A picture of Senator Debbie Stabenow
Debbie S.
Democrat MI

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  • American Foreign Policy

    by Senator Debbie Stabenow

    Posted on 2015-03-10

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    STABENOW. Mr. President, I thank my friend from Florida for his comments and I echo those this morning.



    To the Presiding Officer and to the Members of the Senate, it was 70 years ago this year, in this very Chamber, that the Republican Senator from Michigan, Arthur Vandenberg, gave a speech which has been called the speech heard around the world. Here is how Senator Vandenberg opened that speech: Mr. President, there are critical moments in the life of every nation which call for the straightest, the plainest, and the most courageous thinking of which we are capable. We confront such a moment now. It is not only desperately important to America, it is important to the world. It is important not only to the generation which lives in blood. It is important to future generations if they shall live in peace.

    This was after World War I and World War II, facing the Cold War and many challenges.

    Senator Vandenberg was no friend of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was, in fact, the biggest thorn in the President's side. He opposed every New Deal program. He was bitterly opposed to U.S. engagement in Europe before World War II. He was the Nation's most famous isolationist and only moderated his stance after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

    But 70 years ago Senator Vandenberg spoke on the floor of the Senate to warn his colleagues about what would happen if the United States of America allowed partisan politics to interfere in our Nation's leadership in the world. He later became the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he coined the phrase ``politics stops at the water's edge.'' Politics stops at the water's edge.

    His wisdom when it came to foreign policy--his understanding that for America to be strong, we must convey strength on the world's stage-- earned him a rare recognition, in fact, in this body.

    My colleagues will recognize this picture because it is a painting hanging in the room right outside this Chamber. I was honored to be there when it was unveiled--Senator Levin and myself--a few years ago. We are proud of this Republican Senator from Michigan. He has been given an honor that is shared by only a handful of Senators. In our Senate history, out of 1,963 Senators--men and women who have served-- only a small group have been honored with a painting, a portrait just outside this Chamber, and he is one of them.

    I can only imagine what Senator Vandenberg would say if he were alive [[Page S1348]] today. How would he react to a letter signed by 47 U.S. Senators, all of his own party, addressed to the leaders--those we have called enemies--of Iran? How would he react to Members of the U.S. Senate empowering Iranian hard-liners--those whom we have called enemies time and time and time again--just to score political points against a President they do not like? To be clear, Senator Vandenberg loathed President Roosevelt, and by all accounts the feelings were mutual. Senator Vandenberg was no model of bipartisanship himself. He was not at all what we would call a moderate in his time. He may be considered a moderate today, but at the time he was extremely partisan as a Republican, and he was very prominent. He disagreed with the President's policies relating to Japan, but he didn't send a letter to the Emperor of Japan undermining the foreign policy of the President of the United States. He disagreed with the President's policies relating to Germany, but he did not send a letter to the chancellor of the Third Reich expressing his disagreements with the President of the United States.

    To be clear, one of the great things about America is that we can and should and must disagree with the President when we disagree with directions and policies. But when war hangs in the balance--and specifically when nuclear war hangs in the balance--should Members of the U.S. Senate be in a position of publicly undermining the President of the United States to our enemies? I do not believe Senator Vandenberg would have become pen pals with a group of extremists whose stated goal is ``death to America.'' It is shocking, dangerous, and deeply troubling to me that 47 Members of this body decided to throw away 70 years of wisdom to stand on the side of the Ayatollahs and the most extreme voices in Iran.

    When President Bush decided to invade Iraq, I voted no. I voted against his policies. I spoke out publicly about my concerns about that war, but I never would have sent a letter to Saddam Hussein undermining the President before that war happened.

    The chairs of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at that time all opposed President Bush's invasion of Iraq, but none of them penned a letter to Saddam Hussein.

    I do not have to wonder what Senator Vandenberg would have thought about all this because he told us. He told us 70 years ago in this very room when explaining how partisanship and division would undermine our efforts in Europe.

    Senator Vandenberg said: It must mean one for all and all for one; and it will mean this--unless somewhere in this grand alliance the stupid and sinister folly of ulterior ambitions shall invite the enemy to postpone our victory through our own rivalries and our own confusion.

    So I urge my colleagues to hear the words of the Republican Senator from Michigan, Arthur Vandenberg. I urge them to stop the politics at the water's edge.

    We are talking about the possibility of a nuclear Iran. We all agree that must not happen. We all agree that must not happen. We all agree that must not happen. We must stand together with the smartest, most effective strategy to make sure that does not happen. That is even more reason why this is not the time nor the place to score political points against the President of the opposite party. This is deadly serious for the United States, for Israel, and for the world.

    As the Senate saw fit to give Senator Vandenberg a place of high honor, reserved for only a few Senate leaders, just a few steps from here in the U.S. Capitol, I hope my colleagues will hear and take heed of his words now.

    He said: We cannot drift to victory. We must have maximum united effort on all fronts. . . . And we must deserve, we must deserve the continued united effort of our own people. . . . politics must stop at the water's edge.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Flake). The assistant minority leader.

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