Rubio: “This is about a strike that every single member of the president’s national security team, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, believes was necessary in order to prevent a near-term attack against Americans that could be lethal and catastrophic. This is about restoring active deterrence, effective deterrence, against future strikes.”
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke on the Senate floor regarding the ongoing situation in Iran.
Lightly edited excerpts of Rubio’s remarks on the Senate floor are below:
Rubio: When the President of the United States is summoned by his or her national security team and informed that he or she has a limited window of opportunity in which to prevent an attack that could cost the lives of dozens, if not hundreds, of Americans or U.S. troops. They’re advised this by their national security team — the entire team in unanimity — what would you do? That is the most fundamental and difficult question that should be asked of anyone who seeks the office of the presidency. It’s one of the most important things we need to know about those who seek the office and those who occupy it.
It is the proverbial 3:00 a.m. call. It is also happens to describe the choice before President Trump a few days ago. You wouldn’t know that after listening to some of the rhetoric I see on television. The Speaker of the House just held a press conference in which the messaging implies that the strike on the terrorist Soleimani was the act of a reckless madman, a reckless and irresponsible escalation and by the way he should have consulted with us before doing it. So I reiterate, the entire national security team of the president, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, has been unequivocal both privately and publicly that he agreed with the assessment and he believed that this strike was necessary in order to protect the lives of Americans from a near-term attack.
And so I want to be frank. Anyone who left a briefing or goes around saying, well, ‘I don’t think that that was true’, frankly, is not questioning the president. They’re questioning the 40 years of military service that General Milley has rendered this nation and, frankly, questioning the judgment of the entire leadership of the national security apparatus of the United States of America. That question has been answered clearly by them.
It’s interesting, too, that had the president not acted and, god forbid, American lives could have been lost, we could very easily be here this week, talking about how the president should be removed — a third article of impeachment for refusing to listen to the experts, for refusing to listen to his military advisors. Ironically enough, just yesterday before this entire Senate had the opportunity to be briefed by the national security team, I had a colleague of mine from across the aisle say everything will be fine if the president will just listen to General Milley and the military experts. But he did. Isn’t that ironically at the crux of a lot of these arguments about Ukraine that all of the experts, the career experts, the uniformed experts disagreed with what the president was doing. And yet, when he listens to what they say, it’s somehow the act of a reckless mad man. I think that speaks more to the hysteria that has overcome our politics and has now reached into the realm of national security.
It’s also important to note when people say these things that those who walk around talking about intelligence sometimes are not consumers of it on a regular basis or don’t understand how it works. It’s never about one piece. It’s about patterns and trends and known capabilities and known intentions and about windows of opportunity. That’s an important point to make.
As far as consulting with congressional leadership before taking this action, that is not how things like this develops. Very rarely do you have the luxury of time. Number one, let’s start by saying there is no legal requirement — the President of the United States has no legal requirement; and in fact, has an imperative ,inherent to the office, to act swiftly and appropriately to the threat of lives against Americans, especially American troops that he or she has sent abroad to defend this country’s interests. Number two, it’s unrealistic and not possible. Oftentimes these windows of opportunity do not allow you the luxury of reaching some congressional leader in the middle of their ski trip or Christmas break. And even if you could, there’s always the risk that that information would be disseminated and the window would close. So I’m not sure what they are asking for is even possible.
The other thing that’s troubling is, if you listen to some of the rhetoric that’s out there, the only two options with Iran is full-scale diplomacy and capitulation to what they are doing or all-out war. Absurd. It’s a false choice. It’s a false choice. The president has argued — has said, said it again clearly yesterday — that he’s ready for serious, serious and real talks towards how Iran becomes a normal nation and its clerical leadership behaves in a normal and civilized way. In the meantime, he has an obligation — this president, a future president, and past presidents — to protect America’s interest and more importantly American lives and to do so through a concept of active deterrence. What does that mean? Active deterrence means the people who want to harm you decide not to because the cost of harming you is higher than the benefit of harming you. And that’s an important point here because the strike on Soleimani was not just about preventing an imminent act — that in and of itself alone was reason to act — but the second thing that was important is re-establishing the act of deterrence.
For whatever reason the Iranians had concluded that they could go further than they’ve ever gone before in directly attacking Americans or using their proxies to attack Americans. So much so that they tried — they failed, but they tried — and could have breached our embassy compound in Baghdad and killed Americans, civilians and diplomats, and our military personnel stationed there. And tried to. And they could have and want to launch lethal attacks to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. Because for whatever reason they concluded that they could get away with it. That we would tolerate it. It was critical to the defense of this country, to our national interest, and to the lives of the men and women in uniform deployed abroad that we restore active deterrence. Now time will tell how much was restored, but clearly I believe some of it was restored and even the comments today of an Iranian commander that, ‘well, we shot missiles, but we didn’t try to kill anybody’ are indicative of a desire to de-escalate at least for the time being.
But the other thing I hear is that the ‘president has no strategy. That’s the problem, there’s no strategy.’ Well I think you could argue that they haven’t done a good enough job of outlining a strategy, but I don’t think it’s fair to say they have no strategy. The strategy begins with the goal. The goal is pretty straightforward, a prosperous Iran that lives in harmony with its neighbors and does not have nuclear weapons or continue to support terrorism and terrorist groups. That is the goal. How do you achieve it? By Iran abandoning its desire for nuclear weapons and by no longer standing up these terrorist groups that for over a decade have been killing Americans and trying to harm Americans, Israelis and other allies. How do you achieve it? By imposing crushing economic sanctions while leaving open the door for real — not fake, not talk for the sake of talk — but real diplomacy, but at the same time making it abundantly clear that you will deter, repel, and act against any effort to harm Americans.
All this talk about military conflict and U.S. actions overlooks the fundamental fact that what is happening here is that Iran has decided to respond to economic sanctions with violence. Their response to economic sanctions has been ‘can we get one of these terrorist groups, using weapons that we give them, to kill Americans. Can we put limpet mines on merchant ships. Can we attack the Saudis?’ That has been their response to economic sanctions — violence. Presidents don’t have the luxury of bluffing. You can’t go around saying if you kill Americans, there’s going to be consequences and then they try to kill Americans, or in the case of Iran did, and do nothing about it. Because now what you have done is you have invited a committed adversary to do more of it. Not just to tragically kill one brave American contractor, but kill dozens or hundreds of Americans in various spots throughout the world.
The last point I want to make is all this talk about an authorization for use of force. I want to begin by saying my personal view. I believe the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional. I think the power of Congress resides in the opportunity to declare war and to fund it. Every presidential administration, Republican and Democrat alike, has taken the same position. That doesn’t mean we should never have an AUMF. I think our nation — our actions are stronger when it is clear that it has strong bipartisan support from both houses of Congress. I also think all this talk about AUMFs is completely and utterly irrelevant to the case in point.
Number one, under the Constitution of the United States, and the War Powers Resolution by the way, the President of the United States not only has the authority to act in self-defense, but an obligation to do so — an obligation to do so. That’s number one. Number two, it is especially true in this case where the lives and the troops that he sought to protect were deployed to Iraq on an anti-ISIS, antiterrorism mission approved by Congress through an AUMF. An AUMF that states very clearly one of the reasons we are allowed to use military force as authorized by Congress is to defend against attacks. I don’t believe there is a single member of Congress who has the willingness to stand before the American people and say ‘I think when we deploy troops abroad, they should not be allowed to defend themselves.’ So not only do you not need an AUMF or congressional authority to act in self-defense, but the troops that were defending themselves here, and the troops that we were defending in the Soleimani strike and preventing an attack against, are deployed pursuant to a congressional authorization.
So honestly what I see here, in addition to the arguments that I’ve already discussed about how ridiculous it is to portray this as the act of a reckless madman who’s escalating things, is an argument about when you might need an AUMF. ‘Give us some theoretical, hypothetical scenario in which you might need an AUMF.’ But the hypotheticals they are posturing are ones that this administration has never, never proposed, frankly haven’t even contemplated. No one is talking about an all-out invasion of Iran. If you were telling me the president is putting together plans to invade Iran, to go in and capture territory, to remove the Ayatollah and install a new government, I would say alright, that’s something that there should be a debate about. Who’s talking about that? I haven’t heard anybody propose that. And yet, somehow the House today is going to spend time on this. People filed bills on this. And, look, we can debate anything you want. People can file any bill they want. That’s a privileged motion, it comes to the floor. Great.
By the way, no one said ‘don’t go around talking about this, just be quiet.’ Perhaps it should have been stated more artfully, but the point that was being made, which is a valid point, is that when the Iranians analyze responses to the United States, one of the things they look at is does domestic politics and differences of opinion and divisions among American officials, does that restrain what the president could do against us?
And you may not like it, but I want to be frank with you. They believe that our political differences in this country and that our disagreements constrain the president’s ability to respond to attacks. They believe it limits his ability to deter. Now, hopefully the strike on Soleimani may have reset that a little bit. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t debate it, and I don’t think we should ever tell Congress not to discuss these things. We have a right to, and frankly everybody here has been elected by a constituency, and so people can choose to raise whichever issue they want. But I also don’t think it’s invalid to point out that these internal debates we have in this country do have an impact on what our adversaries think they can get away with. Doesn’t make anyone an appeaser or traitor, but it’s a factor I think people should recognize — that’s all.
In closing I would say that there was a time — I’m not one of these people that pine to the golden era. It’s funny, you know I hear people talking about the Clinton impeachment trial. Oftentimes people come to me and say ‘back in the good old days, back in the ‘90s when everybody got together, congressmen were all friends.’ I don’t know what it was like then because I wasn’t here, but I remind them that in the golden days, what they often talk about, we were impeaching Bill Clinton around here. And they didn’t do it on social media and Twitter and 24-hour cable news at the time. There has always been friction in American politics.
The one thing I can say that’s evident is that there was a time in American politics that I hope we can return to. And that is a time in which, when it came to issues of national security, there was some level of restraint because we understood that when it came to that, the people who would ultimately pay the price for over-politicizing any issue, for reckless talk, for unnecessary accusations, are not the political figures. You know, presidents and ayatollahs don’t die in conflicts like these. You know who dies? The young men and women that we send abroad, the innocent civilians caught in the middle, the refugees who are forced to leave their homes as a result. There are real world life-and-death implications. And that’s why it has long been an American tradition that when it comes to issues of foreign policy and national security, they were always treated just a little bit differently, with some deference. And even if you disagreed, you sort of tailored it in a way that you thought would not harm those interests. And I think that’s been lost probably on both sides.
I still make it a habit when I travel abroad not to discuss or criticize U.S. leaders at home, but I understand times have changed. But I would just say in this particular case — and I know that this nation remains conflicted about the conflicts that led us into [Iraq], Afghanistan and that keep us in the region to this day, valid, valid debate — I just don’t think this looks anything like it. This is about a strike that every single member of the president’s national security team, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, believes was necessary in order to prevent a near-term attack against Americans that could be lethal and catastrophic. This is about restoring active deterrence, effective deterrence, against future strikes. And I hope that we can bring that debate back to where it belongs so that on matters of this importance, we can figure out solutions and not simply rhetoric.
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