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  • Nomination of Antony Blinken to Be Deputy Secretary of State

    by Senator John McCain

    Posted on 2014-12-16

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    McCAIN. Madam President, I rise to discuss my opposition to the pending vote concerning Mr. Anthony ``Tony'' Blinken, who is not only unqualified, but, in fact, in my view, one of the worst selections of a very bad lot that this President has chosen.



    I hope that many of my colleagues will understand that I do not come to the floor to oppose a nomination of the President of the United States often because I believe that elections have consequences. In this case, this individual has actually been dangerous to America and to the young men and women who are fighting and serving our country.

    Mr. Blinken has been a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Biden since his days in the Senate, but as Robert Gates has noted, Mr. Biden has been ``wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.'' At the Special Operations Fund Annual Meeting on May 6, 2013, Mr. Blinken discussed a number of the administration's achievements, including, one, ending the war in Iraq responsibly; two, setting a clear strategy and date for the withdrawal from Afghanistan; three, decimating Al Qaeda's senior leadership; and four, repairing our alliances and restoring America's standing in the world.

    That is as Orwellian as any statement I have ever heard. Each and every issue--the conditions are a far cry from the so-called achievements that Mr. Blinken describes.

    In his capacity as an assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser, Mr. Blinken has been a functionary and an agent of a U.S. foreign policy that has made the world much less safe today.

    Let's review some major elements of that policy, and in particular, Mr. Blinken's role in conceptualizing and furthering it.

    U.S. foreign policy is in a shambles. It is, at best, astrategic, and at worst, antistrategic. It lacks any concept of how to obtain our foreign policy goals. This has led to countless foreign policy failures, including the continued slaughter of the Syrian people by President Bashar al-Assad; the Russian reset that culminated with President Putin's invasion of Ukraine; the betrayal of our key allies, especially in Central Europe, not to mention Israel; failing to achieve a status-of-forces agreement that would help to maintain Iraqi security and stability; following similarly unwise strategies in Afghanistan--we will see the same movie in Afghanistan that we saw in Iraq if we [[Page S6893]] have a date-driven withdrawal rather than a status-driven, conditions- driven situation; and our feckless position in negotiations with Iran on nuclear weapons that has failed to produce any progress towards an agreement.

    I could go into many other failures, such as the vaunted Geneva Convention of 40 nations that was supposed to arrange for the transition of power from Bashar al-Assad and the object failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and what will either be an imminent failure of an Iranian nuclear weapons agreement or an agreement that will be disastrous in the long run.

    There are two common sayings by the administration officials, not me, that have defined the President's approach to foreign policy: ``Leading from behind,'' and ``Don't do stupid [stuff].'' These approaches have resulted in a failed foreign policy that has made America and Americans less safe.

    Even President Obama's most strident supporters have begun to question the President's foreign policy decisions.

    In an article entitled ``Damage to Obama's Foreign Policy Has Been Largely Self-Inflicted,'' the Washington Post's David Ignatius, a key supporter of the administration's foreign policy goals, wrote, ``At key turning points--in Egypt and Libya during the Arab Spring, in Syria, in Ukraine, and, yes, in Benghazi--the administration was driven by messaging priorities rather than sound, interests-based policy.'' What has Mr. Blinken had to say about all of these issues, my friends? I will give you a few examples.

    On Iraq, at the Center for American Progress, on March 16, 2012--I am not making this up--Mr. Blinken said: What's beyond debate is that Iraq today is less violent, more democratic and more prosperous--and the United States more deeply engaged there--than at any time in recent history.

    Less violent, more democratic, and more prosperous.

    At a White House briefing on March 16, 2012, Mr. Blinken said: President Obama and Vice President Biden came to office with this commitment: To end the Iraq war responsibly.

    Both parts of that sentence are critical.

    End the war.

    Responsibly.

    Under the leadership of President Obama and Vice President Biden, who the President asked to oversee our Iraq policy-- and who has made 8 trips to Iraq since being elected--we have followed that path to the letter.

    He went on to say: At every significant step along the way, many predicted that the violence would return and Iraq would slide backward toward sectarian war.

    Get this. He said: Those predictions proved wrong.

    He went on to say: Over the past three years, violence has declined and remains at historic lows--even after we completed the drawdown of U.S. forces late last year.

    Remember, he said this in 2012.

    Weekly security incidents fell from an average of 1,600 in 2007-2008 to fewer than 100 today.

    He went on to say: And in December, after more than eight wrenching years, President Obama kept his promise to end the war--responsibly.

    And, while Iran and Iraq will inevitably be more intertwined than we, and many of its neighbors, would like, one thing we learned, over more than eight years in Iraq is that the vast majority of its leaders, including the Prime Minister-- Who at that time was Prime Minister Maliki-- --are first and foremost Iraqi nationalists and resistant to outside influence from anywhere--starting with Iran.

    Everybody knows that the Iranians are probably the most influential nation in Iraq, certainly under Maliki.

    On foreign policy, December 27, 2013, he said: If we still had troops in Iraq today, the numbers would have been very small. They would not have been engaged in combat. That would not have been their mission, so the idea that they could or would have done something about the violence that is going on now in Iraq seems, to me, detached from the reality of what the mission would have been had they stayed in any small number.

    Now you don't have to take my word for it. Take the word of Secretary Gates, Secretary Panetta, Ambassador Crocker, and any knowledgeable person about Iraq, and I will insert their quotes for the record, including Ambassador Crocker, who said: ``Of course we could have left a residual force behind.'' Both Panetta and Gates said the same thing.

    At no time was there a public statement by the President of the United States or Mr. Blinken that they wanted to very seriously. In fact, they trumpeted the fact that the last American troop at that time--now we have many troops back--left Iraq and bragged about what a great day it was.

    On Fox News with Chris Wallace, September 28, 2014: Wallace: Finally, President Obama spoke to the U.N. this week, but I wanted to ask you about his speech to the U.N., saying-- general assembly last year, in which he said we are ending a decade of war. How could the President have been so wrong? Blinken: The president was exactly right. What we're doing is totally different than the last decade. We're not sending hundreds of thousands of American troops back to Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else. We're not going to be spending trillions of American dollars.

    Wallace: Mr. Blinken . . . he said all our troops left Iraq. In fact, he has just sent at least 1,600 troops back into Iraq. He said we've dismantled the core of al Qaeda. [And yet,] the Khorasan group which you struck in the first day is an offshoot of the core of al Qaeda, and, in fact, follows the direct orders of the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri.

    Blinken: Chris, they fled. Because we were so successful and effective in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they fled, because we decimated the core of Al Qaeda. They removed themselves. They went to Syria.

    At the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on October 30, 2014: The White House ``sought to leave a limited residual force'' in Iraq, but the Iraqi Government simply refused to agree to legal protections for such troops, said then-Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, who argued the final decision to withdraw all U.S. troops ``was not the result of a failure to negotiate.'' ``It's something we worked very hard,'' he said. ``But . . . after a 10-year `occupation,' the Iraqi body politic did not want us to stay in Iraq. That's what happened'' . . . We were focused and acting on ISIL and the threat that it posed more than 1 year before the fall of Mosul, but the problem began to outrun the solution fueled by the conflict in Syria, Iraqi reluctance, and renewed sectarianism in Iraq in advance of elections with politicians on all sides playing to their bases.

    Statements such as these are so divorced from reality, one can only draw one of two conclusions: either that Mr. Blinken is abysmally ignorant or he is simply not telling the truth for whatever motive there is.

    By the way, here is what Ryan Crocker said on Iraq: As a former ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, do you think it was a mistake not to push hard for the Status of Forces agreement with Iraq before the U.S. pullout? I would remind my colleagues, Ryan Crocker--probably the most respected member of our diplomatic corps alive today--said: I do. We could have gotten that agreement if we had been a little more persistent, flexible, and creative. But what really cost us was the political withdrawal. We cut off high- level political engagement with Iraq when we withdrew our troops. There were no senior visits, very few phone calls. Secretary of State John Kerry made one visit prior to this current crisis, mainly to lecture the Iraqis on how bad they were being for facilitating Iranian weapon shipments to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. And we left them to their own devices, knowing that left to their own devices, it would not work out well.

    So we have Mr. Blinken's comments, and juxtapose them with those of Ambassador Crocker.

    Here is what Leon Panetta, Democrat, Secretary of Defense said: It was clear to me--and many others--that withdrawing all our forces would endanger the fragile stability then barely holding Iraq together.

    That is from Secretary Leon Panetta's book.

    Then he went on to say: My fear, as I voiced to the President and others, was that if the country split apart or slid back into the violence that we'd seen in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion, it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the U.S. Iraq's stability was not only in Iraq's interest but also in ours. I privately and publicly advocated for a residual force that could provide training and security for Iraq's military.

    Then he went on to say, talking about the Pentagon: Those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.

    [[Page S6894]] That is a statement by Leon Panetta.

    I will move on to Afghanistan.

    Mr. Blinken said: We have been very clear. We have been consistent. The war will be concluded by the end of 2014. We have a timetable, and that timetable will not change.

    This is why I am so worried about him being in the position he is in, because if they stick to that timetable, I am telling my colleagues that we will see the replay of Iraq all over again. We must leave a stabilizing force behind of a few thousand troops or we will see again what we saw in Iraq.

    So let's move on to Syria.

    In an MSNBC interview in 2014, responding to a question about President Obama's comment in August 2014 calling it ``a fantasy'' to say that arming the Syrian rebels 3 years ago would have helped the situation, Blinken: Fantasy was the notion that had we started to work with these guys-- Talking about the Free Syrian Army-- six months earlier, that that somehow would have turned the tide.

    Blinken: Candy, you know, Assad has been a magnet for the very extremism we're now fighting against. And it is inconceivable to think of Syria being stable with Assad as its leader. He has forfeited his legitimacy. ISIL right now is the wolf at the door. But the answer to both Assad and ISIL actually is the moderate opposition. They need to be built up, so that they can be a counterweight to Assad. In the near term, they need to be built up so they can work on the ground to help deal with ISIL.

    Candy Crowley: So ISIS is the wolf at the door now, but Assad, as far as the U.S. is concerned, is the next wolf at the door? Mr. Blinken: We have been very clear that there needs to be a transition in Syria, that as long as Assad is there, it's very hard to see Syria being stable, and he will continue to be a magnet for the extremists we are fighting.

    Crowley: But a transition is not the same as, we will actively help you bring this guy down.

    Blinken: The best way to deal with Assad is to transition him out so that the moderate opposition can fill the vacuum. That's what we have been working on. The more you build them up, the more you make them a counterweight, the more possible that becomes.

    Let me just remind my colleagues of what has happened. There is a guy named Caesar who about a year and a half ago smuggled out thousands of pictures. These pictures are the most gripping and horrifying I have ever seen. They were actual pictures which have been authenticated of the atrocities committed by Bashar Assad. They are wrenching, they are heartbreaking, and they are terrible.

    Now, 200,000 people have been butchered in Syria, and 3.5 million are refugees; 150,000 are still in Bashar Assad's prison experiencing atrocities such as this. These are little children here. These are little children. They have been massacred by Bashar Assad.

    What have we done? What have we done in response to this? First of all, amazingly, these photographs have been authenticated by this guy Caesar. He did testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It didn't seem to rise to the interest of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee or the American people or this administration.

    I was at a refugee camp in Jordan where at that time there were, I think, 75,000 refugees. I was being taken around by a young woman who was a schoolteacher, and she said: Senator McCain, do you see all of these children? I said: Yes.

    She said: Those children believe that you have abandoned them, Senator McCain, that you Americans have abandoned them, and when they grow up, they are going to take revenge on you.

    So here we are, this incredible slaughter, massacre, torture taking place, and what is this administration doing? It is trying to make a deal with the Iranians and leaving Bashar Assad to wreak havoc on the Syrian people who are still able to fight, butchering them with barrel bombs. Most of my colleagues know what a barrel bomb is. It is a huge cylinder, and it is packed with explosives and nuts and bolts and pieces of shrapnell. Bashar Assad, unimpeded, flies his helicopters and they drop these barrel bombs. Then, when they capture these people, this is what is done to them.

    Today it is clear that what is happening is that we are attacking ISIS in Syria. We are not attacking Bashar Assad, this butcher. In fact, Bashar Assad has intensified his attacks on the Free Syrian Army--intensified them. Not surprisingly, the morale of the Free Syrian Army is very low.

    So General Allen and others have recently proposed a no-fly zone or an aircraft exclusion zone, an idea we have been arguing for, for about 3 years. This President still refuses to do it. It is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking and it is tragic and it will go down in American history as one of the most shameful chapters because of our failure and the President's personal decision not to arm the Free Syrian Army when all of his key national security advisers--his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton; the head of the CIA, General Petraeus; and Secretary of Defense, Secretary Panetta all strongly recommended providing arms to the Free Syrian Army.

    I will move on to Ukraine. Mr. Blinken: What Putin has seen is the President mobilizing the international community both in support of Ukraine and to isolate Russia for its actions in Ukraine, and Russia is paying a clear cost for that.

    The notion that this is somehow the result of Syria makes very little sense to me. . . . That's because this is not about what we do or say in the first instance, it's about Russia and its perceived interests.

    What Mr. Blinken doesn't understand is that weakness in one place translates throughout the world.

    When I tell my colleagues, when I tell my fellow citizens that we will not supply the Ukraine people with defensive weapons, they don't believe me. They have watched the country dismembered. They have watched Crimea go. They have watched the shoot-down on an airliner that nobody talks about anymore, and they continue to create unrest and killing in eastern Ukraine, and we will not even supply the Ukrainians with weapons with which to defend themselves.

    I see that I am nearly out of time. I would like to say I wish Mr. Blinken's words were matched by his deeds.

    At the Holocaust Museum, October 6, 2014, he said: A new notion is gaining currency: the ``Responsibility to Protect.'' It holds that states have responsibilities as well as interests--especially the responsibility to shield their own populations from the depraved and murderous. This approach is bold. It is important. And the United States welcomes it and has included it as a core element of our National Security Strategy, along with our commitment to prevent genocide and hold those who organize atrocities accountable.

    No one can look at those pictures, the thousands, and believe that we have held Bashar Assad responsible.

    He ended up by saying: Endorsing the responsibility to protect is one thing; acting on it is another. All of us in the international community will have to muster the political will to act-- diplomatically, economically, or, in extreme cases, militarily--when governments prove unable or unwilling to prevent the slaughter of their citizens.

    That is a remarkable statement from an individual whose actions have clearly contradicted that at every turn in literally every corner of the Earth.

    I know we will probably lose the vote, but I believe history will hold this administration accountable. History will hold those individuals who are part of this administration, who allowed these slaughters to go on--a dismemberment of a country called Ukraine, the first time a European country has been departitioned since World War II; the needless slaughter of thousands and thousands of Ukrainian men, women, and children, and the thousands and thousands of Syrian children. The list goes on and on.

    Now we are going to promote this individual to replace probably the finest diplomat I have known, Secretary Burns. Not only is Mr. Blinken unqualified, but he is, I believe, a threat to the traditional interests and values that embody the United States of America.

    Madam President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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