MUNICH—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, attended and participated in the Munich Security Conference, which drew more than 500 high-level international decision makers to discuss current crises and future security challenges. Murphy joined a panel discussion on bridging troubled waters and de-escalation in the Gulf, alongside Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Kuwait’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu, Oman’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, and British Broadcasting Corporation’s Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet. Excerpts from the discussion can be found below.
On the administration’s decision to kill IRGC General Qasem Soleimani:
MURPHY: “The fundamental decision that the United States has to make is whether our overriding interest is in de-escalation or our overriding interest is in seeing one side of this fight for supremacy win. And clearly, the policy of the Trump administration is to ultimately weigh in dispositively on one side of that fight. I think that is a disaster for U.S. national security interests and a prescription for this series of crises to never end. And the tragedy to me is that there is no shortage of opportunities for de-escalatory successes. And I would argue that without United States engagement and leadership, all of those opportunities go by the wayside.
“Yemen is an opportunity. We saw the grassroots of a political process that seems in the last few weeks to be falling apart. That's not coincidental to the fact that the United States has been largely AWOL from those political negotiations. We have mid-level bureaucrats in the State Department engaged, but we're not engaged like we were in the Obama administration.
“There are other opportunities, such as the rift between the Qataris and the other members of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]. That’s a problem that had the United States been on the clock could have potentially been solved in the early days instead of festering to this point. Lebanon is an example of a success story, a place where the people rose up and wanted a technocratic government that would ultimately serve their interests. And instead, the United States decided to pull funding from the very army that was protecting the protesters at the worst possible moment.
“And so, to me, the tragedy here is twofold. One that we have made a decision to weigh in dis-positively on one side of this fight, on the side of the Saudis. And listen, the Saudis are our friend, and they are our ally. But, I would argue that in the end, the U.S. interest in the region is de-escalation. The U.S. interest is not ultimately in one side winning the fight for supremacy. And listen, I can sit here and run through a catalog of untruths that that Minister Zarif stated here today. It is absolutely their obligation to move first and it is not that we don't consider them an adversary. It is not that Saudi Arabia isn't an ally. But ultimately, our interest is in de-escalation, not in ramping this up until one side wins.”
On De-Escalation in the Gulf:
MURPHY: “I think there is proof in the pudding [that] there was a laudable restraint shown by Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the attack on the oil facilities. But again, there are opportunities that are sitting right in front of us.
“Yemen, I mentioned at the top of that list. If you really want an opportunity to run a test case for de-escalation, then the Saudis can make real decisions in terms of the pressure that they put on the Hadi government and their own participation in that theater that could lead to a political outcome that could pave the way for greater talks on more broader issues moving forward. So I do agree that there has been laudable restraint shown. But there needs to be proactive steps taken, not necessarily to settle all accounts at once, but in these individual crises that could be diffused.”
On the President’s Likely Veto of the War Powers Resolution and Potential Meeting with Rouhani:
MURPHY: “I think that that resolution, which gratefully passed with bipartisan support is essentially a restatement of existing law. That that resolution says the president cannot take military action against Iran, without coming to Congress first, unless there is an imminent threat. Of course, the imminent threat sort of condition has become a Mack Truck size loophole that this president has run through. But in the end, I am not sure that the passage of this resolution fundamentally checks the president's enthusiasm or at least those around him, their enthusiasm for conflicts.
“Of course, I think there's room for conflict. And I worry about this this setup for a one-on-one meeting between the president and Rouhani without any kind of hard diplomatic work done ahead of time. And we saw—it's unlikely to happen. And I worry that that you could you could have a meeting between the two that has no pre-work done, no follow up, does not meet expectations, and frankly, chills the enthusiasm moving forward for any actual détente and any actual real diplomatic work.”
On Foreign Policy and the Upcoming Election:
MURPHY: “I think many of us worry that as the election approaches, the president may also be interested in sort of rattling sabers. Whether it's in the Middle East or in other regions of the world we certainly worry that while the window closes for mediation, the aperture may open for the president to act in provocative ways that may provide him electoral benefit.”