MANAMA, Bahrain—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined the Manama Dialogue over the weekend to speak about U.S. policy and alliance relations in the Middle East.
While in Bahrain, Murphy met with leaders from across the region and U.S. officials, visited the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and went to the home of Nabeel Rajab, a human rights activist who is being jailed over his criticisms of the Bahraini government. Murphy then traveled to Lebanon to see firsthand the efficacy of U.S. military aid.
Murphy said: “…there remains this consensus amongst both parties, even at this incredibly politically volatile moment in Washington, about the need to both learn from our lessons—when it comes to the mistakes that we have made here in the region, our overreliance on the blunt force of military power to try and settle complicated political dynamics in the region—and to invent new ways to be partners with all of you in our communal efforts, our collective efforts, to bring stability to this region and to the world.”
On Iraq, Murphy said: “I do believe that Republicans and Democrats in the United States Congress believe that we need to communicate in as clear a set of terms as possible that we have a long-term commitment to the security of Iraq. And that has to come not just through continued military aid, but a recognition that we asked the Iraqis to engage in a campaign against ISIS which has left much of that country in shambles.”
On a serious political process in Yemen, Murphy said: “There is no realistic way for a long-term political deal to happen without the United States being if not at the center of those discussions, on the first outer ring of the periphery.”
On Iran, after the United States pulled out of the JCPOA, Murphy said: “If we are indeed going to require that as part of a new set of negotiations, Iran puts more on the table than just their nuclear program, then let us make sure that that is a realistic set of objectives that we are seeking Iran to come to the table on. I worry that we have set a bar so high that it is going to be difficult to ultimately gain any foothold of success.”
On human rights and democracy promotion as a component of U.S. foreign policy, Murphy said: “…we should have a consistency of effort when it comes to our support for self-determination, democracy promotion, and human rights. It is not an all-or-nothing proposition… there does need to be an element of every bilateral relationship that involves the U.S. advocacy for these causes.”
On the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Murphy said: “I think this Administration’s goal is to take sides and it is a fundamental reorientation of the historic position of the United States with respect to the process. In most moments, it looks as if this Administration is acting as a political arm of the Netanyahu re-election efforts rather than as an intermediary.”
On military aid being withheld from the Lebanese Armed Forces, Murphy said: “I’m worried about some hints in the United States that we may be rethinking our support for the [Lebanese Armed Forces]. They are an imperfect institution but they are worthy of continued United States economic support.”
A full transcript of Murphy’s opening remarks, and excerpts from the question and answer session, can be found below:
MURPHY: “Thank you very much, John. Thank you to our hosts and all the individuals that put on this important conference. This is my first time here, and thank you for welcoming me and our delegation. I am pleased to be joined here by Representative Ted Deutch of Florida, and you will hear from Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina shortly. Thank you to our country hosts, to the Kingdom for hosting not just this conference, but the Fifth Fleet and the thousands of Americans who come through here, protecting you, the region, and our security interests. We appreciate your hospitality to the American military.
“Let me reiterate what [Under] Secretary Rood laid down as an important predicate, and that is the vital importance of this region to the United States. I am going to be candid with you in my remarks and answers to questions about my belief that this is a very perilous moment, a moment where there is reason to be nervous about the commitment of the United States to this region. But I am also going to try to take my time to explain that I believe there still remains a bipartisan consensus around the importance not just to stay engaged, but to reengage, to up the ante when it comes to US participation in this region.
“But the importance of us being here is maybe very, very critical to say at this moment. We still have thousands of US troops, we are still spending billions of dollars in this region, engaged in our collective security. It is still the oil and gas that is produced here that powers the world economy. It is still very important to the U.S. and our interests. Trillions of dollars of commerce pass through the waterways of this region, vital to us and all of our economic partners around the world.
“There are still extremist groups that continue to threaten the U.S. and nations, that ultimately support those groups, Iran at the very top of that list. And most importantly, we have friends and allies here sitting in this room today that have fought with us and died with us in our fights for our collective security. We know that a safe America and a stable world requires a stable and safe Middle East. And while this is a moment of angst and uncertainty, there still exists in our country a bipartisan consensus around the need to be here.
“Now, that being said, this is a very difficult moment. I am a very vocal critic of this Administration’s foreign policy, and it is a time to admit that many in this region are not sure if the United States is coming or going. It is very difficult for capable career public servants to set policy in this Administration when their hard work and labor done over the course of months and years can be undone by a presidential tweet. No one knows what our policy is going to be from day to day, and it is very difficult to get to a negotiating table with the United States not knowing what our bottom line is going to be. I think it would be silly for us not to acknowledge that it is a very difficult moment to understand the bottom lines of American foreign policy.
“But I think what is most important for me to say to you today, frankly, as a Democrat who ran for Congress on a platform of getting the United States militarily un-entangled from the war in Iraq, it is important for me to underscore to you that there remains this consensus amongst both parties, even at this incredibly politically volatile moment in Washington, about the need to both learn from our lessons—when it comes to the mistakes that we have made here in the region, our overreliance on the blunt force of military power to try and settle complicated political dynamics in the region—and to invent new ways to be partners with all of you in our communal efforts, our collective efforts, to bring stability to this region and to the world.
“And I just want to lay out for you some of the places in which I think that consensus exists.
“First, on the question of Iraq. I do believe that Republicans and Democrats in the United States Congress believe that we need to communicate in as clear a set of terms as possible that we have a long-term commitment to the security of Iraq. And that has to come not just through continued military aid, but a recognition that we asked the Iraqis to engage in a campaign against ISIS which has left much of that country in shambles. And there is no way for the United States to now walk away from the rebuilding effort after that very destructive campaign to rid the nation of ISIS accrued to the national security benefit of the United States.
“We need to reengage. We need to make clear that our commitment to Iraq is long-term. It worries me to watch this Administration pulling our diplomatic presence out of Baghdad, at a moment when we should be doubling and tripling our diplomatic and economic and reconstruction aid to that nation. I do believe that there remains a bipartisan belief in Washington about a long-term, renewed commitment to Iraqi security and reconstruction.
“Second, when it comes to the conflict in Yemen, I am heartened to hear, as we have sat here today, good news, perhaps, that [there are] grass tips of some beginnings of a serious political process. But the United States needs to be in the middle of that process. There is no realistic way for a long-term political deal to happen without the United States being if not at the center of those discussions, on the first outer ring of the periphery. My hope is that Republicans and Democrats together will be able to push America to get back into the middle of that process. Good news, but more good news can be had if the United States is back and re-engaged.
“Third, when it comes to the future of American policy versus Iran, I obviously was a supporter of the JCPOA. I think it was a mistake to pull out of that agreement, but we now have to be together in Washington about the terms upon which we reengage with Iran. If we are indeed going to require that as part of a new set of negotiations, Iran puts more on the table than just their nuclear program, then let us make sure that that is a realistic set of objectives that we are seeking Iran to come to the table on. I worry that we have set a bar so high that it is going to be difficult to ultimately gain any foothold of success. But I think Republicans and Democrats can agree that we need Iran to not just get back to the table on the disposition of their nuclear program, but to bring their malevolent support for proxy groups, their ballistic missile program and their domestic campaign of political repression to that table as well. But, let us have a consensus around a realistic set of objectives that we are seeking to effectuate through a political and diplomatic process. Democrats and Republicans, I think, can come to an agreement on that as well.
“I think there is also general agreement that the United States, while perhaps over time lessening our military presence in the Middle East, can replace that with a surge in diplomatic presence and economic aid. There is no reason why we cannot be a much bigger player when it comes to the continued efforts to try to bring economic stability to parts of this region that are seeking to gain it. We should not be rolling back our diplomatic presence in places like Baghdad; we should be staffing up. Easy things like exchange programs can be expanded in many of these countries. The US development finance capacity can be much more adeptly deployed in many parts of this region. There are all sorts of ways in which we can be economic, diplomatic partners in this region, and we should have that kind of surge throughout the region.
“And then lastly, we should have a consistency of effort when it comes to our support for self-determination, democracy promotion, and human rights. It is not an all-or-nothing proposition. We certainly understand that different countries in the region are going to move at different speeds when it comes to opening up space for political dissent or minority rights or women’s ability to participate in the political space or the economic space. But there does need to be an element of every bilateral relationship that involves the U.S. advocacy for these causes. Again, it is not an all-or-nothing proposition, but that needs to be an element of our policy in this region, and there is clear bipartisan consensus on that subject as well.
“While I am certainly one of the more vocal critics of the way in which this Administration has caused much of the world to ask questions about how committed we are, I also believe that, despite the rancor you may see every day on television, as impeachment proceedings move through the House, and potentially to the Senate, Democrats and Republicans in Washington today believe that U.S. participation and involvement in the Middle East is absolutely vital to our national security interests.
“We understand that it is time for us to learn from our mistakes of the past. We understand that our presence here may look different than it did 20 years ago. But there is no disagreement, almost no disagreement between the two parties on our need to be present here for the long-term, and that is, I hope, the message that both sides of the aisle are bringing here as part of our delegation to this very, very important conference. I look forward to the discussion this afternoon.”
On the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process:
MURPHY: “…I actually don’t think this Administration has a goal of being an honest broker. I think this Administration’s goal is to take sides and it is a fundamental reorientation of the historic position of the United States with respect to the process. In most moments, it looks as if this Administration is acting as a political arm of the Netanyahu re-election efforts rather than as an intermediary. And the worry that many of us have is that the decisions that are being made today are going to bind us in a way that will make it hard for the next Administration to try to get back to that position of being an honest broker. Clearly, the belief in a two-state solution still being available as an outcome is fleeting in the West Bank and Israel, and the decisions that the Administration continues to make, make it even harder and harder to recover.
“So, of course I want the United States to get back to that role of standing between the two sides, making it clear that Israel is a sacred ally, that we stand in league with them in constructing an alignment that protects their security interests, but understanding we have to deliver hard messages to them as well as to the Palestinians if we ultimately want to get any agreement.”
MURPHY: “…There was a way to try to work out a governance structure in that part of the world that could have been suitable to Arab, Kurdish, and Turkish needs, but we had one diplomat in Syria—for much of the time, we had 2,000 special operators there. We are going to have to create a hybrid class of diplomats and warriors, people who have political experience in these regions who can go into very dangerous places and do that hard diplomatic work. We just don’t have that capacity today, a few of our partners have that capacity. We’ve got to create it, so our only option isn’t to send young soldiers with very little diplomatic experience in.”
MURPHY: “…One of the things that the Iranians rightly point out is that their ballistic missiles are pointed as much at their Gulf adversaries as they are at Israel. And that they are going to want us to put on the table questions of our military support for allies here, which I think we have to be very careful about entertaining those discussions.
“…I just think I want us to go into any new negotiations with Iran eyes wide open. You don’t get something for nothing. And if you want to put things beyond what was in the context of the JCPOA negotiations in a new negotiation, then we need to be willing to put other items on that table as well and that may ultimately draw us further apart. So just, I think we all need to be careful what we are asking for in that respect.”
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