January 07, 2020

Menendez Delivers Remarks on President Trump’s Spiraling Foreign Policy

Simply put, President Trump’s foreign policy, like President Trump himself, is completely shortsighted, self-interested and transactional. 

“I know that national security is not a popularity contest, but the erosion of America’s standing in the world makes it less safe for Americans.  It undermines our diplomacy. It hinders economic opportunity. And it undercuts our ability to promote our values; betraying our centuries-long vision of our nation as a City on a Hill.” 

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered a speech on the Senate Floor laying out the past three years of President Trump’s dangerously incoherent foreign policy. With the Iran crisis escalating, Menendez addressed how the administration’s “America First” policy has damaged our global leadership and produced disastrous outcomes in North Korea, Syria, China, Russia, and Iran.

“Every president faces new threats that challenge our quest for this brighter future and we’ve worked hard to create institutions and provide resources to help every Administration navigate this increasingly complex world,” said Menendez. “And we pray that the moral character of every president provides them with the foresight and judgment necessary to protect American security and our strategic interests when it matters most. Instead, President Trump has taken difficult security challenges and made them even harder to resolve.

“That is why the Congress’ role in shaping and advancing U.S. foreign policy has never mattered more. That is why I will continue to advance strategic legislation—from Turkey to Climate Change to new Ukraine support—to conduct oversight, and to speak on behalf of the American people and the values and norms that define us and our place in this complicated world. We here in the Senate have an obligation. We cannot cynically look the other way or be silent or enable that which we know to be wrong, risky, and morally reprehensible. History will not judge us kindly if we do. I, for one, will not stand idly by and be judged that way.”

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On Russia: “Consider Russia. Even as our intelligence community and bipartisan Congressional reports point to ‘incontrovertible’ proof of Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections and plans to do so in 2020, to this day, the President’s own fragile ego still prevents him from even acknowledging the threat. Let alone standing up to continued Russian aggression,” said Menendez. 

On Western Hemisphere: “President Trump says he wants to confront the root causes of migration. He says he wants to combat drug trafficking and the opioid epidemic. Yet he has repeatedly weakened our counter-narcotics, law enforcement, and development operations in the Northern Triangle and Mexico, while continuing to push for a border wall he promised the American people that would Mexico pay for. And the Administration’s abhorrent treatment of asylum seekers—from separating children from their parents to placing people in cruel and inhuman conditions—has only further weakened America’s moral standing.”

On Trump’s Conflicts of Interest: “President Trump spent the better part of three years on the golf course eviscerating the clear lines between a President’s responsibilities to the American people and his devotion to his own wallet.”

On North Korea: “Despite all the made-for-TV moments, his poorly conceived and poorly executed effort has left North Korea a greater threat in 2020.”

On Human Rights: “On human rights, the Trump Administration’s approach is at a word, abysmal. The Administration supported the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen amid credible reports of despicable war crimes. It stood silent on the killing of the Washington Post Reporter Jamal Khashoggi at MBS’ direction. And it has downplayed human rights and democratic backsliding in Honduras, Guatemala, the Philippines, Burma, Turkey, and beyond.” 

On Africa: “Turning to Africa, at a time when our allies as well as adversaries like Russia and China are ramping up their engagement, the United States is pulling back. Indeed, Secretary Pompeo has visited Kansas on multiple occasions during his tenure, but he has yet to visit a single sub-Saharan country.”

Senator Menendez’s full remarks below:

“For three years now, every day Americans, members of this body, our diplomatic corps and our allies and adversaries alike have wondered whether there’s any sort of coherent strategy guiding the national security and foreign policy of President Donald Trump. If the events of recent days are any indication, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’

The Trump Administration has no vision for how we might build a world that is more stable, peaceful and prosperous for future generations. To be sure, the Administration has serious reports outlining our global challenges and nicely drafted statements proclaiming their ‘America First’ strategy. But in practice the President’s erratic leadership and failure to invest in the very institutions we need to promote American national security have sowed chaos and increasingly left ‘America Alone.’

Our nation has faced great challenges before. And yet having served nearly three decades in Congress I cannot recall a time when so many of them were of our own making, and as predictable as they were avoidable. Simply put, President Trump’s foreign policy, like President Trump himself, is completely shortsighted, self-interested and transactional. 

The President’s abandonment of our core values has already eroded America’s standing abroad. Near the end of the last Administration, the Gallup organization found that 48 percent of respondents in more than 100 countries worldwide had confidence in the United States. Today it’s gone from 48 to hovering around 31 percent. Furthermore, more people around the world likely trust China or Russia than the United States.

I know that national security is not a popularity contest. But the erosion of America’s standing in the world makes it less safe for Americans.  It undermines our diplomacy. It hinders economic opportunity. And it undercuts our ability to promote our values; betraying our centuries-long vision of our nation as a City on a Hill.

Our nation was founded on noble ideals. And it is those ideals—more than our unrivaled economic strength, more than our unparalleled military might— that have rallied the world to our side. From the defeat of fascism in Europe, to the rise of international institutions and security partnerships, to the fall of the Berlin wall, and beyond.

Yet President Trump has squandered this precious resource of our values—our ‘soft power’—through actions that betray our ideals, abandon our allies, and appease our enemies. Far from America first, this Administration is leaving America isolated, corrupted, and behind. We see it again and again, from Ukraine to Syria to Iran and beyond. 

Consider Russia. Even as our intelligence community and bipartisan Congressional reports point to ‘incontrovertible’ proof of Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections and plans to do so in 2020, to this day, the President’s own fragile ego still prevents him from even acknowledging the threat. Let alone standing up to continued Russian aggression.

Turning to North Korea, two years ago the President said he achieved a breakthrough and that we didn’t have to worry about North Korea anymore. We could sleep well at home.

And yet despite all the made-for-TV moments, his poorly conceived and poorly executed effort has left North Korea a greater threat in 2020. Under President Trump’s watch, North Korea has expanded its nuclear arsenal, successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, and conducted its most powerful nuclear testing. And his Administration has undercut our critical defensive alliance with South Korea and Japan, and walked away from serious sanctions enforcement.

Nearby in China, the Administration’s efforts have failed to change China’s actions in the South China Sea, resolve the structural issues at play in our trade relationship, or address its worsening human rights and governance behavior.

From the crackdown in Hong Kong to the oppression of the Uighurs to China’s growing economic and technological influence, used to spy and oppress. 

Turning to the Western Hemisphere: a year ago the President rightly denounced Maduro, but misleadingly declared the success of his Venezuela policy. Today, the President sits silently as millions of Venezuelans fleeing a massive humanitarian crisis and the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans already in the United States remain in desperate need of Temporary Protected Status.

President Trump says he wants to confront the root causes of migration. He says he wants to combat drug trafficking and the opioid epidemic. Yet he has repeatedly weakened our counter-narcotics, law enforcement, and development operations in the Northern Triangle and Mexico, while continuing to push for a border wall he promised the American people that would Mexico pay for. And the Administration’s abhorrent treatment of asylum seekers—from separating children from their parents to placing people in cruel and inhuman conditions—has only further weakened America’s moral standing. 

Likewise, President Trump’s functional destruction of our refugee resettlement program and slashing of refugee admissions to the United States not only damages America’s reputation as a beacon of hope for vulnerable people around the world but deprives us of the contributions refugees have always brought to our economy and our communities.

We also face immense challenges like climate change. And yet even as our close ally Australia faces a deadly conflagration, this Administration continues to deny a threat that is already costing American taxpayers billions of dollars in the wake of increasingly severe storms, fires and floods. Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement was a gross abdication of American leadership. One that has allowed China—yes, China—to position itself as the world leader on clean energy.

The Trump Administration has also ceded ground at the opened United Nations to the China and Russia. Recently, China beat us for a leadership seat at the Food and Agricultural Organization, while Russia won out support for its cybercrime treaty. And while the Administration may seek to explain away these losses on an individual basis, this is in fact the steady drip-drip-drip of the loss of American power and influence due to President Trump’s abject mismanagement.

Turning to Africa, at a time when our allies as well as adversaries like Russia and China are ramping up their engagement, the United States is pulling back. Indeed, Secretary Pompeo has visited Kansas on multiple occasions during his tenure, but he has yet to visit a single sub-Saharan country. 

Likewise, we see a complete absence of diplomatic strategies for challenges across Africa, from preventing a return to conflict in South Sudan, to supporting the democratic transition in Ethiopia, to curbing terrorism in the Sahel. And the recent tragic deaths of Americans in Kenya demonstrate a lack of progress in weakening terrorist organizations like as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram. 

Likewise, for a year the Administration failed to waive human trafficking sanctions so that USAID could adequately respond to the deadly Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On human rights, the Trump Administration’s approach is at a word, abysmal. The Administration supported the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen amid credible reports of despicable war crimes. It stood silent on the killing of the Washington Post Reporter Jamal Khashoggi at MBS’ direction. And it has downplayed human rights and democratic backsliding in Honduras, Guatemala, the Philippines, Burma, Turkey, and beyond.

Likewise, the Trump Administration has rolled back the rights of women and girls worldwide. From cutting off funding for lifesaving maternal care they falsely claim promotes abortions, to reinstating the Global Gag Rule. And it has set back the clock on equality and protection for LGBTQ people in international instruments at the UN and elsewhere.

I want to remind my colleagues why America must champion human rights. Not just because it is right—although it certainly is right—but because democracy and respect for human freedom are the foundation of a safer, better world for the American people to thrive in.

And as the President abdicates our leadership and undermines the institutions we worked decades to help build, we’ve witnessed attacks on some of America’s closest friends. President Trump’s verbal broadsides against the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and South Korea, just to mention a few—the latter during the ongoing nuclear standoff with North Korea—are deeply regrettable and completely counterproductive. This is not how America leads the world. This is how America finds itself alone, isolated, and more vulnerable.

This Administration has attacked the very idea of diplomacy. They’ve proposed enormous cuts in the State Department budget, removed senior diplomatic leaders with no replacements, and marginalized the State Department’s input on key decisions.

And finally, nowhere in the world is President Trump’s reckless foreign policy and total lack of strategy more painfully obvious than the Middle East.

Now let me be clear. I do not shed a tear for Qassem Soleimani. As commander of the IRGC Quds Force, he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and supporting terrorism throughout the Middle East. Previous Administrations have kept tabs on Soleimani’s whereabouts—both Republican and Democrat alike—but always chose not to act against him, because the decision was that the action against him, the value of that, was less in value than the consequences of retaliation and long-term military action.

The President must come to Congress and present clear and compelling intelligence as to why the strike against Soleimani was absolutely necessary. What was the imminent threat that Soleimani uniquely possessed?

We need to know if the threats we face have materially changed, and in the wake of all its misleading statements we must make clear to the Administration that the President by himself does not have the authority to launch a war against Iran.  

Mister President, let me send you a message: attacks on cultural sights are war crimes. They are war crimes. We observe international law not only because it is right, but because then we can ask other countries to observe international law, as well.

The consequences of President Trump’s strike on Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani are unfolding as we speak. Already, the Iraqi parliament has called for an expulsion of American forces. And there is now confusion about what U.S. policy is. Are we keeping troops to fight ISIS? Are we going to start sanctions on Iraq? Confusion, contradiction, chaos. Amid such confusion the one thing that has taken place for sure, is that instead of our mission there to fight ISIS, we are now having to recalibrate to use that mission to protect our own forces. What a reprieve ISIS gets.

And despite what the President may say, Iran is not a different country than it was two years ago. Iranian-backed protestors just stormed our embassy; previously, the Iraqi people were storming Iranian embassies because of Iran’s influence in Iraq. Now, they’re out massively protesting against us. A regime continues to oppress its own people, and its proxies now has a solidified populace behind it. Soleimani’s legacy, ultimately: what he may not have achieved in life, he may very well have achieved in death, pushing the United States out of Iraq.

Now, it’s no secret I did not support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But let’s be clear: Iran is today closer to a nuclear breakout than when President Trump took office, and we have isolated ourselves from the international alliance that we built to constrain Iran’s ambitions.

Meanwhile, in Syria, the President’s greenlight for Turkey’s incursion has weakened American interests in the region, allowed Russia to grow its influence, and opened the door for ISIS to reconstitute. By turning our backs on the Kurds we’ve signaled to the world that we will abandon our allies on the battlefield. And while the President promised to stop endless wars in the Middle East, over the weekend thousands of military family members are unexpectedly saying goodbye as their loved ones receive orders to do just the opposite.

President Trump has not brought the American people a more peaceful, more stable, and more prosperous world. On the contrary the President has brought us closer to war. Closer to facing a nuclear-armed Iran. Closer to facing an existential threat to Israel. Closer to witnessing a destabilizing arms race and greater conflict in the entire Middle East region, fueled by emboldened Iranian proxy forces. A show of strength with no strategy in place is no show of strength at all.

President Trump spent the better part of three years on the golf course eviscerating the clear lines between a President’s responsibilities to the American people and his devotion to his own wallet. The President and his family continue to put their business interests over America’s interests.  The President has flouted the Constitution’s emoluments clause and shredded decades of ethical norms by refusing to divest himself from the Trump Organization.

He and his family maintain unprecedented business interests and real estate projects in about 20 foreign countries that undoubtedly entangle him with foreign governments whenever local cooperation or financing is needed. It is clear that that creates a conflict that does not put the nation’s interests first.

He operates with no moral compass. Indeed, the President’s pursuit of own personal benefit at the expense of America’s national security interests in Ukraine has led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives.

So I urge my colleagues to remember why America’s conduct on the world stage matters. Why our values matter. Why our leadership matters. We strive to create a more peaceful, more stable world so that we can protect the security of Americans at home, so that we create greater prosperity and economic opportunity for our people, and at the end of the day avoid at all costs the need to send our sons and daughters to war.

Every president faces new threats that challenge our quest for this brighter future and we’ve worked hard to create institutions and provide resources to help every Administration navigate this increasingly complex world. And we pray that the moral character of every president provides them with the foresight and judgment necessary to protect American security and our strategic interests when it matters most. Instead, President Trump has taken difficult security challenges and made them even harder to resolve.

That is why the Congress’ role in shaping and advancing U.S. foreign policy has never mattered more. That is why I will continue to advance strategic legislation—from Turkey to Climate Change to new Ukraine support—to conduct oversight, and to speak on behalf of the American people and the values and norms that define us and our place in this complicated world.

We here in the Senate have an obligation. We cannot cynically look the other way or be silent or enable that which we know to be wrong, risky, and morally reprehensible. History will not judge us kindly if we do. I, for one, will not stand idly by and be judged that way.

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