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Public Statements

U.S. Foreign Policy

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, America faces many serious challenges, not only at home but abroad. I was reminded of that fact in a vivid way during my own recent trip to Iraq and to the broader Middle East. I was reminded of it as I followed, with great interest, the President's recent trips to Europe and South America as well as some of his recent decisions relating to the shape and spirit of U.S. foreign policy.

What these trips and decisions have shown many of us is that looking forward we would do well to reaffirm some basic foreign policy principles that have served America well in the past; namely, that our security and our prosperity rely on a strong national defense, both militarily and with regard to the gathering of intelligence, and that America must honor its commitments to allies and alliances. This afternoon, I would like to take a few moments to explain why these principles are so important. I would also like to outline a few of the areas where I agree and where I respectfully disagree with the foreign policy decisions the new administration has made.

I will begin with the praise. In my view, the President admirably followed the principle of maintaining and employing a strong defense when he accepted the advice of his military commanders to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq based on conditions on the ground, not political calculations. He followed this principle again by pursuing in Afghanistan the same counterinsurgency strategy that has worked in Iraq.

The administration deserves credit for both decisions. I have not been hesitant in giving it that credit.

The next step, of course, is to keep our forces ready. In order to do so, the Senate must pass the administration's supplemental spending request to train and equip the armed services. This is a spending request I will support.

Unfortunately, the administration erred when it selectively declassified a number of so-called CIA interrogation memos almost in their entirety. The choice on this issue was clear: Defend career intelligence professionals or reveal to al-Qaida terrorists the interrogation methods they can expect to face if captured.

The administration chose the latter. That was a mistake. It would also be a mistake for the administration to pursue or condone the kind of protracted investigation that some have proposed into intelligence-gathering efforts after the 9/11 attacks.

Some of the President's own advisers have warned that such an investigation would only serve to demoralize the intelligence community and, therefore, weaken its ability to protect the American people. Moreover, the President himself has repeatedly said America must use all the tools in its arsenal addressing problems we face, including, presumably, the ongoing threat of Islamic terrorists.

Weakening our tools of intelligence through an investigation of the intelligence community and other key decisionmakers would, by definition, make that pledge impossible to fulfill. It would also serve to divide us, I fear, at a time when we must continue to present a united and determined front to our known enemies.

In my view, the Commander in Chief has an obligation to unify the country while we are at war and at risk. Looked at in this context, attacking each other on these issues is not only counterproductive, it is actually dangerous. It is important to remember we are still very much engaged in a global fight against terror, and as long as that fight continues, a strong, ready defense will require strong support for an intelligence community that is uniquely equipped to deal with many of the problems that arise in this fight.

At a time such as this, hampering the vital work of our Nation's intelligence professionals is exactly the wrong thing to do. I have already openly and repeatedly expressed my disagreement with the administration's approach on Guantanamo. Americans would like to know why they are preparing to transfer prisoners involved in the 9/11 attacks either to facilities that are outside our control entirely or here in the United States. They want assurances the next detention facility, or the country to which they are transferred, keeps them as safe as Guantanamo has.

So far, the administration has not been able to provide those assurances. Its only assurance is that Guantanamo will close sometime within the next 9 months. To achieve that goal, the administration has asked Congress for $80 million in the upcoming supplemental war funding bill. In my view, Congress would be shirking its duties if it were to approve these funds one second--one second--before we know exactly what the administration plans to do with these terrorists.

News reports over the weekend suggest the administration is very close to announcing the release of a number of detainees into the United States, not to detention facilities but into the United States, directly into our communities and neighborhoods right here on U.S. soil.

Virtually every Member of the Senate is on record opposing the transfer of detainees to U.S. soil, even if it only meant incarcerating them in some of our Nation's most secure prisons. We had that vote a couple years ago, 94 to 3. The presumption was that they would be coming to the United States and incarcerated, not free. The Senate expressed itself 94 to 3 against such a release.

Until these new reports emerged, no one had even ever contemplated the possibility of releasing trained terrorists into American communities. It never occurred to anyone. If the administration actually follows through on this shocking proposal, it will have clearly answered the question of whether its plan for the inmates at Guantanamo will keep America as safe as Guantanamo has.

By releasing trained terrorists into civilian communities in the United States, the administration will, by definition, endanger the American people. Moreover, by releasing trained terrorists into the United States, the administration may run afoul of U.S. law, something that was pointed out to us by the Senator from Alabama some weeks back. Many were unaware that such a release might actually violate U.S. law, and I believe the Senator from Alabama will have more to say about that shortly.

That law presumably would prohibit admission to the United States of anyone who has trained for, engaged in, or espoused terrorism. Before any decision is made that will affect the safety of American communities, the Attorney General needs to explain how his decision will make America safer and whether this decision complies with U.S. law.

I also disagree with the administration's recent pledge to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a treaty that we have voluntarily abided by for years. Before the President rushes to fulfill this goal, America needs assurances that our nuclear stockpile is both reliable and safe. As our nuclear stockpile ages, the assurance becomes increasingly important. There are only two ways to ensure the safety of our nuclear stockpile: through actual tests or by investing in a new generation of warheads. At the moment, the administration is not willing to do either. When it comes to deterrence, this represents a serious dilemma.

As Defense Secretary Gates has said:

There is absolutely no way that we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of warheads in our stockpile without resorting [either] to testing our stockpile or pursuing a modernization program.

As we seek to keep our defenses strong, we must also be careful to keep our commitments to our allies and friends, particularly in the Middle East and in NATO. After all, what good is an alliance if one of its members cannot be trusted to uphold its end of the bargain. If America cannot be expected to keep its word, we cannot expect others to keep theirs.

Now, our NATO allies need to know we will not walk away from missile defense or rush to reduce our own nuclear stockpile in the misguided hope of securing a promise of cooperation from Russia with respect to Iran. The notion that the key to containing Iran lies with Russian cooperation is not new. But it has repeatedly proven to be futile. The previous administration pursued the path of cooperation in the form of the Nuclear Cooperation 123 Agreement, and Russia did not end its arms sales to Iran as a result.

I might add, that treaty was subsequently withdrawn. We should learn from our mistakes, not repeat them. This means that as we engage the Russians, we must also do so as realists. The newer members of the NATO alliance must know the United States will not help Russia carve out a new sphere of influence in the 21st century to match the one it had in the second half of the 20th century.

The administration should be equally realistic in its dealings with Iran. It must make perfectly clear that pursuit of nuclear weapons is unacceptable. This means explaining to our friends and to our foes that the pursuit of such a program will have consequences. Israel and a number of moderate Arab regimes have all risked a great deal in confronting Islamic extremism. We need to assure every one of them that the administration's negotiations with Iran will lead to real results.

The challenges we face abroad will require much patience and endurance, as they always have. Efforts to improve our image abroad are a part of that. But we should not overvalue the power of personal diplomacy in overcoming problems that have been with us for years. We saw this recently with Iran. In response to the administration's offer of a new era of engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect, Iran convicted an American journalist to 8 years in jail after a secret trial and accused the United States in an international forum of conspiring to create Israel on the ``pretext of Jewish sufferings.''

The administration offered respect, and Iran responded with contempt. Iran continues to fund terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and there is little evidence that any incentive can keep the Supreme Leader of Iran, Khamenei, from pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Iran must be deterred.

Then there is Cuba. In response to the administration's proposal for a ``fresh start'' in our relations with Communist Cuba, Fidel Castro said the new administration had confused his brother Raul's reaffirmation of the Cuban Revolution and its principles for an openness to discussing Democratic reform.

As far as fresh starts go, this was not particularly encouraging to me, nor was it likely to encourage the 11 million Cuban citizens who continue to be denied any basic human right, the thousands of Cubans who, according to the State Department, are forced to serve jail sentences without even having been charged of a specific crime or human rights advocates who face arbitrary arrest, detention, and the denial of a fair trial.

What about Venezuelans who face arbitrary arrest and detention and who cannot expect a fair trial? It is unlikely they would cheer by the new administration's warm embrace of a man who oppresses them. Imagine the signal this sends to those in Venezuela and throughout the world who are fighting for the freedom and Democratic reforms and who expect the United States to defend and to protect their efforts in our dealings with friends and foes alike.

Similarly concerning is the increasing reliance on special envoys. The administration has rushed several of those envoys, all fine public servants, to foreign capitals. Yet none of them were subject to Senate confirmation or are answerable in any way to Congress. I see by the morning paper they require considerable staff.

These envoys face significant challenges, from divides among the Palestinian people to the growth of the Taliban inside Pakistan. During their negotiations, these envoys are likely to make commitments that Congress will be expected to fulfill or fund, but Congress cannot be expected to simply hand out funds to support negotiations we know nothing about. These special envoys should be accountable to Congress.

Every American President from George Washington to the current day has struggled to balance America's interests with its ideals. This is something Americans have long accepted. But the rush to initiate fresh starts with old adversaries or to find quick solutions to the many complex problems we face is not always advisable when it comes to advancing our long-term interests or in preserving and strengthening alliances or our relationships with allies.

Republicans will have many reasons to stand with the President in the months and years ahead. But we will not be reluctant to remind them of some of the principles that have served us well in the past or to speak out against decisions with which we respectively disagree.

As we wage two wars overseas, we must be sure to maintain strong relations with our allies.

Some days they will need us. Some days we will need them. But in a dangerous world, these vital relationships must be preserved. We must also preserve the dominance of the U.S. military in the near term and in the long term. And any arms control agreement sent to the Senate must be verifiable and clearly in the national interest.

These are principles all of us should agree on and all of us should be eager
and able to defend. Our allies deserve to know that we will be guided by them, and so too, I believe, do the American people.

I yield the floor.

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