Wald, who co-chairs the Iran Strategy Council at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the implications of the nuclear agreement being pushed by the Obama administration.
Wald, who served as deputy commander of United States European Command, explained that the agreement "undermines U.S. credibility" from the perspective of both allies and enemies in the Middle East by making U.S. commitment to alliances appear "weakened."
This in turn, Wald said, could prompt allies to "seek protection elsewhere" and enemies to "feel emboldened" against the United States.
"Some U.S. allies have made clear they believe this deal will not prevent a nuclear Iran and, that by proceeding with the [agreement], the United States is disrupting the regional balance of power and endangering them," Wald said. "Other regional partners have noted that the deal empowers Iran to redouble its destabilizing regional activities, making the Middle East a more dangerous place. "
"There is anger—even a sense of betrayal—among U.S. allies in the region," the retired general added, pointing to expressions of concern about the deal from Israel and other allies.
Wald said that giving the impression that the United States was faltering in its commitment was "dangerous," suggesting that it could encourage America’s allies to act alone against Iran or to seek help from Russia or China.
"This could mean taking matters into their own hands, as Israel previously has done or Saudi Arabia decided to do earlier this year by unilaterally launching an air campaign against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. Such actions, if not backed by the overwhelming force of the U.S. military, could spark reprisals that spiral into wider regional conflict," Wald told House lawmakers.
"Alternatively, our regional allies might seek other guarantors of their security," he continued. "Whether this means accepting Iranian hegemony or allying with other powers—such as Russia or China—the result would be detrimental to U.S. influence and interests in the region."
Wald said that allies could decide to terminate cooperation with the United States, making it impossible for the United States to "project power in the Middle East."
"Basing and overflight rights are critical to maintaining and deploying a deterrent force," Wald said. "The perception that we are no longer committed to our allies’ security could risk the revocation of those rights and spark a vicious cycle of destabilization."
Wald also suggested that U.S. credibility has already been undermined by defense cuts under the Obama administration over the last several years. The U.S. Army plans to cut 40,000 more troops over the next two years, losses that would become even more dramatic under sequestration.
Wald testified alongside another member of the Iran Strategy Council, retired Adm. John Bird, both of them spotlighting a recent report from the council indicating that the nuclear deal would make war more likely.
In contrast, the Obama administration has insisted that the nuclear deal is an alternative to military conflict with Iran.
The retired military officials’ testimony comes as congressional lawmakers make their final decisions regarding the nuclear agreement. Congress is expected to vote on the JCPOA sometime before Sept. 17.
While multiple Democrats have voiced opposition to the deal, President Obama on Tuesday managed to recruit enough support to avoid having to veto a resolution rejecting the agreement.
The deal remains unpopular with the public. Only 21 percent of Americans support it, according to Pew Research Center data released Tuesday.