Ad tars senatorial candidate with supporting Iran’s ‘path to a nuclear bomb’
“A deal that gives billions to terrorists. Lifts ballistic missile arms controls. Lets Iran inspect its own nuclear sites. And gives Iran a path to a nuclear bomb.”
— Video ad sponsored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee attacking Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate
Few things are more frightening than nuclear war. The most famous— or infamous— political commercial of all time featured images of a nuclear explosion. This was the “Daisy” commercial, aired just once by the 1964 reelection campaign of Lyndon Johnson (D). By design, the ad made no mention of his opponent, Sen. Barry Goldwater (R), but the clear implication was that a vote for Goldwater would lead to nuclear war.
This ad by the National Republican Senatorial Committee also ends with images of a nuclear holocaust— mushroom clouds as well as buildings and school buses blown to pieces. It is likely to be a template for attack ads against Democrats who supported the international agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Not a single Republican lawmaker supported the agreement— and quite a few Democrats also opposed it. Even Democrats who supported the deal expressed misgivings and said it was a close call.
When Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, decided to support the agreement, she, too, said she had concerns. She stressed that military force must remain an option and that the “United States will never allow a nucleararmed Iran.” She also said sanctions must be maintained on Iran for its support of militant groups.
In any 50-second ad, foreignpolicy nuances are likely to be lost. Let’s look at each of the claims made in the ad and whether they are exaggerated.
“A deal that gives billions to terrorists.”
Iran has billions of dollars in assets that are frozen in foreign banks around the globe, and this deal would unlock those funds. No one quite knows how much money is at stake, but estimates range from $29 billion to $150 billion. The Treasury Department has estimated that once Iran fulfilled other obligations, it would have about $56 billion left.
That’s certainly “billions.” But remember, this is already Iran’s money; it is not being “given” any kind of signing bonus.
Second, unless one simply wants to label the entire Iranian government as “terrorists,” one has to assume that Iran will turn around and give billions of dollars to militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
But this may not be farfetched. The Treasury Department in 2011 designated the entire Iranian government as a “primary money-laundering concern.” Iran is estimated to have spent as much as $15 billion in 2012 and 2013 propping up the government of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, even as its economy imploded because of sanctions.
The ad, however, incorrectly suggests that the agreement directly allows the financing of terrorists.
“Lifts ballistic missile arms controls.”
“Arms controls” refers to U.N. Security Council sanctions limiting nations from supplying Iran’s weapon programs. Iran had wanted the sanctions lifted immediately, but as a compromise, the deal called for the embargo on ballistic missiles to be lifted after a maximum of eight years. Sanctions on conventional weapons would be lifted after five years. The time frame could be shortened if the International Atomic Energy Agency determines that Iran’s nuclear program was only for peaceful purposes.
Here, again, the ad uses misleading language. This nuclear deal is an arms-control agreement, but the ad makes it appear as if “arms controls” are being weakened. Supplies for Iran’s ballistic missile program were under sanctions, but there were never agreed limits on the number of Iran’s ballistic missiles, as is typical in an armscontrol agreement.
“Lets Iran inspect its own nuclear sites.”
Under the deal, all of Iran’s declared nuclear sites, such as the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, will be under continuous monitoring by the IAEA. For 10 years, Iran will have limits on the uranium enrichment permitted at Natanz; the IAEA will be able to keep close tabs on the production. The deal also allows IAEA monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge production and storage facilities, the procurement chain, and the mining and milling of uranium.
So what is the ad talking about? It is referring to sites that have not been declared as nuclear, such as sensitive military locations. Under a side agreement between Iran and the IAEA, Iran will help collect samples at Parchin, which Tehran says is a conventional military facility, though the IAEA thinks explosive triggers for nuclear weapons may have been tested there. The IAEA sought access to the site to determine whether there had been a military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program.
News reports have given contradictory information on what took place during a September visit to Parchin by the IAEA. Officials have said that Iranian technicians played a role in obtaining the samples— possibly without IAEA officials present— but insisted that the verification process was not compromised. Still, officials have conceded that the arrangement was a departure from the way the IAEA normally conducts inspections.
In any case, the ad again greatly simplifies a complex issue. Under the deal, the declared nuclear sites will be under continuous monitoring by international inspectors. But Iran and IAEA did conclude an unusual accord regarding one undeclared site, which appears to allow Iran to help collect samples.
“And gives Iran a path to a nuclear bomb.”
In her statement, Cortez Masto noted that estimates suggest Iran is two to three months from obtaining a nuclear weapon— and that this agreement would block its path for 15 years.
Under the accord, Iran gives up all but 300 kilograms of its enriched uranium (3 percent of what it had as of May) and agrees not to produce plutonium— two routes to a nuclear weapon. It will give up a lot of nuclear equipment and has agreed to limits on uranium enrichment. But after 15 years, many restraints will end.
Reasonable people can disagree about whether this is appropriate. The Obama administration argues that even after 15 years, Iran’s breakout time would be limited to one year — enough time to take action to thwart Tehran from building a nuclear weapon. But other estimates have suggested that, depending on the equipment used by Iran, the breakout time could quickly dwindle to as little as a fewweeks. If correct, that would make it very difficult to halt Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon— if its leaders were willing to risk international sanctions again.
Ultimately, this is amatter of opinion, and responsible experts on both sides of the debate have valid arguments. There is no way of knowing now whether the accord will forever block Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon. But the ad concludes with images suggesting that nuclear war is around the corner.
The Pinocchio Test
This is an ad designed to frighten voters into thinking that CortezMasto has made a tragic foreign-policy blunder that will lead to nuclear conflict. But the images would be justified only if the case were as compelling as the NRSC suggests.
Instead, the organization has exaggerated the charges and used misleading language to make its case. With a fewtweaks in the wording and less stark images, the NRSC could make a reasonable argument that supporting the nuclear deal is a mistake. But this effort is a miss and thus earns Three Pinocchios.
Catherine CortezMasto, shown in 2013, is a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. An attack ad sponsored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee attempts to paint her as a staunch supporter of the Iran nuclear deal.