Top Ten Ways That Iran Hawks Became Their Own Worst Enemies

by Eli Clifton

Opponents of the agreement negotiated by the U.S. and its European allies to limit Iran’s nuclear program haven’t yet given up. There’s still a likelihood that “poison pills” will be introduced in forthcoming legislation designed to win over nervous Democrats and derail implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But the Obama administration cleared its biggest hurdle on September 10 when Senate Democrats, with the notable exceptions of Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Joe Manchin (D-WV), stood together in preventing a resolution disapproving the deal from reaching the president’s desk.

That victory for the White House came after months of intense lobbying by pro-Israel groups, congressional Republicans, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging lawmakers to reject the White House’s signature second-term foreign policy initiative. That opposition, however, tended to overplay its hand at key moments and, as the 60-day deliberation period drew to a close, resort to the kind of way-over-the-top fear-mongering and partisanship that historians may find in retrospect to have been counter-productive.

Before responsible historians sit in judgment, however, here is a tentative offering of the top 10 moments when opponents of the Iran nuclear deal became their own worst enemies.

1) House Republicans Inviting Netanyahu To Make His Case Against The Iran Deal

House Republicans, many of them owing their seats to Netanyahu-confidante Sheldon Adelson, made the self-defeating choice to invite the Israeli prime minister to address a joint session of the House and Senate and present his case against the president’s negotiations with Iran.

Netanyahu’s speech brought back inconvenient comparisons to his 2002 congressional testimony in which he promised that “if you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.”


2) Tom Cotton And His 46 GOP Allies Trying To Derail Negotiations By Reaching Out To Iranian Hardliners

Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) persuaded 46 GOP senators to join him in sending a letter to Iran’s leaders, warning that Congress could renege on any nuclear agreement reached with the Obama administration. The appearance of hawkish members of Congress colluding with Iran’s hardliners to undercut the president’s negotiating authority backfired spectacularly and reinforced the message that Iran hawks were simply pursuing a partisan agenda in seeking to undercut the president in an international negotiation.

3) AEI Inviting Dick Cheney To Speak Against The Nuclear Deal

As Senate Republicans scrambled to pick off any Democrats who were still on the fence, someone thought it was a good idea for former Vice President Dick Cheney to speak out against the deal at the American Enterprise Institute. Foundation for Middle East Peace President Matt Duss summarized the event, and the event coordinator’s tactical missteps, writing:

Cheney, who made numerous false claims about the threat posed by Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, appearing at the Washington think tank that did more than any other to bring about the Iraq debacle is a bit like an unrepentant crook returning to the scene of the crime.

4) WINEP’s Patrick Clawson Attacking A Code Pink Demonstrator

Patrick Clawson, research director at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, couldn’t contain himself when a Code Pink demonstrator interrupted former Vice President Dick Cheney at the American Enterprise Institute. Clawson leapt to his feet and grabbed at the diminutive demonstrator’s banner, tried ever so fiercely—but unsuccessfully—to wrest it from her grasp, before falling into this seat to examine any damage inflicted on his fingernails in the struggle.  Clawson and his employer have been unwilling to comment on the incident, which was captured by C-SPAN cameras for posterity.

5) TIP President Josh Block Warning Of Our Imminent Enslavement

The Israel Project’s president, Josh Block, turned his organization into a fiercely hawkish pro-Israel group seemingly dedicated to undoing any negotiated settlement with Iran. At times, it appeared, hyperbole got the better of him.

6) Lindsey Graham Blaming Iran For 9/11 Attacks

Moments before Senate Republicans failed in their attempt to invoke cloture during the debate on the resolution disapproving the JCPOA, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) took to the Senate floor to decry the Obama administration’s nuclear diplomacy and stoke fears about Iran’s subversive role in the Middle East. But Graham took his argument one step further and appeared to lay the blame for 9/11 on Iran. Either Graham was unaware that the 9/11 Commission “found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack” or he was willfully distorting the historical record, perhaps in hopes of bolstering his struggling presidential campaign.

 7) The Israel Project Warning That Iran Will Nuke Your Dog

That’s right, the organization whose president warned that Iran is coming to enslave “every man, woman and child” also warned in a specially prepared video that Iran was also aiming for our pets. (For some reason, TIP never promoted this video.)


8) Ted Cruz Saying That The “Single Greatest Threat” Is If Iran Attacks the U.S. With An Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) 

EMP is the “conservative fetish that just won’t die,” wrote arms-control specialist Jeffrey Lewis. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) kept the EMP fetish alive, warning that:

The single greatest threat if Iran acquired even a single nuclear weapon would be that they would place that weapon on a rocket on a ship anywhere up and down the Atlantic and they would fire that rocket straight into the air into the atmosphere and if it got high enough and they could detonate a nuclear war head, it would set off what’s called an Electro Magnetic Pulse, an EMP. An EMP would take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard.

The problem with this is that even with our cars and microwaves rendered inoperable, the U.S. could still almost assuredly launch a devastating military retaliation, making an EMP attack a completely irrational and suicidal strategic choice by a hypothetical adversary.


9) United Against Nuclear Iran Replacing a Real Non-Proliferation Expert with Joe Lieberman

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) had a tough time squaring the group’s hawkish positions with the seemingly pro-deal positions staked out by its president, former top Obama non-proliferation adviser Gary Samore. But when the final deal was reached in Vienna and Samore decided to support it, the Sheldon Adelson- and Tom Kaplan- bankrolled group had enough. Samore resigned from his position (he remains on the “advisory board”) and consistent Iran hawk, former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, took over. But in promoting Lieberman, UANI laid bare its real intentions—to sabotage the deal. Lieberman also serves on the advisory board of the AIPAC-created group Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran (CNFI) and maintains affiliations with the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the American Enterprise Institute.

And for those noting the consistent overlap between Iraq war promoters and Iran deal saboteurs, Lieberman also served as honorary co-chair, with John McCain of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a neoconservative group established by the Bush administration to mobilize support for the invasion of Iraq.

10) AIPAC Promoting Islamophobic Retired Military Officers As Iran Deal Critics

AIPAC was in a tough spot as scores of former diplomats and retired military officers endorsed the Iran deal. The pro-Israel group’s only recourse was to dig deep into the second and third string of military officers and promote “experts” who held openly Islamophobic and bigoted views.

In one instance, AIPAC ran television commercials featuring Ret. Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula. Just months earlier, Deptula signed a letter organized by Frank Gaffney—a leading figure in pushing conspiracy theories about Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the U.S. government and questioning whether Obama is a native-born U.S. citizen—praising Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s comments on Islam, saying:

It is high time that the rest of our present and future leaders come to grips with the unhappy reality you observed so succinctly when you said: “A so-called religion that allows for and endorses killing those who oppose it is not a religion at all, it is a terrorist movement.”

Another AIPAC-promoted military expert, Ret. Adm. James Lyons, speaking at an event in January, warned of the Muslim Brotherhood’s penetration of “every one of our national security agencies,” accused CIA Director John Brennan of being a “Muslim convert,” and claimed that the Brotherhood has “carte blanche entry into the White House.”

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. You missed the biggest one: using the totally trumped-up scare of “Iranian nukes” as a pretty to impose regime change in Iran, and refusing to even acknowledge multiple Iranian compromise offers, that included far better terms than the current deal. This only resulted in Iran further developing it’s nuclear program, and also caused the people to rely behind their govt, giving the regime a perfect opportunity to burnish it’s nationalist credentials.

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