Nervous Pentagon Nominee Weighs Private Outreach to Menendez, Romney

Colin Kahl mocked Romney, called Menendez Iran sanctions bill ‘diplomatic train wreck’

Colin Kahl
Colin Kahl / Getty Images
March 11, 2021

A top Pentagon nominee is on the ropes, and his team is now looking to shore up support from two senators he has lacerated on Twitter: Bob Menendez and Mitt Romney.

Colin Kahl, President Joe Biden’s nominee for undersecretary of defense for policy, has been one of Menendez’s most strident public adversaries, and Kahl and his team are increasingly concerned the New Jersey Democrat could oppose his nomination, sources tell the Washington Free Beacon.

Kahl slammed Menendez’s 2013 Iran sanctions bill as a "diplomatic train wreck" and promoted a conspiracy theory alleging the "Israel lobby" was using the legislation to start a war between the United States and Iran on behalf of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kahl’s nomination has had a rocky start in the Senate Armed Services Committee, where several Republicans have announced their opposition due to his inflammatory Twitter comments and his positions on Iran and Israel.

Although Menendez is not on the Senate Armed Services Committee, he and Kahl could face off if the nomination makes it to the Senate floor. The committee is expected to vote on Kahl’s nomination next week.

"Here’s the new Senate Iran legislation. It’s a diplomatic train wreck," wrote Kahl on Dec. 19, 2013, linking to a copy of Menendez’s Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act bill.

Kahl later approvingly tweeted a link to a blog post on the website "Lobe Log" that called Menendez’s bill the "Kirk-Menendez Wag the Dog Act" and claimed it was designed by the "Israel lobby" to push the United States into war with Iran.

"Proof that the new Iran sanctions legislation is a bad idea? Look at the Iraq war crowd supporting it," wrote Kahl, linking to the Lobe Log post.

The blog post, which was headlined "Neocons Who Brought You The Iraq War Endorse AIPAC’s Iran Bill," claimed "the Israel lobby, for which AIPAC is the vanguard, are flogging as hard as they possibly can" for the bill.

Kahl later claimed on Twitter that the bill would create a "threat-threat spiral" between the United States and Iran, and make "war more likely." He also called the legislation a "poison pill" for diplomacy and suggested that Congress was less enlightened than Iranian mullahs.

"Possible Obama will have more difficulty w/Congress re:#Iran than #Rouhani will in convincing Iranian hardliners," wrote Kahl, linking to another Lobe Log post.

This wasn’t the only Menendez legislation that Kahl lobbied against. In 2017, he criticized a bill crafted by Menendez and then-senator Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) that included targeted sanctions on Iran’s terrorist activities, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Kahl said one of his concerns was that the bill was needlessly provocative to the IRGC and endangered Americans troops.

"We can already designate and sanction any member of the IRGC and the IRGC as an organization under existing authorities, so the bill actually does nothing beyond being a symbolic gesture to basically rub it in the nose of the IRGC, so it’s gratuitous," said Kahl during a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic & International Studies on March 31, 2017.

"I understand politics and the need to show that you’re tough on Iran, but in this case the symbolism could have the inadvertent effect of triggering a response by the IRGC," Kahl added. "And if that response by the IRGC is something that actually puts our troops, our men and women, in harm’s way—it strikes me that’s a price that’s not worth paying for a symbolic or political thing that won’t make any difference to our ability to actually do what we can already do against the IRGC."

Aside from Menendez, Kahl has also gone after Sen. Mitt Romney (R., Utah). As one of Obama’s top surrogates, Kahl attacked Romney’s foreign policy during the 2012 presidential race. After Romney described Russia as the United States’ "number one geopolitical foe," Kahl was quoted in an Obama press release mocking the Republican candidate for his "Cold War-era talking points" and claiming this was "yet another example of Mitt Romney’s willingness to say anything to get elected, no matter how reckless it may be."

Routinely deriding Romney as a supposed lightweight on foreign policy, Kahl quipped on Twitter: "My Gtown colleague Madeline [sic] Albright would give Romney’s FoPo a ‘C.’ Clearly, Prof. Albright grades on a curve!"

Kahl also claimed that Romney based his Pakistan policy on a "Wikipedia entry" and scoffed that "Romney still thinks Syria is Iran’s only gateway to the sea. Dude needs a map."

A spokeswoman for Romney said the senator is reviewing Kahl's nomination.

Neither Colin Kahl nor Sen. Menendez returned requests for comment from the Free Beacon.

Updated 3:23 p.m. to include comment from Senator Romney's spokeswoman.