Former military officials fear surge of cash, weaponry to Iran

Former military officials fear surge of cash, weaponry to Iran
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A group of retired high-ranking military officials warn the United States will have a difficult time maintaining stability in the Middle East once the Iran nuclear deal goes into effect.

While the administration has sought to assure Gulf allies that the U.S. will maintain a robust military posture to counter a strengthened Iran, looming budget cuts could make the task difficult.

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The Pentagon facing $500 billion in cuts through 2021 known under budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, on top of $487 billion of already planned cuts. 

The retired officials warn in a new report that the nuclear deal would allow Iran to gain billions of dollars in revenue from lifted sanctions and increased oil revenues, while the U.S. defense budget would remain constrained under budget cuts known as sequestration.

"As Iran bristles with more and newer arms, the United States will have fewer and older ones to counter them," says the report from Retired Marine Gen. James Conway, Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, Retired Navy Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, Retired Army Gen. Lou Wagner, Retired Vice Adm. John Bird, Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, and Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Lawrence Stutzriem.  

Already, the former officials pointed out, the U.S. Navy won't be able to maintain a carrier presence for approximately two months this year due to reduced availability of carriers under sequestration.

While Congress provided the Pentagon with budget relief in 2014 and 2015, defense experts are not hopeful the same will happen again for 2016. 

Indeed, with an Oct. 1 deadline looming to fund the government, it is becoming increasingly likely that Congress will pass a short-term emergency spending measure that would leave the Pentagon with even lower levels of funding than under sequestration. 

Former Pentagon comptroller Bob Hale earlier this week said that if Congress is unable to reach a budget deal by then, the next best option would be to appropriate funds at sequestration levels — something the administration and Democrats oppose doing.

Wald, a co-chair of the commission that produced the report, said the U.S. has no choice but to increase its presence in the Middle East in light of the Iran deal.

“We're going to have to be more committed, to a coalition involvement in the Middle East, to defend against what is inevitably going to be a growing Iranian threat," he said on a conference call introducing the report on Wednesday. 

“This is not an advertisement for increasing defense spending, it's just the fact of the matter is it's contrary to the sequestration direction we're going,” he added. 

Under the deal, Iran would begin to modernize its military and also have access to foreign military sales, the report said. 

For example, it said, Iran is slated to acquire advanced S-300 missile systems from Russia by the end of the year that would help blunt potential strikes by the U.S. or other nations. 

“By the end of the year ... you could start to see the transfer of Russian anti-aircraft missiles that are probably the best in the world. So that alone will be a game changer in the region,” said Conway, the other co-chair and former Marine Corps commandant, who also spoke on the conference call.

The report also warns that the capabilities needed to deter Iran’s “anti-access, area denial” or A2/AD strategy against the U.S., are the same ones that will be hit the hardest under the cuts. 

“The capabilities that will be most important in confronting Iranian aggression and potentially preventing a nuclear Iran — long-range strike, standoff, forward staging and counter-A2/AD capabilities — are among those that will suffer the greatest decline,” it said.

If Iran decides to race for a nuclear weapon after the main provisions of the deal expires, the U.S. will be weaker militarily if sequestration remains the law of the land, Conway said. 

"We believe the [deal] will in a sense unleash Iran in a conventional sense in ways that we have not previously seen," Conway said.