IRAN; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 84
(Senate - May 20, 2019)

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[Pages S2954-S2957]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. KAINE. Mr. President, I rise to address the Chamber on an issue 
that is an issue of significant challenge and controversy now, and that 
is the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. I want 
to make a couple of points, but let me summarize the points as I then 
address the current challenge.
  First, I think it would be absolute lunacy for the United States to 
get involved in another war right now in the Middle East. I think it 
would be devastating if we were to be in a war with Iran. In 
particular, it would be not only devastating but also, in my view, 
unconstitutional for us to be in a war with Iran at a President's say-
so if the President were unwilling to have Congress have the debate, 
pursuant to our article I war powers in this Chamber and in the 
Chambers of the House of Representatives.
  If this body has a considered debate in view of the American public 
and determines that we need to be in a war with Iran--or anyone, for 
that matter--however I vote is irrelevant. The vote of the body would 
be the vote that would express a political consensus about what America 
should do. But if the Chamber is unwilling to have that debate or a 
vote or if the President is unwilling to come to Congress so that the 
debate can be had in front of the American public, that should tell us 
something. If we are not willing to have the vote or if the President 
doesn't want to bring it to Congress, that should suggest that maybe it 
is not a good idea.

  That is the theme of what I want to talk about today. Why are we in a 
time of escalated tension between the United States and Iran? There are 
a number of reasons, but, bluntly, I believe the path to the current 
level of tension began when President Trump unilaterally walked out of 
a diplomatic deal.
  I think our country should always prefer diplomacy to war. A 
President backing out of a diplomatic deal that our allies, our 
security officials, and the International Atomic Energy Agency said was 
working, in my view, was a horrible mistake.
  There is a story I have told before in the Chamber, and it is a story 
I love. It is about one of my two favorite Presidents. One of my 
favorite Presidents is a Republican, Abraham Lincoln, and my other 
favorite President is Harry Truman. This is a Truman story.
  After World War II, at one point, President Truman invited the press 
corps into his office, the Oval Office, and said: I have made an 
interesting decision today.
  They wondered what the decision was. President Truman showed them 
that he had redesigned the seal of the Presidency of the United States.
  The seal of the President was very similar to our Nation's seal of an 
eagle clutching the arrows of war in one claw and the olive branch of 
peace in the other claw. Prior to the Truman administration, the 
eagle's face had been turned toward the arrows of war. In the aftermath 
of World War II, when the United States was trying to exercise the role 
of not just military victor but now of a great peacemaker by forming 
the United Nations and other institutions to ensure that the carnage of 
World War II wouldn't be repeated, Harry Truman said: We should 
redesign the seal of the Presidency so that the United States is 
represented by an eagle whose face is looking toward the olive branches 
of peace.
  We would always prefer peace. We would always prefer diplomacy. The 
arrows of war are still grasped in the eagle's claw. We are a nation of 
might, and we will use that might if we need it. But let no one in the 
world doubt what the preference of the United States is; that is, 
diplomacy and peace if that is possible and if that is honorable.
  You can walk around the Senate Chamber, you can walk around the 
Capitol, and you can actually see both versions of the seal. You can 
still find some in the Capitol that were created before Harry Truman 
was President where you will still see the eagle's face directed toward 
the arrows. Many of them have been changed in subsequent years. It is 
interesting trivia--like a treasure hunt contest--for our pages and 
others. You can still find the old version.

[[Page S2955]]

  I think we can all resonate with Harry Truman, a World War I vet and 
the guy who presided over the end of America's victory in World War II. 
He is somebody who certainly knew war and who certainly understood the 
role of American military strength in the world, but he said this 
Nation should be a nation always known as a nation willing to pursue 
and committed to pursuing diplomacy and peace first, with war as a last 
  I believe firmly in that as my job description in the U.S. Senate. I 
am a member of the Armed Services Committee, and I am a member of the 
Foreign Relations Committee--war and diplomacy. I am a Senator from a 
very military State. I have a child in the U.S. military. I think my 
job in this body and my job as a member of those two committees is 
first to reduce the risk of unnecessary war.
  A lot of wars are unnecessary. A lot of wars are created by 
provocations and miscommunications and then escalations based upon a 
misunderstanding of provocations and miscommunications. Then you find 
yourself in catastrophic wars that maybe nobody really designed them to 
be. That is how a lot of wars start. We should reduce the risk of 
unnecessary war. Diplomacy is how we do that. Then, obviously, we need 
to be patriotic and strong. We need to raise the likelihood of winning 
a war we need to be in.
  We do not need to be in another war in the Middle East. We do not 
need to be in a war with Iran. The relationship between the United 
States and Iran was a very positive relationship for many, many years. 
It was also connected to a lot of controversy.
  The United States, including the Central Intelligence Agency, backed 
a coup to depose a democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in the 
1950s, and the subsequent leader, the Shah of Iran, was a close ally of 
the United States.
  In 1979, the people of Iran rose up to depose the Shah of Iran. Not 
surprisingly, with the United States having supported the Shah and 
having supported the coup that led to the Shah, that put the U.S.-Iran 
relationship in a very different place. That tearing of the 
relationship was obviously dramatically enhanced when the Iranian 
regime, the revolutionary regime, took U.S. Embassy personnel hostage 
in 1979. So from 1979, for 35 or 40 years, the nations had no essential 
  We provided massive support for the nation of Iraq in the late 1980s 
and the early 1990s as they engaged in a war with Iran. That is known 
by the Iranian people.
  Yet, even with the challenges of our government, the relationship 
between the United States and the Iranian people has maintained. 
Iranians study in the United States. Over the years, more members of 
the Iranian Cabinet have had Ph.D.s from American universities than 
members of the American Cabinet. It is kind of quirky. One of the 
nations that we view as one of our key adversaries in the world--it has 
been very, very common for their governmental leaders, including their 
Foreign Minister, to have studied and gotten degrees in the United 
  But the relationship was characterized on both sides by a great deal 
of distrust, with a lot of legitimate reason for distrust. On the U.S. 
side, they say: You took our Embassy. You took our personnel hostage.
  During the Iraq war, Iranian militia units were often providing 
materials and IEDs that were being used against American troops. 
Hundreds--thousands of American troops were killed or injured by 
materials that came from Iran. So we have deep distrust for Iran for 
very legitimate reasons.
  On the Iranian side, they say: You deposed our Prime Minister in 
1954. You propped up a dictator over us. You supported Iraq in a war 
that cost us hundreds of thousands of lives.
  They have a deep distrust of the United States.
  How do you work through distrust? In a personal relationship and in a 
relationship with a nation, you cannot solve distrust overnight. You 
never can. You have to work through it patiently and slowly.

  When President Obama announced that he was opening up a discussion 
with Iran about a diplomatic deal to limit their nuclear weapons 
program, there was very little reason to suggest that a deal might be 
found. Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The U.S. Congress, 
in a bipartisan way--and I have been a supporter of these--had 
sanctioned Iran for its activities in trying to seek nuclear weapons--
activities that were not only dangerous in the region and the world but 
also would have violated a number of key U.N. provisions affecting Iran 
or generally applying to all nations.
  In a powerful speech to the United Nations in 2011--in some ways, I 
think it is the best speech that has ever been given about the Iranian 
challenge. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel--it was a famous 
speech because he drew a picture of a bomb that looked like the Wile E. 
Coyote bomb in the Road Runner cartoons. That got the attention, but 
his words were really powerful. He thanked the General Assembly of the 
United Nations in the speech because the nations of the U.N. had joined 
together in a sanctions regime that was putting tough pressure on Iran. 
The Prime Minister thanked the General Assembly and said: Thank you for 
joining in these sanctions, but we have to be honest. The sanctions are 
hurting Iran's economy, but they are not slowing down Iran's nuclear 
  To some degree, if you use pressure of that kind, a nation or a 
person is likely to say: If you are pressuring, I have to stand up 
against you.
  So the Iranian economy was suffering, but the nuclear program was 
actually accelerating. Iran was building a facility that enriched 
plutonium and was dramatically enriching plutonium at higher and higher 
levels that would be the equivalent of weapons-grade uranium. They were 
getting closer and closer to having nuclear weapons.
  That would have posed an existential choice of war or accepting a 
nuclear Iran. Accepting a nuclear Iran would have also meant accepting 
an arms race with other nations in the Middle East--an arms race that 
we viewed as untenable. So the Obama administration said: We will talk. 
We will see if we can find a diplomatic deal. That doesn't mean that we 
approve of Iran or that we approve of Iran's behavior, but we believe 
it is in the interest of the region, our country, and the world if we 
could limit Iran's nuclear ambitions.
  From 2013 until 2015--2 years of negotiation, in my view, produced a 
very solid agreement, a diplomatic agreement with an adversary. It 
didn't turn the adversary into an ally, just as our negotiations with 
the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s over nuclear treaties didn't 
turn an adversary into an ally, but it effectively controlled the 
Iranian nuclear weapons program. It limited the amount of enriched 
uranium. It limited the percentage of enrichment to far below weapons-
grade. It shut off plutonium production in Iran. It especially allowed 
intrusive inspections into Iran so we could decide whether they were 
cheating--intrusive inspections that even gave us intel so that if they 
ever cheated, we would know where nuclear assets would be if we needed 
to take action to take them out of commission.
  The deal that was struck by the Obama administration with Iran was a 
deal that basically had intensive requirements on both parties, the 
United States and Iran, for 8 years. In kind of a testing arrangement, 
every year they would say: Did you meet your obligation? I don't trust 
you for anything, but did you meet your obligation? And they would ask 
us the same question.
  That is the way you work out of distrust. You can't work out of it 
immediately; you work out of it patiently--well, we don't like what you 
are doing, but you actually stuck with the agreement in year 1. Now 
let's see about year 2.
  The idea was that by the eighth year, we could know enough to know 
whether the United States could back away from the sanctions regime, 
and we would know enough to know whether Iran would permanently embrace 
the intrusive inspection provisions of a nuclear nonproliferation 
treaty that the IAEA has developed for all nations--including an 
additional protocol developed after North Korea cheated--to make the 
inspections really intrusive so you could catch cheating if it happens.
  That would be the first 8 years, and then there would be a 
continuation of additional requirements on Iran for

[[Page S2956]]

years 8 to 15 and then somewhat of a stepdown from years 15 to 25. But 
then, after year 25, what would remain would still be a permanent 
Iranian agreement to follow the inspection requirements of the IAEA, 
including the additional protocol and the commitment that was in the 
first sentence of the first paragraph of the first page of the 
agreement Iran committed to: We will never seek to purchase, acquire, 
or develop nuclear weapons, period. That was the first sentence. That 
was the first paragraph. That was the opening phrase of the agreement 
Iran reaffirmed, that its commitment would be to never seek to purchase 
or acquire nuclear weapons.
  When President Trump came into office in January 2017, Iran was 
complying with the agreement. That was the position of the 
International Atomic Energy Agency, which has a high record of getting 
these things right.
  In 2002, the IAEA told us that Iraq didn't have nuclear weapons. We 
went to war to stop their nuclear weapons program, saying that the IAEA 
was wrong. The IAEA was right, and we blundered into an unnecessary war 
then, at massive cost to the United States in life and treasure and at 
massive cost to Iraq as well.
  When President Trump came in, the IAEA said that Iran was complying 
with the deal. Our allies--Britain, France, and Germany, which helped 
us negotiate the deal--said that Iran was complying with the deal.
  I am on the Foreign Relations Committee, and I visit with leaders of 
foreign countries. I visit with our allies in the Middle East. While 
the political leaders might say one thing, if you met with armed 
services members or intel members in Israel, Jordan, and other nations, 
they would say Iran is complying with the deal.
  President Trump's own Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis--``Mad Dog'' 
Mattis; he is called Mad Dog because he was perceived to be a hawk on 
Iran--testified before the Armed Services Committee: Iran is complying 
with the deal. It is in the interest of the United States to stay in 
the deal.
  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford--a marine 
general who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs under President Obama and 
President Trump--testified to the Armed Services Committee: Iran is 
complying with the deal. It is in the interest of the United States to 
stay in the deal.
  President Trump's first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said: Iran 
is complying with the deal. It is in our interest to stay in.
  Dan Coats, the current Director of National Intelligence, said Iran 
is complying with the deal.
  Our allies, the IAEA, and President Trump's own national security 
team said Iran is complying with the deal.
  But a year ago, President Trump said: It is going to be the United 
States that will renege--not the adversary that will back out, not a 
bad nation that will turn away from a diplomatic deal; it will be the 
United States that will back away from a diplomatic deal that has 
effectively limited Iran's program.
  I am not aware of an instance in the history of this country where it 
has been the United States that made a unilateral decision to break a 
diplomatic deal. Our allies begged us not to do this. The national 
security team recommended that the President not do this, but the 
President broke the diplomatic deal. And guess what. If you break a 
diplomatic deal, you raise the risk of unnecessary war.
  I wrote a piece in the Atlantic in July of 2018 urging the President 
not to blunder us into a war. I cited this very fact. Once you have 
broken the deal, you raise the risk of war, and this President has in 
breaking the deal. Now we are at a point of escalation with Iran. They 
look at the United States' breaking the deal. They look at sanctions 
that the United States has imposed. They are preparing for potential 
invasion by the United States, and, yes, they are also pushing back. 
They are engaged in activities in the region, as they were before.
  We will have a briefing tomorrow in the SCIF. We are going to hear 
about what Iran is doing. As we are getting that briefing, we need to 
ask: Well, what do they think the United States is doing? It wasn't 
Iran that broke the deal. It was the United States. It is not Iran that 
is imposing sanctions. It is the United States.
  What we need now is cooler heads that will help us understand the 
American commitment to diplomacy. That word still needs to be put at 
the forefront. Sadly, the advisers--the trusted advisers, the advisers 
of great background and judgment who advised the President not to back 
out of the deal--have all been fired or forced to resign. Secretary 
Mattis, Secretary Tillerson, and General McMaster, the National 
Security Advisor, had the same position about the deal. Two of the key 
officials in the Trump administration--the second Secretary of State, 
Pompeo, and the third National Security Advisor, John Bolton, 
individuals whom I applaud for their public service record--have had a 
long track record of, before being in these positions, encouraging war 
with Iran and of encouraging regime change with Iran.
  I was asked last week: Why are the tensions with Iran now so 
palpable? Why does it seem like we may be on the brink of war?
  I said: There are two reasons. The first reason is that the President 
tore up a diplomatic deal that was working, and the second reason is 
that the President replaced sober-minded, careful national security 
professionals with people who have a long track record of publicly 
encouraging both regime change in Iran and military action against 
Iran. There should be no surprise that we are where we are right now.
  What do we need to do? What do we need to do as a nation, but 
especially what do we need to do in this body?
  As a nation, I think I know what the perspective of Virginians is, 
and I would be amazed if that perspective were so different than that 
of Americans. It would be very foolish to get into another war right 
now. There have been 18 years of war in the Middle East since 9/11. 
That war has multiplied into many different countries and against many 
different organizations. As for the idea of another war in the Middle 
East right now, when the President and his team suggested in the last 
10 days that war plans have been drawn up directed by NSA Bolton--they 
have been drawn up to call potentially for the deployment of 125,000 
American troops into the region--I know how that made Virginians feel. 
Virginia families who have had their loved ones deployed not once or 
twice but sometimes four or five or six times, when they hear the 
President's team talking about such a potential deployment, it is 
enormously frightening to them--enormously frightening to them. When 
Virginians who have kids or spouses in the military hear Members of 
Congress suggesting that a war against Iran would be easy, it is 
enormously frightening to them--enormously frightening to them.
  So what do I hope will happen? I hope that knowing what the Nation 
would think about it, I hope that what will happen is that Congress 
will do what we are supposed to do as the article I branch. The Framers 
of the Constitution were so clear about this. The Constitution is 
filled with clear provisions: The President has to be 35 years old. And 
it has vague provisions: You can't have unreasonable searches and 
seizures. What does ``unreasonable'' mean?
  But on the spectrum of clear to ambiguous provisions, the war making 
powers are pretty clear. It is Congress that declares war, not the 
President. It is Congress. A President can defend the Nation against 
imminent attack without asking Congress for permission. That is clear 
in the Constitution, but as for the initiation of war, it is not for a 
President to say it and start it. It is not for a President to, by a 
series of provocations, blunder us down the path where war becomes 
  It is for Congress, having a debate in this Chamber and the House--a 
debate that can be witnessed by the American public, a debate that will 
educate the American public about what the stakes are, a debate that 
has to be finished with a vote where every Member of Congress has to go 
on the board with the courage of their convictions and the backbone to 
vote yes or no. That is what is supposed to precede going to war.
  I hope, in this time of escalation, that what we might do as a 
Congress is, a, recommit to the virtues of diplomacy and vow again not 
to be the party that blows up diplomatic deals

[[Page S2957]]

and walks away when other nations are at the table wanting to pursue 
peaceful diplomacy. And, second, if we are to be in a war, I would hope 
that this body would jealously guard that prerogative and want to have 
that debate here on the floor.
  There are members of this body that feel very differently about what 
I have just stated and the points that I have made, and we ought to 
have that debate here on the floor, not in dueling press conferences or 
dueling appearances on cable shows. We should be having that debate 
here on the floor.
  So, as I conclude, I pray that the escalation of tensions that we 
have seen, the discussions of deploying 120,000 troops in the Middle 
East, may be abating a bit. I pray that we will ask tough questions. We 
have our briefing tomorrow at the all-Senate briefing on this important 
  I hope that as we enter into a discussion, in the Armed Services 
Committee first and then on the floor of the body, about the National 
Defense Authorization Act, that this would be a perfect opportunity for 
us to kind of talk about the equities, the plusses and minuses, what is 
at stake, and what we might do.
  I will also just say, as a last point, that we now know how to have 
that debate on the floor. If the President wants to start a war without 
us--and, make no mistake, none of the existing authorizations from 2001 
or 2002 would authorize military action against Iran. Not a single 
person here voting to go to war against the perpetrators of the 9/11 
attack intended that to be used as an authorization to wage war against 
the nation of Iran. If the President decides to go to war against Iran 
without us, we now have a vehicle--a war powers resolution vehicle that 
we just recently used in connection with U.S. support for the Saudi 
``misprosecution'' of the civil war in Yemen. We now have an 
opportunity to force a vote. If the President gets us into hostilities 
that are not authorized by Congress, we have the opportunity--and, I 
would say, the obligation--to file a resolution that must be brought to 
the floor of this body, that must be debated on, and it must be voted 
on. We should not be at war with Iran unless this body is willing to 
vote on it.
  If the President decides that he wants to go to war with Iran and not 
come to Congress, what does it say about his judgment? His judgment is 
that he doesn't think Congress will support it. If he doesn't think 
Congress will support it, maybe it is because it is not a good idea.
  So, as I conclude, I think these are very, very challenging times. 
There is not a power we should guard more jealously than the power to 
put the men and women of our armed services into harm's way. We should 
not let a President--Democrat or Republican--make that decision without 
us. We should not let a President--Democrat or Republican--use a series 
of provocations to blunder us into it. We should not casually let a 
President--Democrat or Republican--tear up diplomatic deals and have 
the United States be the party that is walking away from a table of 
dialogue where we might find a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to 
  In the days ahead, in the NDAA process, and then, God forbid, if the 
President were to initiate us into some kind of a military action, 
through a war powers resolution of the kind that we just voted on here 
on the Senate floor, we will have an opportunity as a body to deal with 
this, and I pray that we will deal with it with the seriousness that it 
deserves. There is nothing, nothing more serious than this.
  Maybe just the last thing I will say is this. You know my background. 
I started in city council, and I cast thousands of votes, just as you 
have, as a city councilman and mayor, as Lieutenant Governor and 
Governor, and now as a Member of this body. I have cast all kinds of 
votes. A vote on war is the most significant vote you will ever cast. I 
cast two votes on the war resolutions in the Foreign Relations 
Committee, and it was interesting casting votes on those, even though 
they ended up not leading to votes on the floor. There is just a 
feeling about the gravity of that vote and the feeling in my stomach as 
I was trying to decide how to vote. Even when I decided how to vote and 
making my mouth say the word about how I wanted to vote, it was a vote 
unlike anything for those two, unlike any other vote that I have ever 
  Part of that, no doubt, is the connection that Virginians feel so 
closely to the military. Part of it, no doubt, is having a child in the 
military and knowing what a vote like that might mean to marines like 
my oldest son.
  This is a topic that has to be the most serious thing we do, and we 
can't outsource our moral responsibility about it to a President. In 
fact, we need to jealously guard that responsibility, and I hope we 
  With that, I yield the floor.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. ROUNDS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for 
the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.