WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last week addressed the Truman Center for National Policy’s annual conference about the nation’s most pressing foreign policy and national security issues. Murphy was interviewed by CNN’s national security correspondent Kylie Atwood on countering Russian disinformation and interference in our upcoming elections, what a progressive foreign policy actually looks like and what non-military capabilities need to be built up, and the need to reset the U.S.-Saudi alliance in the next democratic administration.
Murphy has been an outspoken proponent of reforming U.S. foreign policy and national security. 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. Last year, Murphy laid out a new toolkit for the next democratic administration to advance U.S. values and interests. In April of this year, Vox profiled Murphy’s foreign policy doctrine.
On Countering Russian Disinformation:
Murphy said: “To the extent there is a desensitization amongst the American public, it is, in part because the American intel agencies, I think, have been essentially folded into the president's reelection campaign. And as part of that development, they have tried to whitewash Russian interference. They have held back disclosures about specific individuals and specific narratives that are central to Russian interference in the U.S. election, and they've also tried to create an equivalency between what the Chinese and the Iranians may or may not be doing, versus what the Russians are doing. There's zero equivalency, the Russians are the only foreign country that have both the intent and the capability to manipulate a U.S. election.”
“So I was very glad a few weeks ago that the Treasury Department, interestingly, finally released the fact that has been known to many of us for a long time, that Andrii Derkach, in contact with the highest levels of Trump's inner circle, making TV appearances on American networks, is in fact a Russian agent. But that's not the end of what the intel agencies know about Russian players and Russian narratives, and they need to disclose more specific information so that when the American public hear some of these stories, for instance, about Hunter Biden and money coming from Ukraine, they know where that story comes from. Many of those, if not all, of those stories originate with Russian agents and Russian propaganda outlets,” Murphy continued.
On Releasing Election Interference Evidence to the American People Ahead of the Presidential Election:
Murphy said: “I think it's not coincidental that [the United States government] released their information on Derkach a day after a very damaging whistleblower complaint was made public. A top [Intelligence] official at the Department of Homeland Security disclosed that he had gotten pressure through the White House to stop talking so much about Russian interference, and 24 hours later, Derkach’s name became public. So, I don't think the White House or the [intelligence] agencies have any plans to release additional information—that will only happen if we build that pressure. And that's why I have started to talk more about what I know, and how it's inconsistent with what the intel agencies have told us to try to create that pressure campaign.”
On President Trump’s Narratives about Alleged Mail-In Voting Fraud Matching Russian Disinformation Narratives:
Murphy said: “[It] to me, doesn't appear coincidental that the president's narratives, in some ways, duplicate the narratives that we know are being proffered by the Russians. In fact, if you look at the content online today regarding “reopen America” campaigns, campaigns online to undermine mask-wearing, much of that, if not the majority of that, comes from foreign sources, likely Russia. And so whether they are following Trump's lead, or whether there are any conversations happening, I can't tell you. I just am not sure that it's a coincidence.”
On President Trump’s Calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin:
Murphy said: “What we know is that the president had an unusually large number of phone calls directly with Vladimir Putin over the spring, right in the lead-up to the final stretch run of this election. And I know in 2016 he was directly communicating to Vladimir Putin via press conference. I think it's entirely possible that, in those conversations, they talked about some of the narratives that Putin would be spreading and some of the narratives that Trump would be spreading. If they didn't, then maybe it is just a wild coincidence that they are almost identical.”
Murphy continued: “So let's go back to last year, when the president had a very troubling phone conversation with the president of Ukraine, that those who listened to it believed violated U.S. law and was worthy of a whistleblower complaint. That, of course, led to the impeachment of the president. But since then, the president has undergone a dizzying campaign of retribution against nearly anyone who testified against him in those hearings. And so the message has been sent. If you have been on the line, if you have heard one of these phone calls between the president and a foreign leader in which he says something that is perhaps illegal or worthy of dismissal from office, don't say anything, or you are going to have your reputation ruined, and your job eliminated. So I don't know that we will ever know the content of those communications.”
On the Politicization of our Intelligence Agencies Under President Trump:
Murphy said: “That’s what our [intelligence] agencies are supposed to exist for. And the problem is, we knew who Derkach was a long time ago, and had we taken earlier steps to expose him, then it is likely that he wouldn't have developed as many contacts as he did, and as many conduits as he did into the Trump administration and into the United States Congress. And so, in this case, while I can't necessarily speak to whether or not there's perhaps a criminal case that can be brought against him as well as the sanctions case, it was not coincidental that the last time Secretary Pompeo was before the Foreign Relations Committee, I was asking him about Andrii Derkach, whether he was a credible voice in American politics, and it was just wild to me that the Secretary, knowing what he knew at the time, would not go on the record about who Andrii Derkach was. That gave him time to sort of sow this narrative into the American public, one the President continues to spread even in the last debate.”
On How to Build a Progressive Foreign Policy by Standing Up Non-Military Tools:
“…We have to admit there is no way to execute our domestic progressive goals, whether it be a growing of the economy for everyone, whether it be a victory on climate change, whether it be the protection of democracy, without having a foreign policy component. Because there is no way to protect our democracy unless you are actively meeting our adversaries abroad who want to destroy American democracy. There's no solution to climate change unless we are actively engaged diplomatically abroad. And the economy is global. So if you aren't working with other nations to write fair economic rules for the middle class, for poor people, then you aren't going to be able to achieve those gains simply on your own. So as progressives, we can't shrink from the world, we have to be active in it,” said Murphy.
Murphy continued: “…[W]e have to understand that the challenges posed to the United States today are, by and large, not conventional military challenges. There is not a real risk that there is going to be an invasion of the United States anytime soon. And today, of course, we are faced with maybe the most insidious and most classic non military threat to the United States, a pandemic disease that we were not prepared for. So yes, I am talking about standing up new capabilities. It would certainly be a new commitment to global public health to make sure that a virus like this never is allowed to reach our shores, it would be a recommitment to climate change diplomacy.
Applying progressive foreign policy to Russia, Murphy elaborated: “But let me take Russia as an example here, a very specific example. Why does it feel like we are sort of losing battle after battle with Russia? It is because we are engaged asymmetrically with Russia. Russia has propaganda tools that we can't meet. They are spending 10 times more money on information warfare than the United States is. It's because Russia is using its energy resources to bully and bribe countries in its periphery, and the United States spends virtually no money trying to make those same nations energy independent of Russia. It’s because Russia engages in old fashioned corruption, graft, and bribery, and we don't even have a class of anti-corruption officers that are dispensed around the globe to try to confront that challenge. And so to me, creating a brand new first of class anti-propaganda operation in the State Department, creating a new cadre of officers dispensed to every embassy in the world whose number one and only job is confronting corruption, and spending real dollars on making countries like Moldova or Ukraine or even Belarus energy independent of Russia, is a much better expenditure of dollars, than the way that we are prioritizing military buildups along Russia's border today. So that's what I'm talking about with specificity.”
On the Need to Reset the U.S.-Saudi Relationship:
Murphy said: “We have countries all over the world that are just walking all over the United States today. Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most egregious example given what they did to dismember and dispose of Jamal Khashoggi’s body, but there are plenty of other countries who are abusing the United States and getting away with it. The Russians targeting U.S. troops inside Afghanistan, Egyptians continuing to keep imprisoned U.S. citizens while the spigot of military aid continues unchecked…Vice President Biden is going to have to do something in his early days to make clear that there are consequences if you cross the United States. I argue that Saudi Arabia has to be on that list. I just don't understand how we don't eventually render any consequences for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but I also think that Saudi Arabia has gotten away with many other malevolent behaviors. Every day that they continue to drop bombs in Yemen is a day that America is less safe because al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continues to be the group that has the clearest designs on attacking us, the general continued export of Salafist Wahhabism around the world that continues to form the building blocks for extremist organizations that still have their sights set on the United States.”
Murphy continued: “I just in general think we need to have much tougher conversations with the Saudis. It doesn't mean that we walk away from our partnership with them, I just think we drive a harder bargain. I mean, we tend to think that, if we stopped selling some precision guided missiles to the Saudis, they're going to walk away from a defense partnership with the United States and go to the far inferior products produced in Russia and China. That's just not how it's going to work. We can get tougher with them, maintain an Alliance, maintain the progress that is continuing to be made on normalization of relations with Israel and get more out of that and many other relationships.”
“I obviously haven't shut up about the danger of our partnership with Saudi Arabia in Yemen, no matter what president is in the office. So I brought a motion to the floor of the Senate, in the last year of Obama's administration, a privileged motion to pull the United States out of arms sales relationships with Saudi Arabia, and I will do the same thing in a Biden administration. So I think it would be obvious to them that I would hope one of the first things they would do is to end our military partnership with the Saudis in the Yemen Civil War,” Murphy concluded.