On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who sits on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke on the Senate floor regarding a resolution concerning Presidential War Powers. Earlier this year, Rubio praised President Donald Trump ordering the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian terrorist Qassem Soleimani.
Excerpts of Rubio’s remarks on the Senate floor are below:
Rubio: In a few minutes we’re going to vote on this resolution to begin debate on it. And what most people would think by reading it is, this is a resolution to diminish the chances of war with Iran. I actually think if this resolution were to ever pass and actually become law, I would argue that even this debate we’re having now to some extent potentially increases the chances of war, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
First, let me start out by saying I don’t question the motives of the sponsors and proponents, the people that are in support of this. I think these are people with a long history of wanting to assert congressional oversight over the conduct of armed warfare and it’s certainly something that I respect. The problem is that their intentions and how this will be perceived to the audience that I believe it matters the most to right now, and that is the leadership of Iran — perception and the reality are two different things. And the perception is very serious.
What is the perception? I can tell you just moments ago I went online before coming here just to see if anything has been written about it. And here’s what I found. Just one headline, that’s all I needed, because I think this broadly captures the way it’s going to be talked about in the press and all over the world. Here’s the headline from POLITICO: “Senate to rein in Trump’s war powers after Iran strike”. The first paragraph goes on to say, “Senate set to pass a bipartisan resolution to limit President Trump’s authority to launch military operations against Iran weeks after the U.S. killed a top Iranian General.” That’s the opening paragraph of that story. That is basically the way it’s going to be reported, and I’m going to explain to you why that’s a problem.
One of Iran’s objectives in the Middle East is to push the United States out of the region. They don’t want us in Iraq to help the Iraqis fight ISIS, they don’t want us in Syria. They don’t want us to have military bases anywhere in the region including Bahrain, as an example, where one of our major Naval fleets is headquartered. They do not want us in the Middle East. And their strategy to drive us out is attacks conducted primarily by surrogates, meaning other groups, groups that they have created, groups that they sponsor, groups that they arm. Their strategy is to use those groups to kill Americans. And their reasoning is, number one, if they use these groups, it gives them deniability, so the world can’t condemn them. They’ll go on and say it wasn’t us, it was some Shia militia or some other group that did it. So they think it gives them some level of plausible deniability. And the second reason why they do it is, they calculate that if Americans start to die in the Middle East, the American people will demand that we withdraw from the Middle East. So it’s a pressure tactic they are trying to institute.
And they do direct attacks as an example. But I remind you guys, just a few months ago they were out in the ocean putting limpet mines on commercial vessels and there were people in the city arguing we’ve seen no evidence that was the Iranians. Well it wasn’t Luxembourg. It wasn’t the Belgians. They’re the only people in the region that had the ability to do it, but that’s the kind of deniable attack that they seek to conduct and to kill Americans. By the way, the person who ran that program was General Soleimani. And when I say general he really wasn’t a general, he was a terrorist with a uniform on. But the point being is that that is the campaign that Iran is trying to carry out.
When they decide what kind of attacks to conduct against Americans, they weigh a couple of things. The first is, how many Americans can we kill before America retaliates because they don’t want a war with America. They do not want an open conflict with the United States. It’s a war they can’t and will not win. So they are trying to see how many Americans they can kill, how much they can get away with before triggering a direct response from the United States. And part of the calculus they use to determine that is our domestic political environment. I believe there is strong evidence that indicates, and I say this just from everything you see, that Iran already miscalculated once. They thought that Soleimani could travel the region with impunity and plan attacks to kill Americans and nothing would happen. And they were wrong, and they miscalculated. And it was evident that they miscalculated. It was evident by their own body language and the things they did in the days after that they truly were shocked that the President took the steps that he took. And hopefully it reset their deterrence level.
Now we’re in a period of time right now where it seems from all indications that Iran at least in the short term has decided to stand down on some of these attacks. But it’s not because they’ve suddenly found peace in their hearts, it’s because they are hoping that the political process inside of Iraq will force us to leave there. But eventually, if that doesn’t happen, they’re going back to these attacks. They continue to plan them on a regular basis. They continue to prepare for those attacks to happen. And what is going to happen when that moment comes and they determine, we believe that the threshold of attack, meaning the number of Americans we kill, the number of attacks we conduct, how brazen they are, we think we can get away with a certain level because in America the President, members of both parties, do not want him to attack us. In fact, they would calculate, if we can even make it deniable, if we can even create some doubt that we were behind it, and it wasn’t just some other group that was going to attack us anyway, it’s going to make it even harder for him to respond.
Now that’s not the reality. The reality of this Administration is the reality of what I hope anyone who would ever occupy that position would be. And that is, if they know and they believe that American lives are at risk and they have a chance to disrupt it, they will do so. And I believe, and I know this President would, and if Americans are attacked and harmed that there would be a strong response in retaliation. The President has the constitutional power, and I would argue the duty, to do both of those things. The problem is the Iranians may not believe it. They may say to themselves, “It’s an election year. The President doesn’t want to start a war. There are members of both parties who have, as POLITICO’s headline says, ‘reined in’ his war powers.” And decide that they can strike, or conduct multiple strikes and terrorist attacks, and miscalculate and elicit a response — a strong response — to which they would have to respond, to which we would have to respond. That is how a war starts.
And that’s the danger embedded in this resolution. Not the intention of its sponsors, who I truly do believe — I know — they are standing for a constitutional principle they believe in. They are not the problem. The problem is how this is going to be portrayed and how the Iranians are going to take it. And what it will lead them to conclude they can get away with. And that’s why I say that passing this, having this go into effect — even if the President vetoes it — sends a message, whether you like it or not. And with all due respect I say this, whether you like it or not, the message that this sends is that in America, members of both parties do not want the President to respond militarily to an attack and do not want the President to act proactively to prevent one. And that may not be the intention of the sponsors — I don’t believe that it is — but that will be how it’s portrayed. And that’s a chance we cannot take.
We are playing with fire. An Iranian miscalculation, an attack that goes beyond our red lines on what we would tolerate, is going to lead to a strong American response. To which they would have to respond. To which we would respond in kind. And suddenly, that’s how you find yourself into an escalating conflict, and even a war. And so I hope that those who are thinking about supporting this will rethink their position. Because, while your positions might be pure in terms of your constitutional views, the foreign policy impact — the real foreign policy impact — that even this debate is going to have, is to instill in the minds of some in Iran that there are certain kinds of attacks they can get away with and the President’s hands are tied by politics in Washington.
And that is a dangerous proposition, and a fire with which we should not play. Madam President, I yield the floor.