Casey Addresses U.S. Foreign Policy

Speech delivered to World Affairs Council of Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA, PA-In a speech today before the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, outlined his thoughts on Iraq, Iran, the Middle East Peace Process, nuclear terrorism and other foreign policy challenges.  Following his remarks, Senator Casey took questions from the audience.  The full text of his remarks is included.

“It is time that American foreign policy gets back to the fundamentals,” said Senator Casey.  “It is time that the United States once again becomes the leader of the free world, rallying other nations to our support not just because we are mighty and strong, but because we are principled and just.” 

Select quotes from key portions of Senator Casey’s remarks are below.  The text of his entire speech follows.

On a return to alliances: “The question facing our nation over the next year is this:  how can we return to an America that so inspired the world and that was not afraid to build alliances because that is the price of leadership.” 

On the need for diplomacy in Iraq: “We have failed to match our military surge with a diplomatic surge.  The President continues to ignore the crucial role that Iraq’s neighbors, the Arab League, the United Nations, and others can and must play if Iraq is to be salvaged.  For that reason, I have introduced legislation in the Senate calling on the President to carry out a comprehensive regional diplomatic offensive to make Iraq less America’s problem and more the responsibility of the broader international community.” 

On Iraq’s influence on U.S. foreign policy: “As with all discussions in Washington today, we must turn to the state of affairs in Iraq.  It is difficult to describe the extent to which the singular focus on Iraq drains high-level attention from every other foreign policy issue in Washington.  The unfolding consequences there affect our approach to every other national security challenge.” 

On Russia: “Other critical matters, including how to respond to Russia’s alarming lurch backwards towards authoritarian rule and China’s rise on the world stage, have been pushed to the back burner, with potentially dangerous consequences.” 

On Iran: “The United States must stand firm against Iran and insist, in concert with its allies and other key powers, that Tehran comply with demands of a unified international community.  We should seek to exploit Iran’s dependence upon oil exports and other financial vulnerabilities through a targeted set of financial and economic sanctions.  It is for that reason that I have co-sponsored several bills that would tighten existing sanctions, including by giving state and local governments the unfettered right to divest their pension funds from companies that insist on continued business ties with Iran.  We must always make clear that the military option remains on the table, if only for deterrent purposes.”

On the Middle East Peace Process: “The United States must also show genuine leadership on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, to ensure that we can reach the common objective of a two-state solution, Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peaceful coexistence and secure in agreed borders.”

On the threat of “loose nukes”: “The threat posed by the possibility of nuclear terrorism and the broader concern of nuclear proliferation is a national security challenge of the first order.  Yet our government has not paid sufficient attention to it for the past five years, in part, because of the morass in Iraq.  Our men and women in uniform have done their jobs, but our civilian leadership has failed us.” 

 

U.S. Senator Bob Casey

World Affairs Council

October 22, 2007

 

Thank you, Roberta, for that kind introduction.  It is my honor to be here today at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.  I have long admired the Council for its efforts to cultivate a more informed citizenry here in Philadelphia and throughout the Commonwealth on the key issues of the day. 

When the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden, asked me in December if I would consider serving as a Member of the Committee, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.   I did know, however, that the Committee, and the United States as a whole, face a momentous task in coming years:  how to steer our great nation back onto the right course following more than six years of flawed judgments, wrongheaded priorities, and missed opportunities.

To understand where we want to take our nation on the international stage, it is worth reviewing how we got here and the mistakes we cannot afford to make again.

In the months following the gravest terrorist attack in our nation’s history, the President made the right decision to use our military power to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and hunt down and kill Al Qaeda terrorists.  We successfully disrupted the sanctuaries Al Qaeda had been using for years to plot terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies and eliminated a regime that was a direct threat to our national security.

However, the President then allowed his attention to be steered away from the vital effort in Afghanistan.  He did so even as Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahari, Mullah Omar, and other masterminds of 9/11 were still on the loose – which remains true today, five years later.  Instead, he listened to those in his Administration who had been chomping at the bit to take out Saddam Hussein for more than a decade and saw the tragic events of 9/11 as a credible rationale. 

The President chose to abandon a decade of successful containment of Saddam Hussein to make the case for a military invasion to depose his regime.  He interpreted a use of force authorization from the United States Congress, passed in October 2002 to grant the President greater diplomatic leverage to compel Saddam’s cooperation with international weapons inspectors, as a broad justification to dispense with all diplomacy, bypass the United Nations Security Council, ignore the advice of most of our allies, and take our nation into a preemptive war without adequate planning for the catastrophic aftermath.

The President, joined by his Vice President, his Secretary of Defense, his National Security Advisor and others, issued a series of ominous warnings on Saddam’s regime and what could happen if he remained in power: 

Saddam could deploy biological and chemical weapons with short notice and was willing to share them with Al Qaeda and others;


Saddam had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program and Iraq was on the verge of producing fissile material;


Saddam was supporting Al Qaeda and it could not be ruled out that he played some shadowy role in the events of 9/11;


Each of these claims were false, based upon flawed and inconclusive evidence, yet presented to the American people and the international community with near certainty.  Retired General Anthony Zinni, a native Pennsylvanian, is quoted in Tom Rick’s great book, Fiasco, when hearing the Vice President’s speech in August 2002 that Iraq was expanding its weapons of mass destruction programs, that he nearly fell off his chair in disbelief.  “In my time [in the military], I watched the intelligence and never - not once - did it say '[Saddam] has WMD”. 

We were also told what would happen once the United States took action to remove Saddam from power: 

The United States would be welcomed as liberators by a grateful Iraqi people;


A military invasion would be shortly followed by a handover of power to a democratic Iraqi government that would serve a model for neighboring nations;


The invasion would pay for itself and the American people would not be stuck with the bill; after all, Iraq was a wealthy oil producer;
 Again, each of those claims proved utterly false.  Yet Administration officials like Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith continued to repeat them in the run up to the war, even though our Intelligence Community was predicting the likelihood that the exact opposite would occur. As a candidate last year, and now as a United States Senator, I have been troubled by the alarming collapse of America’s global leadership over the past six years.    President George W. Bush and a small group of ideologues, led by Vice President Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, have reshaped America’s role in the world – transforming a nation once confident in the strength of its convictions and the appeal of its ideas into an isolated fortress, too often insistent upon going its own way instead of displaying genuine leadership by uniting a coalition of allies in service of a common objective.    

This is not the America where we grew up. Our America did not engage in short-sighted unilateralism, walking away from treaties to ban nuclear weapons testing, fight global warming, and prosecute crimes against humanity because they imposed hypothetical constraints on the future use of American power. Instead, our America led the creation of the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank, the IMF, and other multilateral institutions of global security and cooperation.  Our America did not gin up exaggerated claims to start preemptive wars, only to demonstrate an appalling lack of planning for the aftermath of such wars.   In our America, George Marshall, a native of Uniontown, PA started the planning for the post war occupation of Germany and Japan in 1942, three full years before those enemies surrendered.  What is the America we have always cherished?  A nation viewed as a beacon of hope and freedom for oppressed people around the world.  A nation that inspired both respect and admiration among others.  A nation that could rise to any challenge and surmount any obstacle, under strong and principled leadership. The question facing our nation over the next year is this:  how can we return to an America that so inspired the world, that was not afraid to build alliances because that is the price of leadership.  Much of this debate will play itself out on the presidential campaign trail. 

Today, I would like to sketch out how I think the United States can regain the mantle of leadership for the global community and get our foreign policy right once again. First, as with all discussions in Washington today, we must turn to the state of affairs in Iraq.  It is difficult to describe the extent to which the singular focus on Iraq drains high-level attention from every other foreign policy issue in Washington.  The unfolding consequences there affect our approach to every other national security challenge.   Other critical matters, including how to respond to Russia’s alarming lurch backwards towards authoritarian rule and China’s rise on the world stage, have been pushed to the back burner, with potentially dangerous consequences.  Unless we get Iraq policy right, both our allies and adversaries will continue to harbor doubts on our ability to exert competent global leadership. I traveled to Iraq in early August for a fact-finding mission with the Assistant Majority Leader, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.  What struck me during my short time there was the pervasive sense of insecurity that enveloped every stop on our itinerary.   

After landing in our C-130 at Baghdad International Airport, we were immediately whisked onto Blackhawk helicopters.  Our helicopters moved at very high rates of speed, using evasive maneuvers.  We were flying so close to the ground that it felt as if you could take your hand and touch the buildings.

Of course, there is a reason why those helicopters are flying so fast and so low to the ground.  There is a reason why, every time I stepped out of the Green Zone, I had to don full body armor and a Kevlar helmet.  There is a reason why, in traveling to visit the President of the nation, Jalal Talabani, who resides outside the Green Zone, we were in a convoy of four armored cars, surrounded by ten to twelve military escorts, and helicopters flying overhead for air cover.  In fact, as we were headed to the President’s home, one of the security personnel told us, “If something happens, stay low and we will get you into another car.”

Last month, Members of the Congress were presented with a blizzard of numbers, figures, and charts in support of the contention that violence in Iraq was trending downwards.  Statistics are useful, but data can sometimes obscure and conceal.  Iraq today is not a secure nation.  It will not be secure until its leaders can leave the Green Zone without fear of assassination attempts or suicide bombings.  It will not be secure until its own national army and police forces can stand up and protect all of Iraq’s people without regard to ethnicity or creed.

In our meetings with Iraq’s leaders, I told them that the American people are running out of patience, and justifiably so.  This war has now endured for a longer period than World War II and the cost has been all too high – over 3800 dead, including 175 sons and daughters of Pennsylvania.  These American heroes have, as President Lincoln put it, “given the last full measure of devotion.”  Almost 28,000 other Americans, including nearly 1200 Pennsylvanians, have been wounded, including those who have lost their sight or are suffering from traumatic brain injuries.  We have spent over half a trillion dollars on behalf of this war.  And, so, I cannot accept Iraqi leaders lecturing the American people on the need for “patience”.

Our military forces have done everything we have asked of them.  No troops in American history have been braver or achieved more success than they have.  This spring, I visited our recovering troops at the Walter Reed Medical Center.  There I met Joshua Humberger, a native of Grapeville, PA.  This young man was so inspiring, so courageous.  I asked him what was next for him after his recovery time at Walter Reed.  He looked me in the eye and said that he wanted to return to Iraq and rejoin his fellow soldiers.  He said all this despite the fact that he was sitting in his bed with half of his leg amputated.  That type of courage is simply amazing.

But our young men and women cannot force a foreign government to be stable; they cannot force the Iraqi National Police to put aside their deep-seated sectarianism and corruption; they cannot force Iraqi political leaders to forge a fully functioning government of national unity.

We have failed to match our military surge with a diplomatic surge.  The President continues to ignore the crucial role that Iraq’s neighbors, the Arab League, the United Nations, and others can and must play if Iraq is to be salvaged.  For that reason, I have introduced legislation in the Senate calling on the President to carry out a comprehensive regional diplomatic offensive to make Iraq less America’s problem and more the responsibility of the broader international community.  If Iraq collapses into a full scale civil war that engulfs its neighbors, America is not the only nation that will pay a steep price.  It’s time to get other nations rightly invested in Iraq’s future.  My amendment would call on the President to take a series of steps, including: 

Appointing a seasoned, high-level envoy with a direct line to the White House who can work with Iraq’s neighbors on an intensive basis in helping stabilize Iraq;


Pressuring Iraq’s neighbors to open fully operating embassies in Baghdad and establish inclusive diplomatic relations with Iraq so that the national government is viewed as more legitimate;


The absence of a genuine military solution is the reason why I support, and have voted for, a phased and responsible redeployment of our combat troops from Iraq by next spring.  We must redeploy our troops in a manner that ensures the United States can help prevent any spread of the sectarian violence in Iraq beyond its borders.  Any civil war in Iraq must not mutate into a broader regional war.

I am under no illusions that this redeployment of U.S. combat forces will usher in peace and stability in Iraq.  The violence there may well worsen in the short term.  However, after four years, I see no reasonable prospect that our military forces can impose a working solution in Iraq.  Our shortsighted focus on military success in Iraq continues to shortchange our urgent efforts in Afghanistan. 

In the meantime, we hear a drumbeat of urgent warnings from respected military figures that our armed forces, the U.S. Army in particular, are under severe stress.  Mid-level officers are departing in waves after one too many deployments away from their families; those personnel who remain are being shortchanged on their training and readiness requirements; and our stocks of military equipment are not being replenished after their wear and tear in Iraq.  It is time to change course in Iraq, if only to ensure that we are prepared to face other determined adversaries and rivals around the world. 

To take but one example, Iran today is moving forward with a nuclear program in defiance of United Nations resolutions.  It is providing indirect assistance involving funding, weapons, and explosive materials to Shiite militias and other groups that are, in turn, targeting American soldiers in Iraq.  Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a despicable figure who has denied the Holocaust and threatened to “wipe Israel off” the face of the Earth.  I recently gave a major floor speech on the challenge posed by Iran and how the United States should respond. 

The United States must stand firm against Iran and insist, in concert with its allies and other key powers, that Tehran comply with demands of a unified international community.  We should seek to exploit Iran’s dependence upon oil exports and other financial vulnerabilities through a targeted set of financial and economic sanctions.  It is for that reason that I have co-sponsored several bills that would tighten existing sanctions, including by giving state and local governments the unfettered right to divest their pension funds from companies that insist on continued business ties with Iran.  We must always make clear that the military option remains on the table, if only for deterrent purposes.

But we must also remember the lessons of the Iraq war.  We cannot afford another hasty rush to use force.  We cannot be seduced by claims that the Iranian people will welcome the use of American military force in the service of regime change.  We cannot blindly accept the word of this Administration when it says, “Trust us” on the intelligence underlying Iran’s nuclear program and its support for extremist groups across the Middle East.  

The United States must deter and contain Iran, but as part of a well executed strategic plan that truly engages our diplomatic and economic capabilities, that brings other nations to our side and that isolates Iran’s ruling mullahs.  The past six years have shown us that raw military force alone is not sufficient.  We must combine that power with wisdom and judgment.

The United States must also show genuine leadership on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, to ensure that we can reach the common objective of a two-state solution, Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peaceful coexistence and secure in agreed borders.  The President and Secretary of State Rice are now working to convene a regional conference, to be held in Annapolis, MD before the end of the year, to push this process forward.

I am glad this Administration is finally showing some initiative; for the first six years of his tenure, the President was missing in action on the Middle East peace process.  Israel is one of our strongest allies and the bond between our two nations can never be broken.  I was honored to visit Israel as State Treasurer in 2005 and am looking forward to a second visit as a U.S. Senator. 

Stalemate on Middle East diplomacy will only strengthen extremists throughout the region and breed further violence.  Historically, it has been the United States that has shown real leadership in bringing Israel, the Palestinians, and major Arab states together.  I regret that it took the President so long to make this a major priority.

Before I conclude, I want to briefly discuss an issue that must be at the very top of the next President’s agenda.  In the weeks following 9/11, our intelligence community picked up a very frightening report from an agent.  It was rumored that Al Qaeda had acquired a Soviet era nuclear weapon and had managed to smuggle it into New York City.  The response of our government, although secret at the time, was swift.  Teams of experts were deployed across the city, with state of the art detection equipment, in an effort to track down this bomb before it exploded.  The threat was ultimately discounted – there was no nuclear weapon inside our nation’s largest city.  The intelligence community’s agent had bad information.

However, nobody could deny that such a scenario was entirely plausible.  We know that Al Qaeda is determined to strike the United States once again, with some evidence that they are determined to replicate or exceed the level of death and destruction that occurred on that horrible day.  A nuclear 9/11 would achieve that. 

Today, the Russian Federation maintains thousands of nuclear warheads, and the weapons-grade material for even more warheads, under varying states of security.  Pakistan, our nominal ally, is a nuclear weapons state that could one day experience a coup, leaving dozens of nuclear warheads under the control of an Islamic extremist regime.  The violence and political instability we have seen there in recent days demonstrates that this scenario is entirely plausible.  The renewed interest in nuclear power around the world is leading more and more nations to consider building civilian nuclear programs, along with complete fuel cycle technology that could be diverted to the production of bomb-making materials.

What I have just outlined is known in Washington as the challenge of “loose nukes”.  During the Cold War, we faced the existential dilemma of the destruction of our nation and society through a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.  Today, the stakes are somewhat lower, but still daunting – we could confront the loss of a major Western city if terrorists acquire a nuclear warhead or the fissile material to construct an improvised device.

The good news is that we know what needs to be done.  The production of nuclear weapons, and the weapons grade uranium and plutonium that give these weapons their explosive power, remains a capacity limited to national governments.  It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a terrorist group to build a nuclear weapon from scratch.  Therefore, if the United States works in concert with other nations to “lock down” nuclear warheads and weapons grade materials around the world, we can prevent terrorists from accessing them in the first place. 

We’re making some progress on this front, through programs like the Nunn-Lugar effort to dismantle nuclear warheads and secure excess nuclear materials, but we’re not moving fast enough.  After 9/11, the President should have made this a key international priority, raising it to the very top of the U.S.-Russian agenda, for example.  Instead, the Administration continued a “business as usual” approach.  That was a gross misjudgment. 

We should also be working with the International Atomic Energy Agency to establish a global library of nuclear fissile material.  If the IAEA were to have nuclear samples from every weapons production facility in the world, and then a nuclear device exploded somewhere, we could in short order trace the nuclear material used in that explosion to the originating reactor or production facility.  Such a capability could serve as a powerful deterrent – if a state knew that it could be held ultimately responsible for a nuclear detonation, it would have far greater incentive to secure and protect its nuclear materials.

The threat posed by the possibility of nuclear terrorism and the broader concern of nuclear proliferation is a national security challenge of the first order.  Yet our government has not paid sufficient attention to it for the past five years, in part, because of the morass in Iraq.  Our men and women in uniform have done their jobs, but our civilian leadership has failed us. 

Iraq is a tragedy today not only because more than 3800 American families will never see their loved ones again.  It is a tragedy not only because approximately 500,000 Iraqi civilians are estimated to have died in the violent aftermath of the U.S. invasion. 

Iraq is also a tragedy because it has diverted our attention from the true enemy that attacked New York, Washington, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11th.  It perversely has increased sympathy and support for Islamic extremism around the world, providing Al Qaeda with a new generation of recruits.  Iraq shattered our national unity forged in those unforgettable days following 9/11, transforming a spirit of shared national purpose into political polarization. 

It is time that American foreign policy gets back to the fundamentals.  It is time that the United States once again becomes the leader of the free world, rallying other nations to our support not just because we are mighty and strong, but because we are principled and just. 

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your questions.                 

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