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On Senate Floor, Rubio Warns About Iran’s Threats to U.S. National Security Interests & Allies In Middle East

May 17, 2019 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) delivered remarks on the Senate floor warning about the threat posed by the Iranian regime to U.S. national security interests and allies in the Middle East.

A partial transcript of Rubio’s remarks can be found below.

The news has been dominated hopefully — I expected it to be more coverage — on a matter that I think is of great urgency for the country and the global security and peace, and that is the tensions that are arising in the Middle East. I’ve seen a few of my colleagues speak on the floor about it today.

I’ve seen a lot of press reporting on it, some of it absurd, some of it on point. And I understand some of it. There’s been a lack — I thought there should have been more information provided to all the members, and I’m pleased to see that more will be available next week when we return. This is an item I’ve been talking about for a couple weeks now, and that is the urgent threat potentially that exists now from Iran against the United States, particularly in Iraq, but throughout the Persian Gulf region.

First let me talk about the threat, and to understand the threat it’s important to understand how Iran operates. Iran is an Islamic Republic, meaning they have a political branch of their government. They have a president, a foreign minister and a parliamentary body, and then they have a Supreme Leader who ultimately governs the country, in essence, his commands overrule the political branches and that’s why they call him the Supreme Leader, he’s a religious figure. And then as part of that, they have an Armed Services. They have an Army, a Navy, an Air Force that protects the country, theoretically. But then they have an Armed Forces that is independent of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and that’s the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC. And they, first of all, they don’t respond, they don’t answer to the president, they don’t answer to the foreign minister, they don’t answer to the regular Army forces. They answer directly to the Supreme Leader. A lot of times people don’t understand this, they ascribe to other countries the attributes of our own. The President of Iran is not the Commander in Chief in reality of the IRGC, they operate completely separate.  And by the way, that means that the IRGC, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, can operate often times doing things that the foreign minister, the spokesperson for the Iranian government, may not even know about. Sometimes they do, but the point being is that we have to understand that dynamic: because they are not us. Our attributes should not be assigned to them.

The IRGC has an organization within it, it has a unit called the Quds force. And the Quds force, led by General Soleimani, are experts and have developed expertise and unconventional warfare, and in intelligence activities, primarily abroad. This is the organization, for example, that helped build all the I.E.D.’s that killed and maimed American servicemen in Iraq. This is the organization behind the Shia militias in Iraq today. This is the organization behind a lot of the efforts to support Hezbollah, and in Syria, and in other parts of the world. And the IRGC’s Quds force is designed to do things that have some level of deniability. What the IRGC Quds force has developed — and we know this now for the better part of a decade– is the ability, in case of conflict with the United States, to attack us using proxies — meaning other groups — and escape and have some level of deniability. So get some group that they have stood up, that they have equipped, that they have trained, to attack us in retaliation for something America does, but they can deny it. They can say, that wasn’t our Army. That wasn’t our Air Force. That was this other group that did it on their own. But this is a capability we know they have built– not just in the Middle East by the way– but the all over the world. We have been aware of it for a long time. It is not a secret to anyone.  And it is a capability that they’ve increasingly perfected.

So as what’s happened here very recently is a persistent and clear stream of information, has arrived to American policymakers that the IRGC and the Quds force may be planning — or there are indications– that they and their proxies in the regions pose a serious and potentially imminent threat to U.S forces and U.S civilians in Iraq and in the broader Middle East. Now, the President of the United States and the administration is confronted with this information, and what is the wholly appropriate thing for them to do? The appropriate thing for them to do is to reposition military assets to the region, number one, to protect the Americans that are there in case they come under attack, and number two, to be in a position to retaliate. And the reason why that is important is you hope to deter this sort of attack. What you’re hoping to do is to show them that we have military capabilities in the region that if we are attacked by your proxies at the direction of the Quds force, we’re going to respond to that forcefully. And what you hope that will do, along with public messaging, is get into their head and make them decide we’re not going to do this—and that’s what’s happened. That’s what’s happened here, and it is wholly appropriate.

I want you to imagine for a moment, if in fact an attack such as this occurred and God forbid hundreds of Americans were killed, the first question everybody would have is, why didn’t we have military assets in the region to protect them? Why couldn’t we get them out?  That’s the first question everyone around here is going to ask. And so what the administration has done to preposition military assets in the region for this potential contingency is entirely appropriate. As is also appropriate the notion that we are not going to start a war, but if we are attacked by Iran’s proxies, we are going to respond against those proxies and we’re going to hold Iran responsible, and they’re going to pay a price for this as well. Who could disagree with the notion that if we are attacked, we have a right to defend ourselves and respond?  And that is the only thing that is happening here.

I’m pleased that in the last day more members of the Senate have been made privy to this stream of information, so that people can begin to see that the actions the administration has taken up to this point are not just wholly justified, but are appropriate. I’m concerned.  I’m concerned about some of the reactions that I’ve seen to this because I think it bodes ill both for this case and for the future.

One of the first reactions I’ve seen is that this is not true, they’re making it up.  Literally, this is not true and they’re making it up. That there’s no such intelligence, that it’s being exaggerated. There are even some leakers — I don’t know who these people are — who are lying to media outlets about the source or the contents of this intelligence because they have an axe to grind against somebody else in the administration, so they want to create embarrassment. Look, I get this bureaucratic infighting, I don’t understand it when it comes to issues of national security.  But even if this information is 50% accurate, we have an obligation to err on the side of caution. Especially when American lives are on the line. I encourage every member to go and read this information or access it through your offices, and obviously when we have a briefing with the appropriate officials attend that as well, and you will agree with me, I believe.

The second thing I’m hearing is, ‘oh, this is just a path to war,’ trying to equate this to the Iraq war over a decade ago. This is nothing like that.  Nothing like that. That was an offensive operation. That was an invasion of another country. This is not posturing for a military attack. This is military posturing for purposes of defensive operations.  As I have said repeatedly, it’s very straightforward. If Iran attacks, there will be a war. If Iran does not attack, there will not be a war. I think the most disappointing is some insinuation, including by members of this body, publicly and privately, that somehow we’re going to provoke an attack. The elements of the American government are going to go out and do something to get Iran to hit us so that we have an excuse to go to war. I don’t know how you prove a negative. But I find that to be wholly unsubstantiated and dangerous.  

And let me tell you why this is problematic. Because what encourages Iran to believe they can get away with this, is they believe if one of these groups, one of these Shia militias in Iraq attacks us, they believe they’re going to be able to say, that’s not us, that’s some rogue group that did it, don’t hold us responsible for it. The more they think they can get away with that, the likelier they are to do it.  And so it is important that this be exposed for what it is. The second reason why they think they can get away with it is I think they believe they can exploit our political divisions. I think they read these newspapers and watch the news and they realize that some percentage of Americans, and certainly a significant percentage of Americans in politics, are going to– in some ways– take Iran’s side on this. They’re going to say, ‘well, we provoked it. This is our fault. We did something that made them mad, that we created the tensions that led to this, or the intelligence is flawed, or it wasn’t Iran, it was one of these others the groups.’ The more of that they read that the likelier they are to do this, by the way. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe we can have a legitimate debate. I support designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization. But we can have a legitimate debate about whether that should have been done or not. But not right now. Because right now Americans stand potentially in harm’s way, and they need a United States of America to be supporting efforts to defend and to protect them.

Here’s what I know none of us can disagree with, I hope. Number one, that if there is any serious indication that Americans anywhere are threatened, we must position ourselves to protect them, defend them, extract them, and retaliate if they are attacked.  And the second thing we should all be able to agree on is if Americans come under attack, even if it’s from a proxy force directed by a foreign agent like the IRGC, not only must we defend against that attack, but we must punish it with swift retaliation. That should unite us in a matter of incredible importance. So I hope all the misinformation will stop, because this matter is too important to play political games with it.