McCain-Panetta Iran fireworks expected

Fireworks are expected at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is expected to scold the Obama administration for pulling all troops out of Iraq by the end of the year. 

McCain recently told The Hill he believes the removal of U.S. troops means “Iran got what it wanted,” meaning a friendly government in Baghdad it can push around. But with the Pentagon swiftly moving troops and equipment out of Iraq — it might beat a Dec. 31 deadline — it is doubtful the hearing will produce policy changes.

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Answers over whether Washington is on a collision course with Iran over that regime's nuclear weapons ambitions could come from the Senate hearing and a separate affair in the House.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is hearing from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on Tuesday about plans to wind down the Iraq conflict. Iran's influence in Baghdad's business after U.S. forces have left is expected to be a top issue.

At the same time, across the Capitol complex, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hear from senior State Department and Treasury Department officials about the Obama administration's approach toward Iran.

The Obama administration has pushed hard for tighter international sanctions it says will isolate Tehran and make it harder for it to buy items needed for nuclear weapons.

At the same time, as recently as Monday, President Obama said he has not ruled out using the U.S. military to strike suspected Iranian nuclear facilities. "We are not taking any options off the table. Iran with nuclear weapons would pose a threat not only to the region but also to the United States," Obama said in Honolulu at the end of an Asia-Pacific economic summit, according to media reports..

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called that panel’s hearing on Iraq at the behest of McCain, the panel's ranking Republican.

At the House panel hearing, administration witnesses are likely to take fire from Republican members, many of whom say the Obama administration has no real or effective Iran policy as Tehran plows ahead with its nuclear weapons program.

After an IAEA report last week found Iran is closer than ever to deploying a nuclear weapon, the drumbeat on Capitol Hill for Washington — or Israel — to take military action to stop that program steadily increased.