WASHINGTON—After leaving the White House meeting with Jared Kushner and Ambassador Friedman to discuss the president’s Middle East ‘peace plan,’ U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered keynote remarks on Tuesday at the Foreign Policy for America's first annual conference, “Revitalizing American Diplomacy.” Murphy spoke about the January strike that killed IRGC Commander Qasem Soleimani and how Iran is continuing to retaliate against the United States in places we have diplomatic weakness. He also outlined what the next administration needs to do to rebuild our diplomatic capabilities and restore Congressional oversight in matters of war.
“Our adversaries, from Iran to Russia to China, love this American military myopia. They cherish our chosen blindness to all the non-military ways that they lap us, over and over, all across the world stage. Because while Iran may not be launching dozens of missiles at us, they are engaged in all sorts of other escalatory behavior right now in the region, that Trump’s team doesn’t even seem to want to acknowledge,” Murphy said.
Murphy continued: “Iran’s regional influence has always been a challenge, but they’re having more success than ever for a simple reason: Iran is taking advantage of the crisis in U.S. diplomacy, the weakness of American credibility around the world, and our refusal to address the non-military tools that our adversaries like Iran have been developing and perfecting while we’ve just been growing our military and nothing else.”
On the broader national security implications for 2020, Murphy said: “But in this crisis of American foreign policy shines an opportunity for Democrats. Between near war with Iran and an impeachment trial centered around the President’s effort to corrupt our nation’s foreign policy, it’s become increasingly clear that the election in 2020 is going to be a national security election.”
On the opportunity for Democrats to right the foreign policy wrongs of President Trump, Murphy continued: “We will be a serious national security party only if we have real ideas for how we are going to catch up with Iran and Russia and China, and stop choosing to fight asymmetric wars, made asymmetric just because we refuse to build the same tools that the other guys are using.”
Last October, Murphy penned a piece for the Atlantic in which he makes the case that a new Democratic administration needs a new foreign policy toolkit to advance our values and interests abroad. In 2017, Murphy authored “Rethinking the Battlefield,” a comprehensive road map for rebuilding our foreign policy in order to keep pace with the global challenges we face.
A full transcript of Murphy’s remarks can be found below:
“Thank you very, very much for having me today. I apologize, somehow sitting silently for eight hours a day has robbed me of my voice. It makes absolutely no sense at all. But, I am feeling a little under the weather, but nonetheless, I was so excited to join you here today.
“And let me thank Foreign Policy for America for existing. I want to thank Andrew for his leadership, for having the courage to convene it, to add it as an absolutely vital and necessary part of our national dialogue and our progressive dialogue around the future of foreign policy.
“And I’m really, really excited to be here with you this morning. I’m excited to be thinking about something else, other than the trial for a few hours. It’s really clear from the discussion already and the agenda you have laid out that there is no shortage of really important foreign policy challenges facing this country right now, and it’s important we rise to the challenge and meet them.
“I just come from a meeting in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, with a small group of senators and Jared Kushner, where he previewed for us the so-called Middle East ‘peace plan’ that will be unveiled in about an hour. I promised not to comment in detail on it until it is released, but I can tell you that it is problematic. More to say about that later, but in order to be in that meeting, I actually had to miss a Foreign Relations Committee briefing on Iran and the legal issues surrounding the Soleimani strike.
“I of course wish that I could have been at both, because frankly, the current state of our nation’s Iran policy is a wonderful prism through which to view the importance of the conversation you’re going to engage in today. And I want to talk a little bit about that with you this morning.
“It’s now been more than three weeks since the administration decided to kill General Soleimani—a decision that vaulted foreign policy back onto the front pages of our political debate as we stood dangerously on the precipice of war.
“Now, the conventional wisdom today, even in foreign policy circles, is that since Iran’s strike against our joint base in Iraq, they have largely stood down. The consensus is that we’re now in a cycle of de-escalation. But that’s not true. It appears true because this town’s foreign policy spectacles have only one lens that works—a military lens. Thus, if the Iranians aren’t shooting at us, then we must be winning, and if we’re not shooting at them, then things must be okay.
“Our adversaries, from Iran to Russia to China, love this American military myopia. They cherish our chosen blindness to all the non-military ways that they lap us, over and over, all across the world stage. Because while Iran may not be launching dozens of missiles at us, they are engaged in all sorts of other escalatory behavior right now in the region, that Trump’s team doesn’t even seem to want to acknowledge.
“In Syria, Iran is taking advantage of the vacuum that’s been created by the nonsensical confuddle of Trump’s we’re coming, we’re going, we’re coming, we’re going policy. Iran is backing Assad in a renewed campaign to capture opposition-controlled areas, pummeling hundreds of thousands of civilians who are living in hell right now. We’re doing almost nothing diplomatically to try to stop them.
“In Yemen, fragile gains toward peace are in jeopardy, right now, as ceasefires unravel and the Iranian backed Houthis are emboldened to lob missiles at mosques and civilian areas. Without direct U.S. diplomatic engagement from the highest levels of the State Department, as I have personally begged Secretary Pompeo to do, Iran’s proxies are rekindling hostilities, and threatening to grow stronger.
“In Lebanon, while Trump was disastrously holding up aid to the nation’s non-sectarian army, Iranian proxy Hezbollah was able to use the crisis to dig in their heels against popular demands for them to step down from power. Now, overnight, Hezbollah and their allies control the new government.
“And in Iraq, Iranian-backed militias continue to open fire not just on the U.S. Embassy but also on peaceful protesters who only want a government that works for them. Iran is fueling, behind the scenes, the Iraqi push to remove U.S. troops from that country: a goal that Soleimani couldn’t get while he was still alive.
“In all of these places, Iran is retaliating, and they are running circles around us. Iran’s regional influence has always been a challenge, but they’re having more success than ever for a simple reason: Iran is taking advantage of the crisis in U.S. diplomacy, the weakness of American credibility around the world, and our refusal to address the non-military tools that our adversaries like Iran have been developing and perfecting while we’ve just been growing our military and nothing else.
“But in this crisis of American foreign policy shines an opportunity for Democrats. Between near war with Iran and an impeachment trial centered around the President’s effort to corrupt our nation’s foreign policy, it’s become increasingly clear that the election in 2020 is going to be a national security election. Now in previous years, political pundits would have assessed this as a liability for Democrats, given the historic, lingering penchant for voters to trust Republicans over Democrats on national security matters.
“But this year, that does not need to be the case. This year, it should not be the case.
“It is likely not a coincidence that the candidates, on the Democratic side, who have spent more time honing their foreign policy chops have fared better in the polls. Voters are hungry for a candidate who is going to restore sanity to American foreign policy. They want a president who can steady the ship.
“But to be credible, as a better national security candidate than Donald Trump, Democrats need to realize that we cannot just engage only in critiques or broadsides. We need answers. We will be a serious national security party only if we have real ideas for how we are going to catch up with Iran and Russia and China, and stop choosing to fight asymmetric wars, made asymmetric just because we refuse to build the same tools that the other guys are using.
“I’m not running for President, but I’ve given a lot of thought to how we would build this set of new ideas, and today just want to give a tease. Just give you two.
“First, Democrats need to push for a fundamental reordering of national security spending. We need to build, in many places from virtual scratch, the capacities that our adversaries are using to beat us. If you look at the budget today, military and intelligence spending outpace the State Department and USAID by a 20-to-1 margin. We have more people working at military grocery stores today than we have diplomats in the State Department. That true and that’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because today there are more non-military challenges to our security than purely military ones, and yet we’re spending 20 times as much money on the old threats than we are on the new threats.
“Now back in 2017, I proposed that we needed to double the foreign affairs budget, for non-military foreign affairs over a five-year period, and I believe that that is now more crucial than ever before. And by the way, put it in perspective, doubling the $54 billion State Department budget is less than the normal one year increase to DOD’s budget, but it will get us to the point where we need to be—where we can start solving so many of the world’s problems that at their core are not military solutions.
“So what tools am I talking about? Well, how about creating a real anti-propaganda operation—not just transferring a couple million dollars every year to do it from the Department of Defense to the Department of State. How about a new hardened corps of diplomats? Who can go into dangerous places, like northern Syria, and work on complicated conflict resolution and stabilization efforts, instead of the 18-year-old soldiers who are expert at firing rifles but not ready or capable of rebuilding communities and societies. Or having a real global public health infrastructure, recognizing that one of these new diseases or pandemics is going to get us, and when it happens, we will rue the day we didn’t do the hard, preventative work beforehand.
“That’s the first thing—it’s a big one and there’s lot more meat on the bones to it. And I hope that many of you will take a look at the detailed proposals that I’ve offered.
“The second idea is this though: if we are going to ask Americans to support a broader non-military engagement overseas, then we need to show that these new, potentially provocative tools aren’t going to get us into more endless wars of choice. Democrats need to articulate clear rules of military engagements. Trump is going to try to sell himself as the war skeptic—this is the guy who has put over 10,000 new troops into the Middle East. And so we can’t let him build this narrative.
“So let’s make our bottom lines clear on military engagement.
“No more strikes, like the one on Soleimani, without congressional approval. We, as Democrats, will not support military engagement without public approval.
“No more massive covert wars. Drone strikes on the wrong people create more enemies than they kill, and it’s time to admit that those wars, more often than not, don’t make us more safe.
“No more use of the military to try to solve political problems overseas. Invasions don’t give rise to democracies. Occupying forces don’t create corruption free regimes. We need to realize that political and economic and social problems abroad need political and economic and social solutions, and so that’s why we need to rebuild the State Department, and USAID and all their components that deliver on those solutions.
“Now, of course, a progressive foreign policy outline, a comprehensive response from Democrats to the president’s nonsensical policy of retreat all across the world, has so many more components. I could give an entire speech here on the importance of rebuilding and strengthening our alliances or reengaging in global climate talks, the list goes on.
“But I wanted to focus on these two areas this morning, really thinking about building new capacity so that we’re no longer in these asymmetric conflicts by choice. Capacities that at their foundation are about building peace rather than just fighting wars. And then being very clear with the American public, that everything this president has done, despite this rhetoric on pulling us out of wars, has been to put us in greater danger of getting into more conflict. There are more American troops in harm’s way than ever before. As Democrats, we need to make clear what our bottom lines are, when the military should and should not be used.
“Because make no mistake—this is going to be a national security election, and our nominee needs to be ready to confront this president on his foreign policy malpractice that is making America, and the world, less safe. Our next Democratic president can get us back on track, but cleaning up President Trump’s messes will only be half the battle—the rest will be investing serious time and resources into equipping ourselves with the tools needed to take on the array of challenges that we face today.
“What you are engaged in here, what Foreign Policy for America is endeavoring to do, is having a serious nuanced conversation, over the course of the next several months, so that as a movement, we are ready not just to be effective critics of what is going wrong today, but also effective actors to right the ship when the time comes.
“It was really wonderful to be here with you today. I'm sorry that my time is limited. I look forward to being a partner as many ways as I can in the coming weeks. Thank you very much.”