The Senate and Nation are Closely Watching the Situation in the Gulf

‘Nearly every president has utilized limited use of force against adversaries without pre-authorization from the Congress. Of course major hostilities require Congressional concurrence and the support of American people. The Democrats should stop their fear mongering, because no one is calling for major military operations. Not the president. Not his military commanders. Not Republicans in Congress.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the growing threat of Iranian aggression:

“The Senate and the nation are closely watching the situation in the Gulf. Last week, the recent recklessness from Tehran reached a new level. Iran fired on an unmanned U.S. intelligence aircraft that was flying over international waters. This is as violent and dangerous of an overt provocation as any nation has aimed at the United States of America in years. This is not the time for partisanship.

“But unfortunately, we’re already seeing extreme voices on the far left so afflicted by Trump derangement syndrome that they repeat Iranian talking points and advertise the absurd notion that our country, our administration, our president are somehow to blame for Tehran’s violent aggression. Blame America first.

“By 2019, nobody should need a history lesson on Iran. But apparently, some need a refresher, because there should be no question about who is at fault. Iran has disregarded international law and violated the laws of armed conflict since the first days of the Islamic Republic. Its malign activities as the world’s ‘most active state sponsor of terrorism’ include: Their crusade to destroy Israel, including sponsorship of countless terrorist attacks. The malevolence throughout the Persian Gulf, including proxies in Yemen who’ve recently attacked civilian targets. Perennial threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, a key international waterway essential to global commerce.

“And of course, the long-standing asymmetric war they’ve waged against us. Beginning with the infamous takeover of the U.S. embassy in 1979 and the 50-plus hostages held captive for 444 days.  The provision of weapons, training, funding, and direction to terrorist groups, including Hamas, Hizballah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Taliban, and Shiite militias in Iraq that are responsible for the murder of hundreds of United States service members from Lebanon to Iraq to Afghanistan. And more attacks plotted on U.S. targets worldwide, including in our own homeland. The record is blindingly obvious.

“It’s why so many of us opposed the Obama Administration’s ‘deal’ with Iran.  Many of us understood the agreement not only failed to properly address the nuclear threat, but also completely ignored the other threats Iran posed to international peace and stability.  In fact, some prescient members of this body warned the deal would amplify Iran’s dangerous behavior. I remember back in 2015, the current Ranking Member on the Foreign Relations Committee insisted the Obama Administration’s policy would invite the kind of mess we see today.

“Here’s what he said: ‘If there is a fear of war in the region, it will be one fueled by Iran and its proxies and exacerbated by an agreement that allows Iran to possess an industrial-sized nuclear program, and enough money in sanctions relief to significantly continue to fund its hegemonic intentions.’ That’s our colleague from New Jersey back in 2015.

“And here was my colleague from New York, the current Democratic Leader. Quote: ‘Under this agreement, Iran would receive at least $50 billion dollars in the near future and would undoubtedly use some of that money to redouble its efforts to create even more trouble in the Middle East, and, perhaps, beyond.’ The Democratic Leader acknowledged that the hardliners’, quote, ‘number one goal [is] strengthening Iran’s armed forces and pursuing even more harmful military and terrorist actions.’

“That is exactly the situation President Trump inherited in 2017: an emboldened Tehran committed to spending its new resources on military capabilities, exporting terrorism, and pursuing regional hegemony. So President Trump was right to seek a better deal and apply maximum pressure on Tehran until it changes its destabilizing behavior. Tough sanctions are compounding the economic pain the Mullahs have brought on their own people through corrupt mismanagement.

“Iran is responding to this legitimate and judicious application of diplomatic and economic pressure the way it effectively operated for years: through violence. Attacks against commercial vessels in international waters. Sponsored attacks against civilian targets in the Gulf. And then last week’s unprovoked attack on our unarmed aircraft. We face a choice. Will we legitimize and incentivize Iran’s use of terror and aggression? Or will we stay resolute, applying appropriate and proportionate pressure until Tehran respects fundamental norms of international behavior?

“Last Thursday, President Trump consulted with a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders and national security chairmen and ranking members. The president weighed advice from a number of sources. It is clear he was listening to Congressional leaders. And clearly, the president wants to avoid war. Hence the deliberate and judicious approach he has taken since the shoot-down. Hence his repeated efforts to give Iran’s leaders an off-ramp towards negotiations.

“Nevertheless, there is a general consensus that this act of aggression cannot stand. Tehran must understand that it may not respond to legitimate diplomatic pressure with illegitimate violence. It is in our national security interest for the United States to deter attacks against American forces operating legally in international waters, and to honor our long history of defending the freedom of the seas and freedom of international commerce. And since Iran’s aggression and threats to global commerce threaten everyone, I hope all nations will join the United States and its allies in condemning Tehran and imposing significant consequences for its hostile acts.

“I understand the significant appetite in Congress for the president to consult with us as he continues to deliberate. That is appropriate. My colleagues should share their views with the administration. I understand the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees will be holding hearings with senior administration officials after July 4. But what is not productive, is an effort being promoted by the Democratic Leader that would preemptively tie the hands of our military commanders, weaken our diplomatic leverage, embolden our adversaries, and create a dangerous precedent.

“So I will strongly oppose the Udall amendment, which would gratuitously take crucial options off the table. It would hamstring both our commanders and our diplomats, all of whose leverage depends on the knowledge that the United States reserves the right to act forcefully if and when necessary. Ten years ago, my friend the Democratic Leader said, verbatim, ‘When it comes to Iran, we should never take the military option off the table.’  That is exactly what the amendment he supports would do. 

“Nearly every president has utilized limited use of force against adversaries without pre-authorization from the Congress. Of course major hostilities require Congressional concurrence and the support of American people. The Democrats should stop their fear mongering, because no one is calling for major military operations. Not the president. Not his military commanders. Not Republicans in Congress. This amendment would impose unprecedented limitations that would go far beyond the War Powers Resolution.

“As drafted, it could prevent U.S. military forces from defending themselves against attack, or conducting a timely counterattack.  If we had actionable intelligence that an attack was imminent, it could prevent U.S. forces from doing anything about it.  If Israel was attacked, it would prevent U.S. forces from providing immediate assistance to our closest ally in the region. This amendment flies in the face of many Democrats’ past clarity about Iran, and casts doubt on our seriousness in defending our own military personnel, much less the freedom of the seas. Democrats must set aside the habit of unthinking, reflexive opposition to every single thing this president does. 

“Perhaps it would help if they were reminded of what the Democrat candidate for president in 2016 had to say about what her policy would be towards Iran and the Gulf, were she to be elected: ‘I will reaffirm that the Persian Gulf is a region of vital interest to the United States… We’ll keep the Strait of Hormuz open. We’ll increase security cooperation with our Gulf allies, including intelligence sharing, military support, and missile defense to ensure they can defend against Iranian aggression, even if that takes the form of cyberattacks or other nontraditional threats. Iran should understand that the United States, and I as President, will not stand by as our Gulf allies and partners are threatened. We will act.’

“Nearly every word of that statement accurately describes the policy the Trump Administration has pursued for the last two years. Our Gulf allies and partners are threatened by Iran.  Israel is threatened by Iran. The Strait of Hormuz is threatened by Iran. And America has been attacked by Iran. The threat is not in doubt. The question is whether Democrats still mean what they said, or whether they’ve completely changed their minds about how the U.S. must respond simply because the White House has changed parties.”

Related Issues: National Security, Iran, America's Military, Iran Nuclear Deal