White House Played Role in Iran Deal Letter Signed by Former Flag Officers

Pro-deal letter part of lobbying effort from Obama admin on Iran deal

August 14, 2015

The White House worked with the organizer of an open letter signed by retired flag officers lobbying in favor of the Iran nuclear deal, according to emails reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

An open letter from retired generals supporting the Iran nuclear deal was coordinated with help from the White House, according to emails reviewed by the Free Beacon. 

The pro-deal letter to Congress, signed by three-dozen retired senior officers and released on Tuesday, has been seized on by supporters of the Iran agreement as evidence of a "growing consensus" backing the Obama administration’s position.

Emails obtained by the Free Beacon indicate that the letter is part of a larger effort by the White House to consolidate support for the agreement. The administration is scrambling to hold on to congressional Democrats nervous about backing the deal. While 36 officers put their names on the letter, others balked when asked to participate.

James "Jamie" Barnett, a retired rear admiral who now works at the law firm Venable, drafted the letter. Barnett reached out to retired senior officers earlier this month, asking them to sign on and touting the White House’s involvement.

"I am working with the White House on a letter for retired General Officers and Flag Officers to sign, supporting the U.S.-Iran accord on nuclear armament," Barnett wrote in an Aug. 4 email to one potential signatory. "Are you in a position, and of such a mind, to consider such a letter?"

Barnett indicated that those who signed on could attend a meeting or conference call with White House officials, and said organizers wanted to finalize the list of signatures by last Friday.

Barnett told the Free Beacon on Thursday that the letter was his idea and that he did not write it due to a request from the White House. He said he did ask for a meeting with the National Security Council staff for retired admirals and generals who wanted to attend.

He also said Venable, whose roster of past clients includes Russia’s state gas company Gazprom, had no involvement with the letter.

"I thought of it on my own and started talking to my retired flag officer friends, who in turn brought others in," said Barnett.

The White House did not respond to request for comment.

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey was one of the officers who declined to participate when asked to sign the letter.

"In my view the Iran nuke deal is a deeply flawed agreement," McCaffrey replied to Barnett in an email last week. "Cannot sign your letter of support by retired senior officers to support the White House position."

McCaffrey blasted the nuclear agreement, saying it was opposed by America’s Middle Eastern allies, did not provide for adequate inspections, legitimizes Iran, and would encourage a nuclear arms race in the region.

"The option was not war. The option was walling Iran off for another decade—and threatening nuclear retaliation if they attacked their Sunni neighbors [with] nuclear weapons," wrote McCaffrey.

"This agreement will likely accelerate nuclear proliferation in the region," he added. "The Sunni Arab states will want a nuclear deterrence to the Persian Shia capability."

Some national security experts criticized the effort to portray the Iran deal as beneficial for U.S. security interests.

"The effort by the White House to paint this Iran deal as something that U.S. national security experts can get behind just reeks of desperation," said Kyle Shideler, director of the Threat Information Office at the Center for Security Policy. "Anyone following the debate over the past several weeks can see that the vast majority of national security practitioners clearly recognize that this is a dangerous deal."