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Corker Opening Statement at Hearing on "The Road Ahead: U.S. Interests, Values, and the American People"

United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 

Hearing: The Road Ahead: U.S. Interests, Values, and the American People 

March 30, 2017 

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman 

Opening Statement

We spend a lot of time in this committee looking at very specific foreign policy issues. Whether it’s the challenges we face as the Mosul campaign in Iraq appears to wind down or the down-in-the-weeds details of Venezuelan politics, we rightly focus much of our attention on the tactical and operational. There’s not much time left for the truly strategic. Let’s face it, that’s the way things have been both at the White House and here in Congress.

That’s why as chairman we’ve made it a priority to concentrate more of our time and energy on exploring the bigger questions facing our country and the world.

Members will remember that last year we were fortunate to hear testimony along those more strategic lines from former Secretary of State James Baker and former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. Both of whom, I know, are friends of yours.

I should also make clear that I think we stand at a moment of exceptional opportunity to take the strategic thinking we’re exploring at hearings like this one and work together with this new administration to turn it into reality.

We have a chance right now to join forces in a bipartisan way with the executive branch, which regardless of which side of the aisle you may be on, there’s no question they are more accessible and welcoming of input than any administration I’ve dealt with since joining the committee. As a matter of fact, since I am getting interaction with Hadley, I’ll just say, we had lunch with [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson last week. We are going to breaking out in small groups to look to at each of their twelve strategic regions. We are going to be doing the same thing with [National Security Adviser H.R.] McMaster.

As this administration moves ahead they really looking on a bipartisan basis for input, so it’s even more important that you are here today. We thank you.

Members know, as I just mentioned, we’ve already had a productive working meeting with Secretary of State Tillerson. Yesterday Ambassador Haley was in, and I thought we had a great meeting with her. 

What we learn here today will help inform those future interactions with the executive branch, and—if we all seize this moment—it will help us to craft solid foreign policies in a cooperative manner.

In my view, we face four critical areas of concern as we and the new administration move ahead.

First of all, over the past several years we’ve seen a crisis of credibility emerge when it comes to the world’s view of the United States. Put simply, people no longer believe that we can be counted on to do what we say we will do.

Second, we have a serious problem with prioritization. Since the end of the Cold War, the number of things being called “national security priorities” has expanded to an enormous laundry list.  We have spent too much time on, frankly, on pet issues of specific interest groups, individual members of Congress, and administration bureaucrats. As the old saying goes, if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority, and I hope you will help us with that today.

Third, our foreign policy has clearly and obviously become disconnected from the beliefs and desires of the American people. I mean, let’s face it, one of the outcomes of this most recent election was about that. We have not done a good job of making sure people in our country are connected with our foreign policy. We must have a national conversation about what constitutes core U.S. interests and as policymakers, we have to do a better job of squaring those interests—and the policies we pursue to achieve them—with the will of the folks who sent us here in the first place.

Finally, we have to recognize that no matter what we talk about in this committee day-to-day, and no matter what we discuss here this morning, the top threat, the top national security threat is us. It’s us. And that is our inability to deal with our long-term fiscal situation. Everybody knows it. I know Secretary Albright has mentioned this in times past. I know Secretary Hadley has. The other threats we face—North Korea, Russia, Iran and all the rest—are significant, but so is the fact that we are staring down the barrel of the kind of fiscal situation that has led to the end of kingdoms, empires, and republics throughout history, and is something that we have to grapple with.

I want my extend my great gratitude to the witnesses. I don’t want to prolong my opening comments any longer. We look forward to your testimony and vigorous questioning. It’s an honor to have to you. And with that, Senator Cardin.