WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, on Tuesday delivered remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate detailing the Trump administration’s disastrous Iran policy. This comes after last week’s airstrikes that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander General Qasem Soleimani.
Murphy noted: “Compared to three years ago at the end of the Obama administration, today: Iran is closer to restoring its proxy state in Syria; Iran is more influential in Yemen; Iran is more threatening to U.S. troops in Iraq and across the Middle East; Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon. The simple truth is that Iran is stronger, and we are less safe today, than when President Trump was inaugurated.
“Iran is an adversary. I don’t want anything I’ve said today to paper over all of that nation’s misdeeds in the region. It is in our national interest to conduct a foreign policy that weakens Iran’s ability to threaten us, our allies, and our interests. But for three years, President Trump has done exactly the opposite,” Murphy continued. “Everything the president has done has worked to degrade our nation’s safety, has worked to make Iran stronger.”
In a plea for bipartisanship in the United States Senate, Murphy concluded: “The order to strike Soleimani has already been given, but what happens next is not predetermined…we have serious choices to make in this body, and we can choose to get off of this path of escalation and make decisions that correct this president’s recklessness and keep Americans safe. I hope we step up to that challenge.”
This week, Murphy joined Pod Save America to discuss the recent escalation and CBS News’ Face the Nation. Last week, Murphy held a press conference in Connecticut where he discussed the need for the administration to come to Congress to authorize any future military action against Iran, and released the following statement after the Pentagon confirmed the strike. Last year, Murphy published a joint USA Today op-ed with U.S. Representative Jim Himes (CT-4) raising concerns about the president’s possible march to war with Iran.
The full text of Murphy’s remarks is below:
“At a time of international turmoil and crisis like this, all of us, I think, are sometimes prone to hyperbole. I count myself part of that club, and I endeavor to do better.
“It doesn’t serve this body well to warn of bad decisions that could lead to war, if we are only doing so to serve political ends, or to bloody up a political opponent. Crying wolf also anesthetizes the public, and risks dulling the country’s senses for a moment when the peril is real. Any time we are considering asking the men and women of our armed forces and their families to make further sacrifices for their country, we have to treat those moments with the gravity that they deserve.
“And so let me state, at the outset of my remarks, that there are important reasons why I believe that both Iran and the United States do not want to enter into a conventional conflict that would, likely, involve the United States taking steps to remove the Supreme Leader from power, and which would likely involve an invasion that would make Iraq in 2003 look like child’s play.
“The United States, of course, remembers the Iraq War. At least I think we do. Our military leaders know that a short-term fight in Iran would be much bloodier, would be much more costly than the initial invasion of Iraq. Iran, for instance, has twice the population of Iraq. And a long-term counter-insurgency in Iran would be endless, potentially costing hundreds of thousands of lives.
“The Iranian leadership also knows this—that the United States might never definitively defeat a drawn out insurgency on Iranian turf. But Iran’s leaders also know that they likely wouldn’t be around to see that eventual conclusion—because the U.S. would, at the very least, likely be successful in ending the existing regime.
“So neither side is likely war-gaming for victory. Even those of us who are deeply critical of President Trump’s Iran policy should acknowledge this.
“But as a student of history, I know that the annals of war are replete with cataclysmic conflicts that began not by choice, but by accident, negligence, and incompetence.
“And so today, when I warn of the United States being on a potential path to war with Iran—that is my concern. That the utter lack of strategy, the complete absence of nuance, the abandoned communication and coordination with our allies, and the alarming deficiency of experienced counsel, will end up getting thousands of Americans needlessly killed.
“This is not the first warning of this kind I have presented. A year and a half ago, the president ignored the advice of his first Secretary of State and first Secretary of Defense, and unilaterally pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear agreement, despite the fact that every expert agreed that Iran was in compliance.
“Then, to make things worse, President Trump enacted a series of devastating unilateral sanctions on Iran. No other nations joined with us. In fact, most of our allies actively and aggressively worked against us, trying to undermine and work around those sanctions in order to save the nuclear agreement. That fact, in and of itself, is simply extraordinary, a sign of how weak President Trump has made America abroad.
“But the sanctions still took a dramatic toll on Iran’s economy, and like everybody predicted, the Iranian government didn’t sit still. They began to push back, attacking Saudi oil pipelines, capturing European oil tankers, and ratcheting up threats against U.S. forces in Iraq. During this time, the president changed his story every week – some days he said he would sit down and negotiate with the Iranians without preconditions, other days his top people said they wouldn’t sit down unless Iran met an absurdly long list of preconditions. Other days President Trump said he wanted to blast Iran off the map. It was a comedy of diplomatic errors, compounded nearly weekly with conflicting message after conflicting message that made it difficult for Iran to approach negotiations with us even if they wanted to.
“By this winter, the situation was spiraling out of control. Iranian-backed militias launched a rocket attack that killed a U.S. private contractor in Iraq. The U.S. responded by killing at least 24 Iraqi militia members. Then, Iraqi militias, supported by Iran, stormed our embassy, culminating—for now—in the drone strike that killed General Qasem Soleimani last week in Iraq.
“There is no reason that things had to get to this point. When President Trump came into office, Iran had stopped their quest for nuclear weapon capabilities, and Iran was complying with an intrusive inspections regime that made sure they didn’t cheat. Iranian-backed militias had stopped firing rockets at U.S. personnel in Iraq. In fact, they were actually working on a U.S.- led project in Iraq—the eradication of ISIS.
“President Obama had united the entire world against Iran. Even Russia and China were working side-by-side with the U.S. to constrict Iran’s nuclear program. And with the nuclear agreement secured, this global coalition was teed up and ready to be mobilized by Trump to pressure Iran to make the next set of concessions, on their ballistic missile program and their support for terrorist proxies across the region.
“But Trump’s bizarre and nonsensical Iran policy threw all that leverage away willingly, voluntarily. Despite the economic sanctions, Iran today is more powerful, is more menacing than ever before. Just weeks ago Iran had been wracked by anti-government protests, but President Trump’s recent action has united the country against America, against our allies, in one fell swoop. One only needs to look at yesterday when millions of Iranians took to the streets for Soleimani’s funeral, a mass outpouring of support that the Iranian regime could never have hoped to inspire on its own.
“Compared to three years ago at the end of the Obama administration, today: Iran is closer to restoring its proxy state in Syria; Iran is more influential in Yemen; Iran is more threatening to U.S. troops in Iraq and across the Middle East; Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon. The simple truth is that Iran is stronger, and we are less safe today, than when President Trump was inaugurated. But implausibly it gets even worse.
“Because the strike on Soleimani is so destabilizing and so un-strategically provocative, the U.S. position in Iraq, where we are still battling ISIS, is unraveling:
“All U.S. civilians have been ordered to evacuate. All U.S. counter-ISIS operations have been suspended. NATO has stopped its ongoing efforts to fight ISIS. And the Iraqi Parliament has begun the process of kicking all U.S. forces from the country - exactly what Qasem Soleimani had worked for years to achieve.
“All of that, on the back of Iran’s newfound strength in the region, is the reason why there is so much head shaking about why President Trump has so willfully bungled Iran policy, emboldening Iranian hardliners and putting our nation’s safety at risk.
“And so with that for context, we come back to the crisis moment of today, and the real possibility that more of President Trump’s stumbling will lead us into a world-changing conflict with Iran.
“We have seen as Senators, no evidence that the assassination of Soleimani was necessary to prevent an imminent attack on the United States. I remain open to seeing that intelligence. But, five days later, Congress has not received a briefing from the administration. We’re apparently going to get that tomorrow. But both Presidents Bush and Obama had the ability to kill Soleimani. But they didn’t, because their experts believed that executing the second most powerful political figure in Iran—no matter how evil he was, no matter how many American deaths he was responsible for – would end up getting more, not fewer, Americans killed.
“Now, we don’t know in what form the reprisal from Iran will come, or when, but it will come. And listen, we shouldn’t be afraid of reprisals in the wake of truly necessary military actions by the United States to protect our interests abroad. But when that attack arrives, President Trump has telegraphed that he is preparing to respond by committing war crimes against the Iranian people. He says he will bomb Iranian cultural sites, filled with civilian visitors, in retaliation. I can’t believe that this needs to be said—on the floor of the United States Senate—but that is something terrorists do, not the United States.
“And although this administration keeps saying that they don’t want war, there is no logic to their circular theory of Iran policy. Trump believes that to change Iran’s behavior we need to escalate our own actions. Then when our escalation begets more escalation from Tehran, Trump and his Iran hawks come to the conclusion that it must be due to the fact that our escalation wasn’t serious enough. The theory becomes unprovable because the Iran hawks just contend, failure after failure, that we just need one more escalation and one more escalation and one more escalation. This is the exact behavior that could land us in a kinetic conflict with Iran, that costs American lives.
“Now, as I said at the outset, this is likely not going to be a full-on conventional war—at least I hope it’s not. It may be that Iran sends missiles into Israel, or ramps up the temperature in Yemen. They may try to assassinate American military or political leaders or use cyberwarfare to go after critical infrastructure. And maybe we don’t invade Iran. Maybe we just blister their countryside with bombs and try to disable their military from above.
“Of course, no matter the scope of the conflict, no matter how long the escalatory cycle lasts, the one thing to know is this – none of it has anything to do with making us safer. This cycle started with Trump’s rejection of a diplomatic agreement with Iran that he didn’t like just because it had Barack Obama’s name on it.
“A political grudge set off a series of events that now has us lodged in a crisis of harrowing scope. A crisis that this president, so unstable, so reckless, so capricious, likely cannot handle. And unfortunately, his rejection of diplomacy and lack of concern for our allies has left America more isolated than at any other perilous time in our history. At a moment when we cannot afford to be out on a limb out on our own, we are.
“Politics is what got us here. But maybe politics is what can get us out of this mess.
“Congress can cut off funding for President Trump’s war of choice with Iran. We can make clear – Republicans and Democrats – that the president cannot take military action without congressional consent.
“And of course, the American people can have their say too. They can rise up, as they did in many cities this past weekend, and cry out in protest over President Trump’s decision to put politics over our nation’s security. And that public pressure may push allies of the president here in the Senate to stand with Democrats in opposition to this reckless risk to our nation’s security.
“It is not too late to put a stop to this madness.
“Iran is an adversary. I don’t want anything I’ve said today to paper over all of that nation’s misdeeds in the region. It is in our national interest to conduct a foreign policy that weakens Iran’s ability to threaten us, our allies, and our interests.
“But for three years, President Trump has done exactly the opposite. Iran’s nuclear program is back on. Iran has restarted attacks against the United States. Iran is more influential in the region. Everything the president has done has worked to degrade our nation’s safety, has worked to make Iran stronger.
“The order to strike Soleimani has already been given, but what happens next is not predetermined. My fear—my belief—is that last week’s killing of Qasem Soleimani will end up fitting into this pattern. But we have serious choices to make in this body, and we can choose to get off of this path of escalation and make decisions that correct this president’s recklessness and keep Americans safe. I hope we step up to that challenge.”