Obama’s Press Secretary Brushes Off Story About Iran Deal Lies

By Dustin Siggins Published on May 8, 2016

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed a New York Times Magazine essay that concluded the Obama administration’s messaging on the Iran nuclear deal was “actively misleading” as the deal was being negotiated.

“The administration is quite proud of the fact that we made a strong, principled, fact-based case to the American people that the international agreement, negotiated by the President’s team, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon wasn’t just completed; it was effectively implemented in a way that has enhanced the national security of the United States,” Earnest said in response to two questions about the article, which highlighted White House Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes’ messaging about the negotiated deal.

Earnest said, “I haven’t seen anybody produce any evidence to indicate that” the administration was misleading. Earnest attributed what he called “unfounded claims” to “sour grapes” by opponents of the Iran deal.

In the New York Times Magazine profile of Rhodes and the Iran deal, David Samuels described “Rhodes’ innovative campaign to sell the Iran deal” as false, and “the way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented … largely manufactured for the purpose of selling the deal.”

Samuels also asserted that the administration used the 2013 Iranian elections to sell the misleading idea that it was engaging in negotiations with a substantially more moderate and peace-minded group than Iran’s previous leaders:

In the narrative that Rhodes shaped, the “story” of the Iran deal began in 2013, when a “moderate” faction inside the Iranian regime led by Hassan Rouhani beat regime “hard-liners” in an election and then began to pursue a policy of “openness,” which included a newfound willingness to negotiate the dismantling of its illicit nuclear-weapons program. The president set out the timeline himself in his speech announcing the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015: “Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not.” While the president’s statement was technically accurate — there had in fact been two years of formal negotiations leading up to the signing of the J.C.P.O.A. — it was also actively misleading, because the most meaningful part of the negotiations with Iran had begun in mid-2012, many months before Rouhani and the “moderate” camp were chosen in an election among candidates handpicked by Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The idea that there was a new reality in Iran was politically useful to the Obama administration. By obtaining broad public currency for the thought that there was a significant split in the regime, and that the administration was reaching out to moderate-minded Iranians who wanted peaceful relations with their neighbors and with America, Obama was able to evade what might have otherwise been a divisive but clarifying debate over the actual policy choices that his administration was making.

Pressed a second time Friday, Earnest noted that while he had read the profile, “I don’t know that he said ‘misleading’ in there anywhere. It was rather long, so maybe I missed it.” He also claimed “the administration is quite proud of the fact that we made a strong, principled, fact-based case to the American people” about the agreement.

In comments to The Stream, Ed Timperlake, former national defense adviser to presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, hammered Earnest and the administration. “The Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatolla Ali Khameni has hailed the Iranian people for wishing ‘Death to America, Death to America’ and wishing God answers that prayer,” said Timperlake. “Yet when it is revealed the White House engaged in a big con to sell the deal, Josh Earnest could not be bothered to read the entire article, saying ‘It was rather long, so maybe I missed it.'”

“This is his way of saying ‘move along, nothing to see,'” Timperlake added.

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