MURPHY OPENING REMARKS AT MIDDLE EAST SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING ON LEBANON AND IRAQ

“The United States has got to push back against Iranian influence in the Middle East. But we can’t let our focus on Iran destabilize other parts of the region”

WASHINGTON—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, on Wednesday delivered the following remarks at a subcommittee hearing on the insights, implications, and objectives for U.S. policy of protests in Lebanon and Iraq with State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood:

“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman, Mr. Hood, very good to see you again, after our visit to Baghdad earlier this year.

“Listen: let’s face the obvious, everywhere we look in the Middle East today, we are seeing easily avoidable mistakes by the president and his team that are weakening our allies, increasing the threat of attack against the United States, and abandoning our allies.

“To the extent there is a common thread to the president’s actions in the region, it is a myopic but often counterproductive focus on Iran. But because of this obsession with seeing everything through an Iran prism, this administration is missing key opportunities to advance U.S. interests in other countries.

“The demonstrations that have gripped Lebanon and Iraq are remarkable. These protesters are non-ideological, they’re multiethnic, and nonsectarian. So many of the things they are demanding of their governments—to be responsive and accountable to everyday needs, to tackle rampant corruption, to create economic opportunities and public services that work for all of their citizens—these are exactly the kind of priorities that align with U.S. interests.

“But at this critical moment of change in both countries, the United States is missing the opportunity. I agree that the United States has got to push back against Iranian influence in the Middle East. But we can’t let our focus on Iran destabilize other parts of the region, especially when it seems like this Iran strategy isn’t actually working in the first place.

“In Lebanon, where I was just a week ago, U.S. policy has long been aimed at reducing outside influence in that country. Well, over the past couple months, we’ve seen a lot of popular anger on the streets in Lebanon that’s directed against political elites, and outside actors like Hezbollah. And with their political power under threat, Hezbollah is putting thugs out to violently attack these nonviolent protesters, threatening to plunge the country into chaos.

“And yet at this critical moment, the United States is not supporting the very actor inside that country, the Lebanese Armed Forces who have stepped up to defend the peaceful protesters. Instead, we withheld U.S. aid just at the moment that we should have been supporting them.

“When I was in Lebanon a week ago, no American official could give me a reason as to why the aid was held up or what the LAF needed to do to get it unstuck. And I agree with Senator Romney, we’ll be seeking answers to those questions today.

“We’re also missing an opportunity in Iraq. As with Lebanon, I’m in awe of the courage of these protesters who have refused to back down from their peaceful demands, even when more than 400 people were killed when those demands were met with gunfire.

“Sadly, it seems that security forces in Iraq are looking more toward Iran on how to deal with peaceful protest, rather than where they should be looking—toward the LAF in Lebanon.

“And just as we’ve seen in Lebanon, much of the protesters’ anger in Iraq is directed toward the established elites, including figures backed by Iran.

“So did the United States seize on this opportunity, surging in our best and brightest diplomats to try to calm the situation and support popular demands for responsive government? No, we have largely stayed on the sidelines, hobbled by an unjustifiable decision to completely gut our diplomatic corps in Iraq.

“I’ve warned that we were making a disastrous mistake by slashing the number of diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, to just 15 people doing principled diplomacy, back in July. Today, the short-sightedness of that decision is painfully clear. And yet, the administration apparently still thinks that somehow we can manage this crisis with a skeleton crew inside Baghdad.

“We have a lot to discuss today. I know the decisions that are being made that I am critical of are made far above the head of our guest, but he is an able, capable, and experienced diplomat in the region and I look forward to his testimony.”

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