ASPEN, Colo. – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism, spoke at the Aspen Institute’s annual Aspen Security Forum discussion: “U.S. Strategy in an Unstable Middle East” touching on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East in a conversation with CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd.
This week, Murphy convened a subcommittee hearing on U.S. Iraq policy with witnesses from the State Department and Defense Department. Last month, Murphy also introduced a privileged resolution with U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) to restrict or terminate any aspect of U.S. security assistance for Saudi Arabia, and has been a vocal critic of the Saudi military campaign in Yemen. Murphy laid out his vision for American foreign policy in Rethinking the Battlefield – a road map for rebuilding our foreign policy in order to keep pace with the global challenges we face.
Excerpts of Murphy’s Q&A with Vinograd are below:
MURPHY: “What is so concerning is that in a two year period of time, we went from an alignment in which the United States, Europe, Russia, China and India, were on one side of the ledger, and Iran was on the other. Today, it is the United States on one side of the ledger, and all of those nations, on the other side, trying to work with the Iranians to hold together the remnants of the nuclear agreement. And you see this most recently, in the discussion in the last few days about the U.S. request to up activity in and around Iran with respect to protections for oil tankers.”
“I would love for the administration to get to the table. I think Zarif is sincere about his interest in doing so; who knows whether he has the support of the hardliners who have been empowered over the last several years. His substantial offer on simply ratifying the additional protocols is not much of a substantial offer, but it at least shows that they're trying.
“There are a couple other things that we could do right now, to strengthen our hand with Iran and to limit their influence in the region. I mentioned one: getting our diplomats back into Baghdad. Every day that we have no presence in Baghdad is another day that Iran can up the presence and the political impact of the Shia militias, right. We are waiting for the day in which this technocratic government in Baghdad is forced out because of the Shia militias increasing political power.”
On U.S. Deployment to the Middle East:
MURPHY: “I'm a hardened opponent of the Iraq war. Thought it was a mistake. But I think we have a moral commitment to help that country rebuild, especially after what we asked them to do with ISIS. So I would certainly support additional forces there if they are for diplomatic protection. And then let me just say I mentioned one other thing: getting out of the Yemen war. You know, right now is the moment as the Emiratis are pulling out their forces, the Saudis have no ability to really push forward militarily without the Emiratis there.”
“I think the Houthis are falling further and further into the Iranian camp every single day that war persists. We can cut off an increasing source of Iranian influence if we force a negotiation and right now, I think only the United States can get a negotiation done in Yemen. As much as I love our UN envoy there, I think the United States needs to be the interlocutor.”
On Yemen and U.S. Relations with Saudi Arabia:
MURPHY: “Right now, [the Saudis] are abusing us. They are taking us for granted, they have become the dominant partner in this relationship. And this war in Yemen is a national security nightmare for the United States. AQAP, ISIS getting stronger, a famine, a cholera epidemic all blamed on the United States. This is the moment for the United States to step in. And I actually think this is the moment for the United States to say to the Saudis and the Emiratis: We want to be partners with you in peace. We want to help get you to the negotiating table, something that this administration has been unwilling to do. And I don't understand that, I don't understand why this administration refuses to play a mediating role in the Yemen conflict, why they have outsourced it to the UN, which thus far has proved largely incapable of landing this plane.”
On Troop Withdrawal from Syria:
MURPHY: “I'm in the position of having opposed the import of U.S. troops into the region. I just thought it was a size deployment that ultimately was not going to be dispositive. But once you've made that commitment, you need to follow through on it. And the literal weekly prevarication on the disposition of U.S. forces in the region has, you know, weakened a diplomatic hand that was already as weak as it could be. So I think we should provide some certainty as to our military commitment there. I think we should be back at the negotiating table, having largely under this administration outsourced to those talks to the Turks, the Iranians and the Russians.”
On Bright Spots in U.S.-Middle East Policy:
MURPHY: “Iraq is still in many ways a success story. Not only that we beat ISIS in the sense that we took away its territory, that we still have them on the run. But we have a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian government that still enjoys legitimacy. Jordan, Lebanon continued to be oases of stability in the region. So I think that there are still places that you can point to as you try to build stability and other places as to models that work. It's hard to find good news there, but it absolutely exists. And the defeat of ISIS, at least when it comes to their territorial claim, is really no small feat. The fact that we were able to turn around their advance and to delegitimize them in the public opinion inside Iraq is something that we shouldn’t shirk from.”