SPEECH: Sullivan Speaks on Iranian Aggression, Potential AUMF Repeal
WASHINGTON--Madam President, we are debating, last week and this week, the authorization for the use of military force authority that was granted in 2002, which is a really important debate that we are seeing right here on the Senate floor.
By the way, it is a good-faith argument. There are Members on both sides of the aisle making different arguments.
There is not a topic, in my view, more important than the issues at stake here--how to use military force; when to use military force; is it authorized by the President to use military force?--because, as to the issue of the U.S. Government sending young men and women into harm's way to defend our country's interests, there is nothing more important, in my view--nothing more important.
I appreciate the time and the debate here on the floor. It is also important because it wraps into--when you talk about young men and women going into harm's way overseas, one of the biggest harms to American service men and women over the past 20 years has actually been from Shia militia groups supported by Iranian terrorist organizations. Now, it doesn't always seem to make sense in that Americans who were killed in Iraq and wounded in Iraq were often--and I will give some of the numbers here--killed and wounded because those who did the killing and wounding were supplied by Iranian terrorist groups. In particular, the Quds Force, which was led by Qasem Soleimani, during the course of the Iraq war, killed over 600 American servicemembers and wounded over 2,000 with very sophisticated IEDs that were supplied by the Iranians to their proxies in Iraq.
So what does any of this have to do with the 2002 AUMF for Iraq that we were debating last week and will debate this week? Well, the answer is everything, everything.
We eventually figured out--we, the United States--that these very sophisticated IEDs, which are called explosively formed projectiles or penetrators, EFPs, were actually, as I mentioned, caused by the Iranians. It took some time to figure this out because, like so many things, the Iranian terrorists in Tehran and the ayatollahs lie--they lie--and they denied it. ``Oh, we didn't have anything to do with that.'' Well, they actually had everything to do with that. Again, the best and brightest in America, in my view, for many years, during the Iraq war, were being killed by Iranian terrorists and being led by Qasem Soleimani, who was the head of the Quds Force, that was doing this.
During that time of 2005 to the middle of 2006, I was serving as a Marine Corps staff officer to the commanding general to the U.S. Central Command, General Abizaid. I was deployed to many parts of the CENTCOM AOR with the CENTCOM Commander. Probably the biggest concern, no doubt, was of these incredibly effective, brutally efficient EFPs that were killing and wounding so many of our best and brightest. To this day, it is just remarkable to me that so few people even know about this or talk about it--the killing and maiming of thousands of American troops by the Iranians and the Quds Force, led by General Soleimani.
Again, what does this have to do with the 2002 AUMF? Everything.
What happened during that time?
Well, when we figured out it was the Iranians doing this, we--we, again, the national leadership--never really retaliated against Iran at all. Imagine that. We knew that they were killing and wounding thousands of our best and brightest, and the United States did not do anything to establish deterrence. As a matter of fact, during that time, we lost deterrence, and it became clear that Iran, with good reason, started to think: Hey, we can kill American servicemembers with impunity. There is no price.
So they did.
When you lose deterrence with a terrorist regime that likes to kill Americans and has a history of killing Americans, it is not a good thing, especially for the young men and women who are serving our country in dangerous places.
I remember, early on in my Senate tenure here, in a briefing we had in the SCIF, I asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs: Do you think we have lost deterrence? There have been 600 Americans killed and over 2,000 wounded. Do you think the Iranians believe they can kill as many American servicemembers as they can--again, America's best and brightest--and not pay a price?
The Chairman said: Yes. The Chairman said: Yes.
I remember that very distinctly.
So the whole point is, How do you reestablish deterrence? Because, if you reestablish deterrence, you are going to save lives, and you are going to protect your servicemembers.
Again, there is nothing more important that we do as a country than making sure the men and women who go defend our country--who defend us, who defend our interests--are protected, are lethal, are the best trained. But it is difficult because, when you lose deterrence, it is hard to get it back. Well, we did get it back, and I certainly applaud President Trump and the Trump administration.
When Qasem Soleimani was back in Iraq, scoping American forces to kill--by the way, a lot of them during that time were from Alaska--in early January 2020, the Trump administration said: The joke is over. This guy with the blood on his hands of thousands of our best and brightest--he is not doing it again.
And he was killed during a daring strike on January 3, 2020. He was looking to kill more American troops in Iraq, and he got killed. I think it was justified and an important signal to send to everybody around the world that you can't go around killing American troops and not expect to have retaliation against you or your country. That should be basic. That should be basic. Every U.S. Senator here, today, should agree with that 110 percent.
The Trump administration said: We are not going to allow this anymore, and the guy who is responsible for killing so many Americans and wounding so many Americans--he is going to pay.
And he did, with his life.
The legal authorization for that very justified killing was the 2002 AUMF that we are debating right now. OK. That was only 3 years ago that that happened. So it is very relevant to the issue of deterrence and very relevant to the issue of Iran.
For some of my colleagues to say: Well, it is old. It has nothing to do with anything that is happening right now, they couldn't be more inaccurate. This matters, and it matters today. For those who say it doesn't, they don't know this history or they don't want to know this history or they haven't been watching the news for the last 96 hours.
Some of us are concerned about the very debate we are having here, which is to say: Let's remove the authorization that we used to kill Soleimani. Let's get rid of it. Hmm, what kind of signal does that send? Could this signal maybe we are not worried about deterring Iran anymore? Could this signal that removing this authorization, this 2002 authorization that, again, was used to regain deterrence with Iran--if we got rid of it, would this embolden Iran?
Well, as I mentioned, in the last 96 hours, we have had Iranian proxies unleashing deadly attacks on American servicemembers and American contractors. That is happening right now. Is it a coincidence? I don't know. One American is dead, and five have been wounded with these brazen attacks. Some of us thought this actually might happen. It is happening. It is happening.
Unfortunately, there was a little bit of something going on last week that we are going to get to the bottom of. Trust me. On the Armed Services Committee, we are going to get to the bottom of it because, last Thursday, when we were debating the AUMF, these vicious attacks started at 6:30 a.m., DC time. It was on the day we were debating the AUMF--all day Thursday. We didn't hear about it until the close of business Thursday. Was somebody hiding that information from us? It was pretty relevant information. We are going to find out about that.
I am going to be offering an amendment to the AUMF tomorrow, and I believe every U.S. Senator should vote for it. Here is why: I believe that the 2002 AUMF clearly helped with deterrence. It was the authority, in addition to article II, to take out one of the biggest terrorists, heck, in the 21st century. That is for sure. He killed more Americans than any other terrorist. That is for sure.
So the question is, Will removing this AUMF lessen American deterrence against Iran's malign activities?
That is what my amendment asks the Director of National Intelligence to do--to look at that question and certify the answer. If the answer is no, then this new AUMF or the removal of this AUMF can go forward.
Again, it is a really simple question: Ask the DNI, for the next 30 days, to look at this question: Will removing the 2002 AUMF lessen American deterrence against Iran's malign activities?
Why wouldn't every U.S. Senator want to go: ``That is a really good question. Heck, we are seeing it in the Middle East right now--in Syria. Maybe this is going to embolden Iran. Heck, maybe we shouldn't do it. Maybe, by doing this, we are going to put American servicemembers' lives at risk. Hmm. Maybe we shouldn't do it. Let's ask the DNI''?
That is it. Why wouldn't you want that?
I was just talking to a couple of the proponents of this AUMF debate. Again, I have a lot of respect for them, but I asked them: Why wouldn't you want this? Wouldn't you want to know? Just wait 30 more days. I know you have been trying to get this removed for years. Wait 30 days. Send it to the President's own Director of National Intelligence and ask her: Review the intelligence. Review what you are hearing with the chatter among the Iranian proxies who are trying to kill Americans and who have killed Americans. Is any of this related to the removal of the AUMF? Then give us an answer in 30 days, and if the answer is no, this can move forward. If it is yes and this will hurt our deterrence against Iran, then we shouldn't be doing this.
That is all my amendment is asking. It simply says: As for the authorization for use of military force--the AUMF--of 2002, if it is voted on to be repealed, which it looks like it will be, it will go into effect after the Director of National Intelligence certifies in an intelligence assessment to Congress that the repeal will not degrade the effectiveness of U.S.-led deterrence against Iranian aggression. Who could be against that? We should have 100 U.S. Senators wanting to know the answer to that question, especially given what just happened over the last 96 hours, because maybe this debate is emboldening the Iranian proxies and terrorists. Maybe it is not. So let's get the answer.
My amendment would also make sure that it is 100 percent clear that if the 2002 AUMF is repealed, the United States can fully retaliate against the Iranians or any Iranian threat if they are threatening our country or our people.
I know that most of my colleagues here agree with that. We negotiated that language with some of my Democratic friends and Republican friends. So it is just that and this issue of asking the DNI to certify that what we are doing on the Senate floor right now is not going to undermine our deterrence against Iran and, oh, by the way, put more American lives at risk.
It is simple. I would be shocked if any Senator voted against wanting to know the answer to that basic question.
I am asking my colleagues to just think hard. Don't you want more information? Can't you wait 30 more days to get President Biden's DNI to certify that what we are doing right here in the Senate is not going to undermine deterrence and put more American lives at risk? I hope that all of my colleagues would agree with that and vote on my amendment.
Finally, I will just say, the deterrence that we regained with the justified killing of Soleimani has clearly been slipping away, particularly once the Biden administration came into office, and it is a concern.
I was on a recent bipartisan codel to the Middle East, and the No. 1 issue we were hearing about in every single stop by every single leader was the malign activities of Iran. You name the country we were in--and we were in a lot of them, all the Abraham Accords countries in Israel--Iran was the No. 1 topic and how aggressive they are getting.
The lifting of the terrorist designation for the Iranian-backed Houthis almost in the first month of this administration, February 2021, was a sign of weakening deterrence against Iran.
The administration's inability to stand firmly with the United Arab Emirates, one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, when it was attacked by Houthi missiles and drones--of course, with the Iranians' help--was something else that lessened our deterrence.
Just last week, when the CENTCOM Commander testified, he said there had been 78 similar attacks on American forces since 2021. We are losing deterrence. That is during the Biden administration's 2 years. They have been attacking the hell out of our troops. What are we doing? What are we doing?
The mullahs in Tehran, like all tyrants, are emboldened by accommodation. So I am asking my Senate colleagues to take the very prudent, logical, and responsible step to ask the DNI if what we are getting ready to do here on the Senate floor, which is to remove the 2002 AUMF, will that undermine our deterrence against Iran? Let's wait 30 days and get the answer.
Don't put your head in the sand, my colleagues. Stand up. See what the answer is from the DNI so we can move forward in a way that makes sense for our national security, deterrence of the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism, and, most importantly, the ability to protect and defend our servicemembers serving overseas in places like Syria that are very dangerous.
I yield the floor.