BERNIE SANDER’S BIG FOREIGN POLICY SPEECH: AT WESTMINSTER COLLEGE

INTRODUCTION: I do not often post an entire speech but I think that Senator Sanders’s talk deserves our attention in a time in which American leadership is imperiled . We have heard too much nonsense and in Trump’s UN speech cruel and distorted words from our “leader of the free world.” But worse actions destructive of all that America helped build in the post WW II period not least addressing the global climate change in Paris Accord and the Iran nuclear deal that denies that country nuclear weapons. Sanders also addresses the many assistance programs to deal with our global challenges. We are, as Sander’s notes, indeed threatened by mostly by our own stupidity and greed and selfishness. Now we have some worlds of hope which we need to heed.

 

Below is the speech as prepared:

“Let me begin by thanking Westminster College, which year after year invites political leaders to discuss the important issue of foreign policy and America’s role in the world. I am honored to be here today and I thank you very much for the invitation.

One of the reasons I accepted the invitation to speak here is that I strongly believe that not only do we need to begin a more vigorous debate about foreign policy, we also need to broaden our understanding of what foreign policy is.

So let me be clear: Foreign policy is directly related to military policy and has everything to do with almost seven thousand young Americans being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tens of thousands coming home wounded in body and spirit from a war we should never have started. That’s foreign policy. And foreign policy is about hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan dying in that same war.

Foreign policy is about U.S. government budget priorities. At a time when we already spend more on defense than the next 12 nations combined, foreign policy is about authorizing a defense budget of some $700 billion, including a $50 billion increase passed just last week.

Meanwhile, at the exact same time as the President and many of my Republican colleagues want to substantially increase military spending, they want to throw 32 million Americans off of the health insurance they currently have because, supposedly, they are worried about the budget deficit. While greatly increasing military spending they also want to cut education, environmental protection and the needs of children and seniors.

Foreign policy, therefore, is remembering what Dwight D. Eisenhower said as he left office: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

And he also reminded us that; “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway….”

What Eisenhower said over 50 years ago is even more true today.

Foreign policy is about whether we continue to champion the values of freedom, democracy and justice, values which have been a beacon of hope for people throughout the world, or whether we support undemocratic, repressive regimes, which torture, jail and deny basic rights to their citizens.

What foreign policy also means is that if we are going to expound the virtues of democracy and justice abroad, and be taken seriously, we need to practice those values here at home. That means continuing the struggle to end racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia here in the United States and making it clear that when people in America march on our streets as neo-nazis or white supremacists, we have no ambiguity in condemning everything they stand for. There are no two sides on that issue.

Foreign policy is not just tied into military affairs, it is directly connected to economics. Foreign policy must take into account the outrageous income and wealth inequality that exists globally and in our own country. This planet will not be secure or peaceful when so few have so much, and so many have so little – and when we advance day after day into an oligarchic form of society where a small number of extraordinarily powerful special interests exert enormous influence over the economic and political life of the world.

There is no moral or economic justification for the six wealthiest people in the world having as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population – 3.7 billion people. There is no justification for the incredible power and dominance that Wall Street, giant multi-national corporations and international financial institutions have over the affairs of sovereign countries throughout the world.

At a time when climate change is causing devastating problems here in America and around the world, foreign policy is about whether we work with the international community – with China, Russia, India and countries around the world – to transform our energy systems away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Sensible foreign policy understands that climate change is a real threat to every country on earth, that it is not a hoax, and that no country alone can effectively combat it. It is an issue for the entire international community, and an issue that the United States should be leading in, not ignoring or denying.

My point is that we need to look at foreign policy as more than just the crisis of the day. That is important, but we need a more expansive view.

Almost 70 years ago, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stood on this stage and gave an historic address, known as the “Iron Curtain” speech, in which he framed a conception of world affairs that endured through the 20th century, until the collapse of the Soviet Union. In that speech, he defined his strategic concept as quote “nothing less than the safety and welfare, the freedom and progress, of all the homes and families of all the men and women in all the lands.”

“To give security to these countless homes,” he said, “they must be shielded from the two giant marauders, war and tyranny.”

How do we meet that challenge today? How do we fight for the “freedom and progress” that Churchill talked about in the year 2017? At a time of exploding technology and wealth, how do we move away from a world of war, terrorism and massive levels of poverty into a world of peace and economic security for all. How do we move toward a global community in which people have the decent jobs, food, clean water, education, health care and housing they need? These are, admittedly, not easy issues to deal with, but they are questions we cannot afford to ignore.

At the outset, I think it is important to recognize that the world of today is very, very different from the world of Winston Churchill of 1946. Back then we faced a superpower adversary with a huge standing army, with an arsenal of nuclear weapons, with allies around the world, and with expansionist aims. Today the Soviet Union no longer exists.

Today we face threats of a different sort. We will never forget 9/11. We are cognizant of the terrible attacks that have taken place in capitals all over the world. We are more than aware of the brutality of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and similar groups.

We also face the threat of these groups obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and preventing that must be a priority.

In recent years, we are increasingly confronted by the isolated dictatorship of North Korea, which is making rapid progress in nuclear weaponry and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Yes, we face real and very serious threats to our security, which I will discuss, but they are very different than what we have seen in the past and our response must be equally different.

But before I talk about some of these other threats, let me say a few words about a very insidious challenge that undermines our ability to meet these other crises, and indeed could undermine our very way of life.

A great concern that I have today is that many in our country are losing faith in our common future and in our democratic values.

For far too many of our people, here in the United States and people all over the world, the promises of self-government — of government by the people, for the people, and of the people — have not been kept. And people are losing faith.

In the United States and other countries, a majority of people are working longer hours for lower wages than they used to. They see big money buying elections, and they see a political and economic elite growing wealthier, even as their own children’s future grows dimmer.

So when we talk about foreign policy, and our belief in democracy, at the very top of our list of concerns is the need to revitalize American democracy to ensure that governmental decisions reflect the interests of a majority of our people, and not just the few – whether that few is Wall Street, the military industrial complex, or the fossil fuel industry. We cannot convincingly promote democracy abroad if we do not live it vigorously here at home.

Maybe it’s because I come from the small state of Vermont, a state that prides itself on town meetings and grassroots democracy, that I strongly agree with Winston Churchill when he stated his belief that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms.”

In both Europe and the United States, the international order which the United States helped establish over the past 70 years, one which put great emphasis on democracy and human rights, and promoted greater trade and economic development, is under great strain. Many Europeans are questioning the value of the European Union. Many Americans are questioning the value of the United Nations, of the transatlantic alliance, and other multilateral organizations.

We also see a rise in authoritarianism and right wing extremism – both domestic and foreign — which further weakens this order by exploiting and amplifying resentments, stoking intolerance and fanning ethnic and racial hatreds among those in our societies who are struggling.

We saw this anti-democratic effort take place in the 2016 election right here in the United States, where we now know that the Russian government was engaged in a massive effort to undermine one of our greatest strengths: The integrity of our elections, and our faith in our own democracy.

I found it incredible, by the way, that when the President of the United States spoke before the United Nations on Monday, he did not even mention that outrage.

Well, I will. Today I say to Mr. Putin: we will not allow you to undermine American democracy or democracies around the world. In fact, our goal is to not only strengthen American democracy, but to work in solidarity with supporters of democracy around the globe, including in Russia. In the struggle of democracy versus authoritarianism, we intend to win.

When we talk about foreign policy it is clear that there are some who believe that the United States would be best served by withdrawing from the global community. I disagree. As the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth, we have got to help lead the struggle to defend and expand a rules-based international order in which law, not might, makes right.

We must offer people a vision that one day, maybe not in our lifetimes, but one day in the future human beings on this planet will live in a world where international conflicts will be resolved peacefully, not by mass murder.

How tragic it is that today, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal poverty, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons of destruction.

I am not naïve or unmindful of history. Many of the conflicts that plague our world are longstanding and complex. But we must never lose our vision of a world in which, to quote the Prophet Isaiah, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

One of the most important organizations for promoting a vision of a different world is the United Nations. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped create the UN, called it “our greatest hope for future peace. Alone we cannot keep the peace of the world, but in cooperation with others we have to achieve this much longed-for security.”

It has become fashionable to bash the UN. And yes, the UN needs to be reformed. It can be ineffective, bureaucratic, too slow or unwilling to act, even in the face of massive atrocities, as we are seeing in Syria right now. But to see only its weaknesses is to overlook the enormously important work the UN does in promoting global health, aiding refugees, monitoring elections, and doing international peacekeeping missions, among other things. All of these activities contribute to reduced conflict, to wars that don’t have to be ended because they never start.

At the end of the day, it is obvious that it makes far more sense to have a forum in which countries can debate their concerns, work out compromises and agreements. Dialogue and debate are far preferable to bombs, poison gas, and war.

Dialogue however cannot only be take place between foreign ministers or diplomats at the United Nations. It should be taking place between people throughout the world at the grassroots level.

I was mayor of the city of Burlington, Vermont, in the 1980’s, when the Soviet Union was our enemy. We established a sister city program with the Russian city of Yaroslavl, a program which still exists today. I will never forget seeing Russian boys and girls visiting Vermont, getting to know American kids, and becoming good friends. Hatred and wars are often based on fear and ignorance. The way to defeat this ignorance and diminish this fear is through meeting with others and understanding the way they see the world. Good foreign policy means building people to people relationships.

We should welcome young people from all over the world and all walks of life to spend time with our kids in American classrooms, while our kids, from all income levels, do the same abroad.

Some in Washington continue to argue that “benevolent global hegemony” should be the goal of our foreign policy, that the US, by virtue of its extraordinary military power, should stand astride the world and reshape it to its liking. I would argue that the events of the past two decades — particularly the disastrous Iraq war and the instability and destruction it has brought to the region — have utterly discredited that vision.

The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world. Nor, on the other hand, is our goal to withdraw from the international community and shirk our responsibilities under the banner of “America First.” Our goal should be global engagement based on partnership, rather than dominance. This is better for our security, better for global stability, and better for facilitating the international cooperation necessary to meet shared challenges.

Here’s a truth that you don’t often hear about too often in the newspapers, on the television, or in the halls of Congress. But it’s a truth we must face. Far too often, American intervention and the use of American military power has produced unintended consequences which have caused incalculable harm. Yes, it is reasonably easy to engineer the overthrow of a government. It is far harder, however, to know the long term impact that that action will have. Let me give you some examples:

In 1953 the United States, on behalf of Western oil interests, supported the overthrow of Iran’s elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, and the re-installation of the Shah of Iran, who led a corrupt, brutal and unpopular government. In 1979, the Shah was overthrown by revolutionaries led by Ayatollah Khomeini, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was created. What would Iran look like today if their democratic government had not been overthrown? What impact did that American-led coup have on the entire region? What consequences are we still living with today?

In 1973, the United States supported the coup against the democratically elected president of Chile Salvador Allende which was led by General Augusto Pinochet. The result was almost 20 years of authoritarian military rule and the disappearance and torture of thousands of Chileans – and the intensification of anti-Americanism in Latin America.

Elsewhere in Latin America, the logic of the Cold War led the United States to support murderous regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala, which resulted in brutal and long-lasting civil wars that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

In Vietnam, based on a discredited “domino theory,” the United States replaced the French in intervening in a civil war, which resulted in the deaths of millions of Vietnamese in support of a corrupt, repressive South Vietnamese government. We must never forget that over 58,000 thousand Americans also died in that war.

More recently, in Iraq, based on a similarly mistaken analysis of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, the United States invaded and occupied a country in the heart of the Middle East. In doing so, we upended the regional order of the Middle East and unleashed forces across the region and the world that we’ll be dealing with for decades to come.

These are just a few examples of American foreign policy and interventionism which proved to be counter-productive.

Now let me give you an example of an incredibly bold and ambitious American initiative which proved to be enormously successful in which not one bullet was fired — something that we must learn from.

Shortly after Churchill was right here in Westminster College, the United States developed an extremely radical foreign policy initiative called the Marshall Plan.

Think about it for a moment: historically, when countries won terrible wars, they exacted retribution on the vanquished. But in 1948, the United States government did something absolutely unprecedented.

After losing hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the most brutal war in history to defeat the barbarity of Nazi Germany and Japanese imperialism, the government of the United States decided not to punish and humiliate the losers. Rather, we helped rebuild their economies, spending the equivalent of $130 billion just to reconstruct Western Europe after World War II. We also provided them support to reconstruct democratic societies.

That program was an amazing success. Today Germany, the country of the Holocaust, the country of Hitler’s dictatorship, is now a strong democracy and the economic engine of Europe. Despite centuries of hostility, there has not been a major European war since World War II. That is an extraordinary foreign policy success that we have every right to be very proud of.

Unfortunately, today we still have examples of the United States supporting policies that I believe will come back to haunt us. One is the ongoing Saudi war in Yemen.

While we rightly condemn Russian and Iranian support for Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter in Syria, the United States continues to support Saudi Arabia’s destructive intervention in Yemen, which has killed many thousands of civilians and created a humanitarian crisis in one of the region’s poorest countries. Such policies dramatically undermine America’s ability to advance a human rights agenda around the world, and empowers authoritarian leaders who insist that our support for those rights and values is not serious.

Let me say a word about some of the shared global challenges that we face today.

First, I would mention climate change. Friends, it is time to get serious on this: Climate change is real and must be addressed with the full weight of American power, attention and resources.

The scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, climate change is caused by human activity, and climate change is already causing devastating harm throughout the world. Further, what the scientists tell us is that if we do not act boldly to address the climate crisis, this planet will see more drought, more floods — the recent devastation by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are good examples — more extreme weather disturbances, more acidification of the ocean, more rising sea levels, and, as a result of mass migrations, there will be more threats to global stability and security.

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement was not only incredibly foolish and short-sighted, but it will also end up hurting the American economy.

The threat of climate change is a very clear example of where American leadership can make a difference. Europe can’t do it alone, China can’t do it alone, and the United States can’t do it alone. This is a crisis that calls out for strong international cooperation if we are to leave our children and grandchildren a planet that is healthy and habitable. American leadership — the economic and scientific advantages and incentives that only America can offer — is hugely important for facilitating this cooperation.

Another challenge that we and the entire world face is growing wealth and income inequality, and the movement toward international oligarchy — a system in which a small number of billionaires and corporate interests have control over our economic life, our political life, and our media.

This movement toward oligarchy is not just an American issue. It is an international issue. Globally, the top 1 percent now owns more wealth than the bottom 99% of the world’s population.

In other words, while the very, very rich become much richer, thousands of children die every week in poor countries around the world from easily prevented diseases, and hundreds of millions live in incredible squalor.

Inequality, corruption, oligarchy and authoritarianism are inseparable. They must be understood as part of the same system, and fought in the same way. Around the world we have witnessed the rise of demagogues who once in power use their positions to loot the state of its resources. These kleptocrats, like Putin in Russia, use divisiveness and abuse as a tool for enriching themselves and those loyal to them.

But economic inequality is not the only form of inequality that we must face. As we seek to renew America’s commitment to promote human rights and human dignity around the world we must be a living example here at home. We must reject the divisive attacks based on a person’s religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or identity, country of origin, or class. And when we see demonstrations of neo naziism and white supremacism as we recently did in Charlottesville, Virginia, we must be unequivocal in our condemnation, as our president shamefully was not.

And as we saw here so clearly in St. Louis in the past week we need serious reforms in policing and the criminal justice system so that the life of every person is equally valued and protected. We cannot speak with the moral authority the world needs if we do not struggle to achieve the ideal we are holding out for others.

One of the places we have fallen short in upholding these ideas is in the war on terrorism. Here I want to be clear: terrorism is a very real threat, as we learned so tragically on September 11, 2001, and many other countries knew already too well.

But, I also want to be clear about something else: As an organizing framework, the Global War on Terror has been a disaster for the American people and for American leadership. Orienting US national security strategy around terrorism essentially allowed a few thousand violent extremists to dictate policy for the most powerful nation on earth. It responds to terrorists by giving them exactly what they want.

In addition to draining our resources and distorting our vision, the war on terror has caused us to undermine our own moral standards regarding torture, indefinite detention, and the use of force around the world, using drone strikes and other airstrikes that often result in high civilian casualties.

A heavy-handed military approach, with little transparency or accountability, doesn’t enhance our security. It makes the problem worse.

We must rethink the old Washington mindset that judges “seriousness” according to the willingness to use force. One of the key misapprehensions of this mindset is the idea that military force is decisive in a way that diplomacy is not.

Yes, military force is sometimes necessary, but always — always — as the last resort. And blustery threats of force, while they might make a few columnists happy, can often signal weakness as much as strength, diminishing US deterrence, credibility and security in the process.

To illustrate this, I would contrast two recent US foreign policy initiatives: The Iraq war and the Iran nuclear agreement.

Today it is now broadly acknowledged that the war in Iraq, which I opposed, was a foreign policy blunder of enormous magnitude.

In addition to the many thousands killed, it created a cascade of instability around the region that we are still dealing with today in Syria and elsewhere, and will be for many years to come. Indeed, had it not been for the Iraq War, ISIS would almost certainly not exist.

The Iraq war, as I said before, had unintended consequences. It was intended as a demonstration of the extent of American power. It ended up demonstrating only its limits.

In contrast, the Iran nuclear deal advanced the security of the US and its partners, and it did this at a cost of no blood and zero treasure.

For many years, leaders across the world had become increasingly concerned about the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. What the Obama administration and our European allies were able to do was to get an agreement that froze and dismantled large parts of that nuclear program, put it under the most intensive inspections regime in history, and removed the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon from the list of global threats.

That is real leadership. That is real power.

Just yesterday, the top general of US Strategic Command, General John Hyden, said “The facts are that Iran is operating under the agreements the we signed up for.” We now have a four-year record of Iran’s compliance, going back to the 2013 interim deal.

I call on my colleagues in the Congress, and all Americans: We must protect this deal. President Trump has signaled his intention to walk away from it, as he did the Paris agreement, regardless of the evidence that it is working. That would be a mistake.

Not only would this potentially free Iran from the limits placed on its nuclear program, it would irreparably harm America’s ability to negotiate future nonproliferation agreements. Why would any country in the world sign such an agreement with the United States if they knew that a reckless president and an irresponsible Congress might simply discard that agreement a few years later?

If we are genuinely concerned with Iran’s behavior in the region, as I am, the worst possible thing we could do is break the nuclear deal. It would make all of these other problems harder.

Another problem it would make harder is that of North Korea.

Let’s understand: North Korea is ruled by one of the worst regimes in the world. For many years, its leadership has sacrificed the well-being of its own people in order to develop nuclear weapons and missile programs in order to protect the Kim family’s regime. Their continued development of nuclear weapons and missile capability is a growing threat to the US and our allies. Despite past efforts they have repeatedly shown their determination to move forward with these programs in defiance of virtually unanimous international opposition and condemnation.

As we saw with the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, real US leadership is shown by our ability to develop consensus around shared problems, and mobilize that consensus toward a solution. That is the model we should be pursuing with North Korea.

As we did with Iran, if North Korea continues to refuse to negotiate seriously, we should look for ways to tighten international sanctions. This will involve working closely with other countries, particularly China, on whom North Korea relies for some 80 percent of its trade. But we should also continue to make clear that this is a shared problem, not to be solved by any one country alone but by the international community working together.

An approach that really uses all the tools of our power — political, economic, civil society — to encourage other states to adopt more inclusive governance will ultimately make us safer.

Development aid is not charity, it advances our national security. It’s worth noting that the U.S. military is a stalwart supporter of non-defense diplomacy and development aid.

Starving diplomacy and aid now will result in greater defense needs later on.

US foreign aid should be accompanied by stronger emphasis on helping people gain their political and civil rights to hold oppressive governments accountable to the people. Ultimately, governments that are accountable to the needs of their people will make more dependable partners.

Here is the bottom line: In my view, the United States must seek partnerships not just between governments, but between peoples. A sensible and effective foreign policy recognizes that our safety and welfare is bound up with the safety and welfare of others around the world, with “all the homes and families of all the men and women in all the lands,” as Churchill said right here, 70 years ago.

In my view, every person on this planet shares a common humanity. We all want our children to grow up healthy, to have a good education, have decent jobs, drink clean water and breathe clean air, and to live in peace. That’s what being human is about.

Our job is to build on that common humanity and do everything that we can to oppose all of the forces, whether unaccountable government power or unaccountable corporate power, who try to divide us up and set us against each other. As Eleanor Roosevelt reminded us, “The world of the future is in our making. Tomorrow is now.”

My friends, let us go forward and build that tomorrow.

We welcome your comments (see box below or comment indicator.)

SENATORS HIT THE FLOOR WITH DEBATE ON IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Photo: Dick Durbin Official Site

By Harry C. Blaney III

The Senate started September 9th in a late Wednesday afternoon debate on the Iran Nuclear Deal resolution rejecting the agreement.  It constituted a remarkable series of very serious Democratic arguments for this agreement, which in the history of Senate debates will likely go down as among the most important in foreign affairs and in quality, at least on the side of those who support the deal.

We have taken two of these speeches by Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Bernie Sanders, which were among the best and deeply in contrast to the respective lines by the  Republican hawks which followed line by line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s direction towards an avoidable war. This done without adding any real factual or realistic arguments against the deal or showing a better path that will achieve, as the deal does, a verified halt to Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts. Least of all, they did not make any case that Israel would be better off with a likely war and upheaval in the Middle East if this deal was not approved and Iran had nuclear weapons in a few months time.

SPEECH TEXTS

By:  Sen. Bernie Sanders

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I support the agreement that the United States negotiated with China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom and Iran. I believe this approach is the best way forward if we are to accomplish what we all want to accomplish—that is making certain that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon – an occurrence which would destabilize the region, lead to a nuclear arms race in the area, and would endanger the existence of Israel.

It is my firm belief that the test of a great nation, with the most powerful military on earth, is not how many wars we can engage in, but how we can use our strength and our capabilities to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful way.

Those who have spoken out against this agreement, including many in this chamber, and those who have made every effort to thwart the diplomatic process, are many of the same people who spoke out forcefully and irresponsibly about the need to go to war with Iraq – one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of our country.

Sadly, people like former vice president Dick Cheney and many of the other neo-cons who pushed us to war in Iraq were not only tragically wrong then, they are wrong now. Unfortunately, these individuals have learned nothing from the results of that disastrous policy and how it destabilized the entire region.

I fear that many of my Republican colleagues do not understand that war must be a last resort, not the first resort. It is easy to go to war, it not so easy to comprehend the unintended consequences of that war.

As the former Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I have talked to veterans from WWII to Iraq, and I have learned a little bit about what the cost of war entails. In Iraq and Afghanistan we have lost 6,700 brave men and women, and many others have come home without legs, without arms, without eyesight.

Let us not forget that 500,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came back to their families with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The suicide rate of young veterans is appallingly high. The divorce rate is appallingly high, and the impact on children is appallingly high. God knows how many families have been devastated by these wars.

And we should not forget the many hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women, and children who died in that war, and those whose lives who have been completely destabilized, including those who are fleeing their country today with only the clothes on their back as refugees. The cost of war is real.

Yes, the military option should always be on the table, but it should be the last option. We have got to do everything we can do to reach an agreement to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon without having to go to war.

I believe we have an obligation to pursue diplomatic solutions before resorting to military engagement – especially after nearly fourteen years of ill-conceived and disastrous military engagements in the region.

The agreement calls for cutting off Iran’s pathways to the fissile materials needed for a nuclear weapon by reducing its stockpile of uranium by 98 percent, and restricting the level of enrichment of uranium to well below the level needed for weaponized uranium. The agreement requires Iran to decrease the number of installed centrifuges by two-thirds, dismantle the country’s heavy-water nuclear reactor so that it cannot produce any weapons-grade plutonium, and commit to rigorous monitoring, inspection, and verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Only after Iran has demonstrated to the international community its compliance with the tenets of the agreement – the U.S. and European Union will lift the sanctions that helped bring Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. The agreement also contains a mechanism for the “snap back” of those sanctions if Iran does not comply with its obligations.

Does the agreement achieve everything I would like? No, it does not. But to my mind, it is far better than the path we were on – with Iran developing nuclear weapons capability and the potential for military intervention by the U.S. and Israel growing greater by the day.

Let us not forget that if Iran does not live up to the agreement, sanctions may be reimposed. If Iran moves toward a nuclear weapon, all available options remain on the table. I think it is incumbent upon us, however, to give the negotiated agreement a chance to succeed, and it is for these reasons that I will support the agreement.

By Sen. Dick Durbin

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mr. President, for many years the US and others in the global community have worried about a nuclear armed Iran – and for good reason. 

Our intelligence community assesses that, until as recently as 2003, Iran was working toward a nuclear bomb.

Such a weapon in the hands of the Iranian regime would be an unacceptable risk to the region, to Israel, and to the world. 

The reckless war in Iraq further empowered Iran.  The country’s hardliners moved forward at great speed building suspicious nuclear infrastructure.  These efforts produced large and unsettling quantities of highly enriched uranium that could have been used for a nuclear weapon.     

This is the mess President Obama inherited when he came to office.  Yet, he pledged that Iran would not obtain a nuclear bomb on his watch.

With the current deal negotiated between the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran, he has delivered on that promise—something no previous president has been able to do. 

He has negotiated a comprehensive deal in which Iran pledges to the world not to build a nuclear bomb and agrees to stringent inspections and terms to ensure that Iran keeps that pledge. 

And this historic agreement was accomplished without drawing the United States into another war in the Middle East. 

I understand that any deal with Iran is open to suspicion.  Iran has a long history of destabilizing actions and outrageously offensive statements. 

Yet, what also troubles me is that some in this chamber – 47 Senators from the other side of the aisle – chose to undermine this effort even before it was concluded.

You see back in March – while negotiations where still underway and Iran was in full compliance with an interim agreement – 47 Republican Senators took an unprecedented and deeply troubling step.

They wrote to Iran’s hardliners trying to undermine any possible deal.

That’s right, while the executive branch of our government carried out negotiations with some of our key Western allies to halt Iran’s nuclear program, members of this body wrote directly to our adversaries in Iran opposing our own government here at home.

Ponder that for a moment.

Can anyone here imagine if 47 Democrats had written to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai saying don’t negotiate with then President Nixon – or to Soviet President Gorbachev saying don’t negotiate with President Reagan?

What if 47 Senate Democrats had written to Saddam Hussein before George W. Bush launched his ill-conceived war? 

The howls of protest would have been deafening.

Yet, that is exactly what happened here – something for which the Senate Historian’s office has reportedly found no precedent.

So it should be no surprise that many of these same voices also rushed forward to reject the final agreement immediately after it was announced.

None of these naysayers had time to actually read the agreement before they rejected it outright.   

Tragically, this apparent knee-jerk reaction to oppose anything by this administration has not only hurt efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program, but also tragically eroded this chamber’s historically bipartisan approach toward foreign policy. 

Mr. President, before the recess I came to the floor to announce my strong support for the nuclear agreement reached between key world powers and Iran. 

I noted that strong countries negotiate with their adversaries and have done so for generations, regardless of who was in the White House at the time.  And agreements reached from talking with our enemies have had tremendous benefits to our national security.

The deal with Iran is no different.

Since then, more than 35 of my Senate colleagues have expressed their support for this agreement.

They have pointed out the obvious.

First, this agreement places unprecedented restrictions and inspections on Iran, making it near impossible that Iran will be able to build a nuclear bomb without being caught.

Iran will not be able to cheat and get away with it.

Second, the agreement includes an Iranian commitment to the world’s powers that it will never build a nuclear bomb.  This means that if Iran cheats, action against Iran would likely have strong international support. 

And last, rejecting this agreement would leave the current international sanctions regime in tatters, eroding and falling apart over time. 

Even worse, Iran could walk away, leaving it unconstrained to build a nuclear weapon.  The region and our allies would then be at an even greater risk to a nuclear-armed Iran. 

Quite simply, rejecting this deal puts the US and the region at greater at risk. 

So much of the debate on this agreement is on issues peripheral to the primary goal – blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.  This agreement is the best option to do that.

And let me be clear, nothing in this agreement prevents the US or our allies from taking military action later if Iran cheats.  Nor does this agreement prevent the US from countering other Iranian actions in the region. 

And while Iran will likely continue to support terrorist groups, it will do so without the possibility of a nuclear umbrella.

It’s probably no surprise that many former Israeli security and intelligence officials see this agreement as in Israel’s interest.  It’s not because they trust Iran, it’s because this agreement blocks Iran’s pathway to a bomb. 

In fact, dozens of former senior Israeli security leaders have come out in support of the deal, including two former heads of Israeli Security Agency Shin Bet. 

Perhaps some of you saw the PBS Newshour interview last month with former head of the Mossad Efraim Halevy.  He said in support of the agreement,

I believe this agreement closes the roads and blocks the road to Iranian nuclear military capabilities for at least a decade.  And I believe that the arrangements that have been agreed between the parties are such that give us a credible answer to the Iranian military threat, at least for a decade, if not longer.  Up to a couple of years ago, the Iranians refused to discuss their nuclear programs on the basis of a negotiation, international negotiations. They said that this was their sovereign right to do whatever they wished.  They have caved in. They have entered into a detailed discussion of their capabilities. They have agreed to an agreement which lists their various facilities in Iran. They have agreed to knocking out the first and foremost important element in it, their location in Arak, which is a plutogenic-producing facility in potential.

   The core of this particular aspect is going to be destroyed.  And that means that there will be no capability of the Iranians to ultimately weaponize whatever they are doing for the purposes of attacking anybody around the world for the next decade. If only for that element alone, I would say this is an agreement worthwhile accepting.”

And when asked if he thought Iran would cheat, Halevy replied:

That is exactly the whole point of the agreement.  Whereas, when the United States negotiated with the Soviet Union, the code word which was used by President Reagan and Secretary Shultz was trust and verify, this time, it is mistrust and verify. There is going to be a verification system in place which is second to none and has no precedent.  And I believe that if the Iranians are going to try and cheat, there will be ways and means of finding this out. I think that the machinery which is going to be put in place, which, by the way, will be supported fully by the United States, without which this could not actually be implemented, will not be in place if the agreement is scuttled by Congress.”

And, of course, so many others outside of Congress from both sides of the aisle have come out in support of the deal, including former Senators Levin, Lugar, Nunn,Warner, Boren, Mitchell, and Kassenbaum.

Former National Security Advisor Scowcroft and former Secretaries of State Albright and Powell have expressed their views on the value of this deal.

And in recent weeks, more than 100 former US ambassadors…35 former generals and admirals…400 rabbis have written in support of the deal. 

Let me share a few key points from Senators Nunn and Lugar – two top nonproliferation experts and the former chairs of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committee respectively.  They note: 

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at American cities, and the Soviets were subject to numerous arms controls agreements. But progress was hard-fought and incremental at best. In an ideal world, the Soviet Union would have agreed to more severe constraints than those agreed by Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush, for example. It would have dismantled all of its nuclear weapons, stopped its human rights abuses and halted its meddling around the world.

   But, as all of these presidents – Democratic and Republican – understood, holding out for the impossible is a recipe for no progress at all. Congress should take the same approach today to the Iran nuclear deal.”

And they continue,

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, members of Congress must think long and hard about the consequences if this agreement is turned down. There is no escaping the conclusion that there will inevitably be grave implications for U.S. security and for U.S. international leadership in the decades ahead. Sanctions allies will go their own way, reducing the effectiveness of our financial tools and leaving Iran in a stronger position across the board.  Any future effort by this president or the next to assemble a “sanctions coalition” relating to Iran or other security challenges will be weakened. U.S. leadership, diplomacy and credibility, including efforts to achieve support for possible military action against Iran, will all be severely damaged.”

Former Chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin and John Warner made the argument that if the US walks away from this deal and then later finds Iran pursuing a bomb, it will find it harder to work with allies on a military strike having previously undermined the diplomatic approach.

Specifically, they argue,

The deal on the table is a strong agreement on many counts, and it leaves in place the robust deterrence and credibility of a military option. We urge our former colleagues not to take any action which would undermine the deterrent value of a coalition that participates in and could support the use of a military option. The failure of the United States to join the agreement would have that effect.”

Wise words from wise men – Republican and Democratic alike.

Mr. President, There have been decades of mistrust between the US and Iran. 

I myself cannot forget what happened in 1979 when our embassy was seized and more than 60 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.  There were mock executions and other inhumane acts.  Anyone who is familiar with this story knows the pain these people and their families suffered.

And no one can forget the horrible threats made by some Iranian leaders against the Israeli people or denials of the Holocaust.

Israel has genuine security concerns about Iran.  So do I. 

But at the end of the day, I believe this agreement is the best way to take one of those concerns – an Iranian nuclear bomb – off the table. 

It won’t change Iranian behavior overnight.  But in the long term, it also has the potential to empower the Iranian moderates – those who want a more open and internationally respected country.

Let’s not forget, Iran has one of the most pro-Western secular populations in the region – one hungry for greater connection to the world.  Iran’s leaders know this – and that is no doubt why Iranian hardliners are so opposed to this deal.

It is also important to remember that this is an agreement negotiated in partnership by the US and other key global powers – Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China.  

And in a meeting last month in the Middle East, the Gulf Cooperation Council also strongly supported the deal – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

In total, more than 100 countries have publicly supported this agreement. 

So at the end of the day, we should follow the words of President Kennedy – “Let us never negotiate out of fear.  But let us never fear to negotiate.” 

Mr. President, I believe that is exactly what President Obama and the world powers have accomplished with this unprecedented agreement.

It’s time for us to show the same courageous leadership here in the Senate.

END TEXTS

We will continue to follow the debate and votes and their meaning of national security and peace in the Middle East.

We welcome your comments!