IRAN; Congressional Record Vol. 166, No. 9
(Senate - January 15, 2020)

Text available as:

Formatting necessary for an accurate reading of this text may be shown by tags (e.g., <DELETED> or <BOLD>) or may be missing from this TXT display. For complete and accurate display of this text, see the PDF.

[Pages S217-S219]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. CASEY. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss U.S. policy 
regarding Iran. We know that in 2009 the new Obama administration came 
into office at a time when the Iranian regime was racing to develop a 
nuclear weapon. The prospect of the Iranian regime with a nuclear 
weapon would present a substantial threat to America and to our allies. 
At the same time, Iran was engaged in a host of other malign 
activities, but the most urgent and significant threat was nuclear.
  In 2013, Iran was 2 to 3 months from being able to build a nuclear 
weapon. The Obama administration decided to use hard-nosed diplomacy 
resulting in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known by the 
acronym JCPOA. This agreement was entered into with a number of 
countries, three of them our allies--the United Kingdom, France and 
Germany. We also had two partner countries--countries with which we 
have a lot of tensions and conflict. We were partners with China and 
Russia. So this agreement stretched from one end of the world to the 
  The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action prevented Iran from acquiring 
a nuclear weapon by, among other steps, authorizing some of the most 
intrusive inspections that have ever been put into place. This 
agreement, the JCPOA, did not cover several other nonnuclear malign 
activities that the Iranian regime was and is engaged in. The JCPOA 
isolated and largely solved the most dire threat, that of a nuclear-
armed Iran in the near future.
  This agreement, from its signing in 2015 through 2018, worked. Until 
recently, Iran was complying with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of 
Action. That is the considered judgment of the International Atomic 
Energy Agency, known as IAEA. The considered judgment of the U.S. 
intelligence community was that Iran was complying with the agreement. 
It was also the judgment made by the U.S. Department of State and the 
U.S. Department of Defense in both the Obama administration and the 
Trump administration.
  The determination that Iran was complying with the agreement is also 
the assessment of our allies and partners with whom the Obama 
administration worked to bring into a coalition.
  Here is a sampling of assessments prior to recent events. In 
September 2017, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that Iran 
is in ``technical compliance'' with the JCPOA.
  Second, in October 2017, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stated 
that Iran was ``fundamentally'' in compliance with the JCPOA. ``Overall 
our intelligence community believes that they have been compliant and 
the IAEA also says so,'' said General Mattis, then Secretary of 
  In March 2018, IAEA Director Amano stated: ``Iran is implementing its 
nuclear-related commitments. . . . If the JCPOA were to fail, it would 
be a great loss for nuclear verification and for multilateralism.''
  Finally, No. 4, in January 2019, former Director of National 
Intelligence Dan Coats, a former Republican Senator from the State of 
Indiana, said: ``We continue to assess that Iran is not currently 
undertaking the key nuclear weapons development activities we judge 
necessary to produce a nuclear device.''
  Three of the four officials--Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary 
of Defense Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Coats--all 
three were appointed by President Trump.
  President Trump came into office determined to pull out of this 
agreement, despite the fact that it was working. He surrounded himself 
with advisers who supported a policy of regime change. Of course, the 
words ``regime change'' are words that they will not say out loud--the 
President or his administration--but that is the policy. The American 
people, after nearly two decades of conflict, know that regime-change 
policy is a march to war.
  This administration calls their regime change policy a ``maximum 
pressure campaign.'' Its stated goal was to force Iran to negotiate a 
new agreement that would include a host of other nonnuclear issues. 
Despite the stated goal, an examination of the methods used to achieve 
it make it obvious that the administration was engaged in a policy that 
would most likely lead to war instead of a new agreement. The 
administration pulled out of the nuclear agreement, which was working, 
and while it was in effect, it took the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran 
off the table.
  The administration reimposed sanctions which were lifted as part of 
the nuclear agreement. They engaged in a host of other activities that 
resulted in increased risks and moved us further away from a diplomatic 
  The administration's regime change policy was supposed to deter the 
Iranian regime from threatening our Nation and its allies. This policy 
has not done that. This policy was supposed to bring Iran to the 
bargaining table. It has not. It was supposed to cajole Iran to behave 
like a ``normal nation.'' Once again, it has not.
  Tensions have increased. Threats to our servicemembers, our citizens, 
and allies have increased, not decreased. The region--the Middle East--
is less

[[Page S218]]

stable. Iran is closer--closer--to obtaining a nuclear weapon.
  The terrible results of this policy were predictable. The 
administration, including Secretary Pompeo and former National Security 
Advisor John Bolton, never had any intention of forging a new 
diplomatic agreement with Iran. All of this is how our Nation has found 
itself on the brink of war with Iran, facing the potential of another 
bloody conflict in the Middle East.
  Americans across our country are well aware of the events leading up 
to the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Iran's 
Quds Force on January 2. Following the killing of an American 
contractor at a U.S. military compound in Kirkuk, Iraq, on December 27, 
the U.S. military retaliated with a strike against the Iranian-backed 
Kataib Hezbollah terrorist group, killing at least 25 members of the 
militia and wounding others.
  In response, the Iranian Government orchestrated protests in Baghdad, 
which led hundreds of pro-Iranian protesters to storm the U.S. Embassy 
in Baghdad on New Year's Eve. The strike against the Quds Force 
Commander Qasem Soleimani followed.
  Soleimani was a military figure who inflicted terror and killed 
thousands in Israel, Iraq, and Syria as well. You can add other places 
to that. He killed thousands. He worked to prop up Bashar al-Assad in 
Syria. He aided Shiite forces that killed hundreds of Americans in 
Iraq. We have been told that he was behind the attacks on the U.S. 
Embassy in Baghdad on New Year's Eve. Qasem Soleimani was directly 
responsible for the killing of hundreds of American soldiers and 
civilians and wounding many more. He was a despicable person who was 
the leader of an entity designated as a terrorist organization.
  Across the international stage, there are many committed enemies of 
America who plot every day to do our Nation and our allies harm--every 
single day. Those entrusted with the national security of our Nation 
have to assess whether taking direct action against one of those 
individual enemies increases or decreases risks over time and whether 
taking actions against those individuals is consistent with our values 
and our commitment to the rule of law.
  This is a high standard, and it should be. We are the United States 
of America, and we believe that conflicts have rules and limits. We 
strive for a higher standard that both honors our values and protects 
our security. Because we have high standards and because we expect our 
leaders to act prudently and with deliberation, the Constitution 
requires substantial consultation with Congress regarding matters of 
war except in limited, urgent circumstances.
  Acting with disregard for these standards, President Trump took this 
unilateral action. The President may have endangered the lives of U.S. 
servicemembers in the Middle East. He may have also prompted near-
lethal retaliation from Iran.
  Iran's retaliatory strikes against U.S. bases at Al-Asad and Erbil on 
January 7 thankfully did not claim any American lives. However, 
conflicting reports continue to emerge about whether Iran intentionally 
avoided hitting U.S. personnel, and that raises questions about whether 
Iran sought to escalate or de-escalate its conflict with the United 
  Video evidence has emerged in recent days showing that the Iranians 
actually decimated housing units for soldiers on the base. Without 
having received a classified briefing from the administration about 
this incident--as opposed to the briefing we had on the killing of 
Soleimani, which I will get to later--without having that classified 
briefing, we can rely upon press reports for some information. Press 
reports indicate that the Iranians were aiming to take American lives.
  The fallout from the Soleimani strike didn't end there. On January 8, 
the Iranian Government covered up the fact that it mistakenly shot down 
a civilian aircraft killing 176 people onboard. The Iranian people have 
since taken to the streets in protest of the coverup. I strongly 
condemn the Iranian Government's crackdown on protesters and support 
the Iranian people's right to rise up and demand human rights and 
democratic governance in their country.
  But let's not lose focus on a very important matter: President Trump 
ordered a targeted killing of a high-ranking military official of a 
country with which we are not in a declared or authorized conflict. 
This is a serious step which required both a rigorous examination as 
well as an explanation from the administration. Thus far, the 
explanations we have received from this administration have been 
woefully inadequate and inconsistent--and I think that is an 
  We have been told that this strike was in response to an ``imminent 
threat'' that four U.S. Embassies abroad were being targeted, which 
Defense Secretary Esper almost immediately contradicted.
  The word ``imminence'' is important here. Imminence derives from the 
doctrine of self-defense, which under article 51 of the United Nations 
Charter and the broader ``laws of war,'' imminence justifies use of 
force in another state's territory when an armed attack occurs--
occurs--or when an armed attack is imminent. Some national security 
scholars define ``imminence'' as ``leaving no reasonable time for 
nonforceful measures to obviate such a threat.''
  I will speak for myself only, but this is true of a number of 
Senators, I believe. I have yet to see clear evidence that there was 
``no reasonable time'' to seek nonlethal, diplomatic options prior to 
killing Soleimani. The administration has failed to disclose sufficient 
detail regarding the imminence of this threat. When asked on Friday, 
Secretary Pompeo said he did not know when this asserted imminent 
threat was supposed to take place.
  The American people have also heard from Secretary Pompeo and 
President Trump that the attack was a matter of retribution from events 
that occurred in the past. We have heard from Secretary Pompeo that 
this attack was designed to ``restore deterrence,'' but it is unclear 
that he coordinated with his national security colleagues across the 
  We know from reporting from the New York Times that Secretary Pompeo 
was among the ``most hawkish voices arguing for a response to Iranian 
aggression.'' The article also goes on to say: ``Top Pentagon officials 
were stunned'' in reference to the strike.
  So the question of why this strike was launched and when it was 
launched remains unanswered. Both Democratic Senators and Republican 
Senators asked this question in a classified briefing last week and few 
received a satisfactory answer. We still lack answers on the ``imminent 
  The President has spent the last week at rallies and other 
appearances triumphantly marking the killing and indicating that the 
Iranian threat is behind us. The strike authorized by President Trump 
may have been reckless, taken without appropriate planning for the 
consequences and aftermath, and done without serious consultation with 
Congress and--and--within the administration. Contrary to the 
President's boast, I am gravely concerned we will feel the adverse 
consequences of this administration's actions across the Iran policy 
landscape for years to come.
  If we think the attacks on the Al-Asad and Kirkuk bases last Tuesday 
were the end of Iranian retaliation for Soleimani's death, we are 
likely mistaken, due to the continued threat of the Iranian regime's 
proxy forces throughout the Middle East. Let's examine the potential 
negative consequences of the strike. I hope this is something that the 
administration engaged in before the strike, but it is important to 
review this.
  On January 5, Iran announced that it is no longer bound by the 
restrictions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as it relates to 
uranium enrichment. This agreement unequivocally extended Iran's 
breakout time, which is the time it would take to obtain enough highly 
enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. The agreement extended the 
breakout time to 12 months--1 year. Again, before the agreement, Iran's 
breakout time was 2 to 3 months. So the agreement extended that time, 
meaning making the world safer by extending that time from 2 to 3 
months to 1 year. That is where we were with the implementation of the 
  Without this agreement--the JCPOA--without that agreement in

[[Page S219]]

place, Iran could reach the requisite uranium stockpile in as little as 
6 months, if not sooner. Iran is closer today to a nuclear weapon than 
it was a week or so ago, and certainly it is closer to a nuclear weapon 
since 2018, when the administration withdrew from the Joint 
Comprehensive Plan of Action. That is one consequence we have to 
consider. Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon.
  No. 2 is ISIS. If the President's October 2019 withdrawal of U.S. 
forces from Syria and the concurrent abandonment of our Kurdish 
allies--if that did not create space for the resurgence of ISIS in the 
Middle East, the President's recent action will almost certainly allow 
for ISIS to regain a foothold in the region. Just 3 days after the 
Soleimani strike, the New York Times reported that, and here is the 
headline, ``U.S.-Led Coalition Halts ISIS Fight as it Steels for 
Iranian Attacks''--halts ISIS fight. NATO has already suspended its 
operations against ISIS. We have to consider, how does that outcome 
make us safer?
  Next, No. 3, we have to consider what is happening in Iraq. Iraq 
voted to expel U.S. troops from their country as a result of the 
strike. If we fully withdraw from Iraq, where are we going to launch 
counter-ISIS operations in both Iraq and Syria from? How do we do 
that--from where? Where was the effort to work with the Iraqi 
Government in quashing Kataib Hezbollah and countering Iranian 
influence in Iraq? Now that the Iraqi Government opposes U.S. troop 
presence in its country, what is the plan? How does the administration 
plan to restart conversations with Iran to negotiate a ``better'' 
nuclear deal that will ensure Iran never has a nuclear bomb? How do 
they restart those negotiations? This strike looks more like another 
step forward in a policy of regime change rather than a coherent 
strategy designed to keep our Nation safe by using tough diplomacy and 
alliance-building to confront Iran.
  I have been one of the most determined advocates of being tough on 
Iran, especially regarding sanctions. Since I came to the Senate in 
2007, I have been part of almost every sanctions push in efforts to so-
call tighten the screws on the Iranian regime and hold them fully 
accountable for their actions. All those steps that I have been a part 
of, and people of both parties have been a part of, were part of a 
strategy to get the results we saw when the Joint Comprehensive Plan of 
Action was signed.
  Now, 2 years and after one particularly dangerous week, President 
Trump has badly undermined all that progress. The advocates of regime 
change in Iran are closer than ever to getting the United States into a 
shooting war with Iran.

  The events of the last few weeks remind me of the lead-up to the U.S. 
invasion of Iraq in 2003. Across both the House and the Senate, 
Congress held only seven hearings that dealt directly with the proposed 
2002 authorization for the use of military force to authorize the Iraq 
war. AUMF is the acronym for that. Are seven hearings, over a period of 
3 weeks between the House and the Senate, sufficient discussion and 
debate prior to voting to go to war with Iraq? No. No, that is not 
sufficient time and not a sufficient number of hearings.
  At last count, 201 Pennsylvanians were killed in Iraq and over 1,200 
were wounded. Have we learned from the mistakes of 2002 and 2003 that 
led to those deaths and all those Pennsylvanians being wounded and many 
thousands beyond that killed and wounded in the Iraq war? Have we 
learned? Have we learned those lessons yet? We have a duty--an abiding 
obligation--not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to constrain the 
actions of a President who may endanger the lives of U.S. 
servicemembers and Americans abroad.
  Before we get too far down this path, Congress must reassert its 
constitutional duty to debate and authorize war. Prior to authorizing a 
strike, we must assess--and I hope the administration did this--whether 
such an action would have an adverse impact on our national security. 
Before we march our sons and daughters off to fight another war, we 
need to make sure we are doing everything possible to prevent the loss 
of American lives.
  I have been clear in opposing a direct confrontation with Iran 
without--without a clear authorization from Congress. The Trump 
administration acted without a congressionally approved authorization 
for the use of military force last week. That is why I and many others 
have cosponsored Senator Tim Kaine's bipartisan S.J. Res. 68 to prevent 
the President from going to war with Iran without congressional 
authorization. If you want to go to war with Iran, you ought to be 
compelled to vote for it, up or down--vote for or against as a Member 
of Congress. Specifically, this resolution, S.J. Res. 68, requires the 
President to ``terminate the use of the United States Armed Forces for 
hostilities against the Islamic Republican of Iran or any part of its 
government or military unless explicitly authorized by a declaration of 
war or a specific authorization for the use of military force'' as 
enacted by Congress. Nothing in this resolution prevents the United 
States from ``defending itself against imminent attack.'' Those are the 
exact words.
  It is authorization or declaration before you go to war with Iran. I 
think a lot of Americans--most Americans--believe that is not just the 
right thing to do but that is our duty, no matter who is President.
  When the administration fails to brief Congress on threats we face 
and concurrently takes unilateral actions that could lead to all-out 
war, we must act quickly and decisively to prevent further escalation 
and demand a strategy. We owe it to Pennsylvanians, and we owe it to 
all Americans, especially our men and women in uniform and their 
families, to engage in a substantial, robust public debate on what 
engaging in hostilities with Iran would mean for U.S. national security 
and how it could endanger American lives. The House vote of last 
Thursday was to reassert this congressional authority, and the Senate 
will vote this week. I urge a vote in support of S.J. Res. 68, which 
has several bipartisan cosponsors.
  This is a dark time, and I cannot overstate my level of concern. I 
know that concern is shared widely here in Congress but also across the 
country. As to Iran, we are headed down a path to war, one which could 
be more bloody, more complicated, and more protracted than any in my 
lifetime. We have been walking down this path since President Trump 
pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Every week since, 
we are a little closer to an armed conflict, and the events of these 
past weeks have likely turbocharged the dangerous path we are on.
  Going back to the time of the Vietnam war and thereafter, elected 
leaders of both political parties have lied to the American people. The 
American people were told we were making progress, when we weren't. The 
American people were told that insurgencies were in their ``last 
throes,'' when the opposite was true. The American people demand that 
politicians don't make serious mistakes that lead to war.
  The good news is, we still have time. We have time to get it right. 
We have time to engage in hard-nosed diplomacy. We have time to reject 
a policy of regime change regarding Iran. There is time for this 
administration to outline and implement an effective Iran strategy that 
substantially reduces the likelihood of war in a nuclear-armed Iran, 
but time is running short.
  The administration may be committed to a policy of regime change, but 
the Senate can act. We can pass the bipartisan S.J. Res. 68 and other 
measures to make sure this administration cannot take us recklessly to 
war with Iran without congressional authorization or a declaration of 
war. We owe it to the American people and to our servicemembers to do 
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Cotton). Without objection, it is so