Dick Cheney: Iran Deal Is 'Madness'

The former vice president said "a far better deal is still possible."
Credit: Nicholas Kamm via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday called President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran "madness," and insisted that the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq had helped curb Iran's nuclear capacities.

At a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Cheney defended his legacy and blasted Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. He said the deal lacked substantive verification standards to ensure that Iran was living up to its commitments, and argued that Iran could use the sanctions relief the agreement provides to worsen regional conflicts in the Middle East.

"It is madness," Cheney said.

Obama has frequently noted that economic sanctions against Iran have not prevented the country from financing terrorist groups over the past several years. Sanctions have also failed to curb the development of Iran's nuclear program, which sped up during the George W. Bush administration. Deal proponents argue that the only realistic option other than Obama's diplomatic agreement is an eventual military assault on Iran, a complicated prospect at a time when the U.S. and Iran are both busy fighting the Islamic State group.

Cheney said that a choice between the existing Obama deal and war was a false one -- minutes before he went on to say that rogue regimes would only curb nuclear development if they faced military action or military threats.

"A far better deal is still possible," Cheney said before an audience that included his wife, his daughter and his longtime ally Paul Wolfowitz. "Iran must halt its enrichment and reprocessing activities. It must halt its ballistic missile activities. It must provide a full and complete accounting of all its past nuclear activities. It must allow complete anywhere, anytime access, including at military sites. There should be no sanctions relief until Iran has fulfilled these obligations. If Iran chooses not to do so, they must understand that the United States stands ready to take military action."

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who was in attendance at the Cheney speech, has previously implied that an assault on Iran would be preferable to diplomacy, arguing that scuttling nuclear diplomacy was an important prerequisite for "regime change" in the country.

Also present was former Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minn.), who used her final meeting with Obama before she left Congress last year to tell the president he must bomb Iran.

Several U.S. allies have already agreed to the nuclear agreement, and other countries, including Russia and China, are eager to drop the sanctions against Iran. Absent international enforcement, Obama's supporters argue, there is no way to preserve the existing sanctions regime. Rejecting this deal, they say, will not lead to a stronger one.

Cheney suggested that saber-rattling is all it would take for that better deal to be accomplished, insisting that the world has the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq in 2003 to thank for limiting nuclear proliferation in Iran and in Libya. The former vice president said the invasion had given Iran pause and spurred former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to hand over his nuclear materials to the U.S.

That characterization is widely disputed by foreign policy experts, including former Bush administration national security official Flynt Leverett. Gaddafi had offered to give up his nuclear arsenal during the Clinton years, and Time magazine reported in 2006 that Gaddafi nearly abandoned existing diplomatic talks after the Iraq invasion, fearing he would appear weak on the international stage. Unlike Iraq, Libya actually did possess weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

Cheney's portrayal of what might have happened to Libya in a world without the Iraq invasion had its own problems. He argued that were there no invasion, the Islamic State group could have captured Gaddafi's nuclear program when it expanded into Libya over the past few months. But that argument ignores the fact that the Islamic State, or ISIS, would likely not have developed without the Iraq invasion and its aftermath.

That invasion, spearheaded by Cheney, was in fact responsible for a major growth in Iranian influence. Saddam Hussein's regime was a longstanding enemy of Iran. By removing Hussein from power, the Bush administration opened the door to political elites sympathetic to Iran's interests. Iraq has since effectively functioned as a client state of Iran for years.

Cheney suggested, just hours before three more Democratic senators announced that they would protect the Iran deal on the Hill, that lawmakers considering the agreement should still reconsider their views.

Though the chance that Congress can kill the nuclear agreement has now effectively been eliminated, Cheney said said he would like to see a bipartisan majority voting against it. Repeatedly referring to the deal as "President Obama's agreement" despite its international nature, the former vice president once again repeated his controversial claim that the agreement will enable an eventual Iranian nuclear attack on the U.S.

"A far better deal is still possible," he said.

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