A picture of Senator Richard J. Durbin
Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • American Foreign Policy

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2015-03-10

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, how much time is remaining? The PRESIDING OFFICER. Nine minutes.

    Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, let me commend my colleagues Senator Nelson from Florida and Senator Stabenow from Michigan for their statements. Senator Nelson spoke from his heart and spoke for many of us on both sides of the aisle who feel this letter sent by 47 Senators undermines the efforts of the President of the United States to avoid a nuclear Iran and to avoid a military response.

    I particularly want to thank my colleague Senator Stabenow from Michigan for recalling that moment in history which any student of the Senate knows was something that made a difference in the foreign policy of the United States of America for 70 years. It is seldom that any of us comes to the floor and thinks that our speeches will be remembered for 70 minutes, but 70 years later Arthur Vandenberg, Republican of Michigan, set a standard for foreign policy which has guided our country since. At a time of deep political division after World War II, this self-described isolationist and extremely conservative enemy of the New Deal stood and called for unity when it comes to foreign policy. His admonition that politics should stop at the water's edge has largely guided us.

    When we look at all the controversies that have ensued since then-- think of the Vietnam war and what was going on in this body during that war, the deep divisions between Democrats and Republicans, those who were against the war and for the war. Yet there was never, ever anything like we have seen with this letter sent by 47 Republican Senators.

    I am glad it didn't occur then, even though I had deep misgivings and trouble with the Vietnam war in its execution. I would have had to have been reckless to endorse an idea that our Nation, through its Senate, would reach out to the Vietnamese during the course of that war, when so many lives were at stake and so many lives were lost.

    So here we are today--a letter sent by 47 Republican Senators. We have talked about the impact of that. Reflect for a moment on the impact of that letter on our allies who are sitting at the table in Geneva, our allies who joined us in imposing the strictest sanctions in history on Iran to force them into negotiation, our allies, sitting with Secretary Kerry and representatives of our government, who must look at this letter from 47 Republicans and say: Why are we wasting our time? What they are saying is no matter what we do--because no agreement has been announced--no matter what we do, the Republican Senate is going to reject it. That is what the letter says.

    It goes on to say--and this is a little bit of chutzpah according to the New York Times. The Senators signing the letter go on to remind the Ayatollah, who is not term-limited, that they have 6-year terms and may be around for decades--decades--and basically say to the Iranians: Don't even waste your time thinking about negotiating.

    It is not a waste of time because the alternatives are absolutely horrifying. The alternative of a nuclear Iran would be a threat not only to the Nation of Israel and many other Middle Eastern States and countries beyond, in Europe and other places, but it would invite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The ending is totally unacceptable and unpredictable.

    So is it worth negotiating? Is it worth trying to find a way to avoid a nuclear Iran? Of course it is. Should the negotiations fail--and they might. I hope not because of this letter, but they might--then what do we face; bringing Iran to its knees with more sanctions? Whom will we call on for these sanctions? Whom will we turn to and say: Will you join us in a more strict sanctions regime? The very same allies who sat at this table and saw this letter from 47 Republican Senators saying to them: Don't waste your time; we have the last word when it comes to Iran.

    I don't believe the Republican leadership was thinking clearly when they signed on to this letter. I don't think they understood the gravity of their action. They certainly were premature, at the minimum. We don't have an agreement. We are days away from understanding whether there is a possibility of an agreement. Yet these 47 Senators have basically said: Don't waste your time; we are not going to accept it no matter what it is.

    This is a sad outcome. Similar to the Senator from Michigan, I was 1 of 23 [[Page S1349]] who voted against the invasion of Iraq. I never dreamed for one minute of sending a letter to Saddam Hussein before that vote instructing him about the politics of America. It turns out that in the history of the Senate that has rarely, if ever, occurred.

    I hope now that those 47 Republican Senators will reflect on their actions and reflect on the impact it will have. I hope the American people understand the President is embarking on a very difficult and delicate mission to try to negotiate a verifiable end to the nuclear arms race in the Middle East and specifically to end nuclear capability in Iran. He may not achieve it, but I respect him for trying. He is the Commander in Chief of the United States of America. He is the elected leader of our Nation. Though many in this Chamber cannot accept it, he is the President of the United States, and he deserves our respect.

    I respected President George W. Bush, even when I disagreed with him on his policies on Iraq, and we should expect nothing less of the loyal minority when it comes to this President as well.

    I conclude by saying the Senate has an important role to play. But the President's role, speaking for the United States--trying to avoid a nuclear Iran, trying to avoid a military conflict, another war in the Middle East--is something that should not be undermined for political ambition.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont.

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