Rubio: “[President Trump] acted in a way that I think history will fully justify: in the defense of American lives in taking out Soleimani and in disrupting a near-term plot that could have very easily have killed dozens, if not hundreds, of Americans in the near-term. I chuckle when I hear people say, ‘Well how do we know that's what Soleimani was doing?’ Because that was his full-time job! The guy wasn't a stockbroker. He wasn’t a realtor. He wasn’t a diplomat. His full-time job was to travel the world and set up groups and equip groups, so that when he told them to go, they could kill Americans. That's his full-time job! That's what he was doing there. And I believe when all is said and done, that history will fully vindicate the decision that was made.”
Lightly edited excerpts of Rubio’s remarks on the Senate floor are below.
Rubio: I know that whether it is tomorrow, later today, or sometime next week, there is an effort here to pass an effort to restrict the president's ability to engage the Armed Forces of the United States in conflict with Iran. So I think anytime you have something like that come up, the two most important questions that you need answered is, number one, well, why? Why do we need this law that you're pursuing? And number two what would that law do?
Let me try to answer the ‘why.’ I can deduce two separate arguments. The first is the argument that somehow our actions, the United States, for example, pursuing a maximum-pressure campaign against Iran and leaving the Iran deal, that that has, according to at least the language of the version I saw — I know it's going to be amended — but at least the version that I saw said that the U.S. administration's maximum-pressure campaign has included economic, diplomatic, and military pressure and that that's raising the risk of retaliation against United States troops and personnel leading to a cycle of escalating back-and-forth violence between Iran's proxies and the United States and that these warnings have been proven correct. So I guess the first argument is that we left the Iran deal and that's the reason why we are now on the verge of what some view to be an all-out war against Iran.
The second argument is rooted in constitutional views that some of my colleagues hold that the Congress has a role to play and that no extended military engagement should be allowed without congressional approval. So those are two separate motivations, and I think it's possible to hold that second position and also be motivated by the first. I think for many of my colleagues it's solely a constitutional question, which I respect.
So let's analyze the ‘why’ for a second. First of all, I think it is just not true that the reason Iran and its proxies are trying to kill Americans is because we pulled out of the Obama deal with Iran. They have most certainly responded to our decision with violence, but that’s not what motivated them. For example, before there was even an Iran deal to pull out of, Iran was already equipping and supplying Shia militias in Iraq with weapons that killed and maimed Americans, in the hundreds. In fact, its antagonism towards us predates any discussion about an Iran deal. It predates our presence in the region and the numbers that we're currently there at.
I think it's also flawed because during the Iran deal, even when the Iran deal was in place, they were still sponsoring all the same proxy groups with all the same weapons undertaking all the same targeting. The fact of the matter is that one of the flaws of the Iran deal, one of the reasons why the Iran deal was not a good one, is because it actually didn't deal with this activity. The only thing it dealt with was enrichment. It did nothing to limit Iran's missile program. It did nothing to limit Iran's sponsorship of terrorism.
In fact, the only impact that it had on its missile program and on its sponsorship of terrorism is it provided economic activity that generated revenue to fund those things and it is in fact — despite the denial, the repeated and bold-faced lies of some who have gone on TV and said ‘oh, there was never any cash transfer,’ there absolutely was, over $1 billion was delivered to the Iranians, they say that it was funds that were frozen and it was their money and that's why it is released to them as part of this deal — they don't tell you that there are close to $50 billion of unpaid claims in U.S. courts that have been adjudicated on behalf of those who have suffered at the hands of Iranian terror — to Americans that have not been paid.
But suffice it to say that the Iran deal was flawed. One of the reasons it was flawed is because it did nothing, not just to prohibit the sponsorship of terrorism, but it actually generated economic activity and the delivery of over $1 billion of cash. And I assure, it was not used to build bridges, roads, and schools, but it was used to fund these nefarious activities that Iran undertook before the Iran deal, during the Iran deal, and after the Iran deal.
So the fact that they are responding with violence to economic sanctions, which by itself is unacceptable — which by itself is unacceptable — and in fact it tells you the nature of this regime, that they respond to economic sanctions, not military actions, economic sanctions, that they respond to it with violence and efforts to kill Americans, doesn't mean that that's the reason why they were doing it. They were already doing that. It's just been part of their response.
Which leads me to the second point. They’ve already been doing it because Iran's goal is not simply to get us to go back into the Iran deal. Its goal is to drive us from the region. They do not want American presence there. They do not want American influence in the region. They don't want it in Iraq, which they have been against from the very beginning, they don't want it in Syria. It is not just limited to Iraq and Syria. They don't want our presence in Jordan. They don't want our presence in Kuwait. They don't want our presence in Bahrain. They don't want any American presence in Afghanistan. They do not want us anywhere in the region because they view it as an impediment to their desires to be a dominant regional power, and they view it as an impediment to their ultimate design — that is, destroying the Jewish state.
And they have decided — not last week, not last year, not at the beginning of the Trump presidency — they decided well over a decade and a half ago that the way they were going to get us to leave the region is by inflicting costs — i.e., the death and the injury American servicemen and women. That they would make it so painful for us to be there, and so painful for these countries to host us, that we would ultimately leave — that we would ultimately leave. That is the reason why they're undertaking these attacks.
Now, ‘why are we there’ is a good question and a valid one to answer. And I can answer it in the case of both Syria and Iraq. We are not there on an anti-Iran campaign, the way some describe it. Now there is an element of prohibiting Iran from capturing Iraq and turning it into a puppet state — that, by the way, many Shia politicians in Iraq share that view. They may not want us to be the protector, at least openly, but they are nationalists despite the fact that they are Shia.
But the fundamental and the principal reason why we are in Iraq is as part of a NATO anti-ISIS mission and in a train-and-equip mission. We are there to train and equip Iraqis to fight against ISIS, and it's been an effort that's been successful and it has worked. And it's interesting that for a time, when Iran shared the same fears of ISIS, they sort of — you saw them sort of stand down a little bit, even after we pulled out of the Iran deal — pull back a little bit because they, too, wanted ISIS defeated. But now they argue that ISIS has been diminished in their mind. It is time for the Americans to go. And if you won't leave on your own, then we're going to start killing people until you decide the price of being here is too high.
So here's the bottom line: the reason why there are American troops in large parts of this regions is for an anti-terror campaign. And Iran has decided to use proxies and these deniable attacks, and by deniable I mean getting some other group to use the weapons you gave them to attack Americans so you can say it wasn't us — even though everyone knew it was you — but that way you can avoid a direct war with the U.S. and international condemnation, but everyone knows it was you. And that's why they are attacking us.
Now, I ask you, what is supposed to be the U.S. response?
Well, first of all, it's in the law. It's the constitutional requirement, and the power that resides in the presidency, the right to defend U.S. servicemen and women when they come under attack. So number one, there is a constitutional power, and an obligation in my mind to defend, to prevent, to repel, and to respond to attacks against American troops deployed abroad.
Number two, it’s embedded in congressional authorization for that anti-terror mission to begin with. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, we are present at the authorization given by Congress over a decade and a half ago. And embedded in that authorization is the right to self-defense.
The third point I would make is so, you look at all this argument about AUMF, and you would think that what we're seeing here looks something like the run-up to the Iraq war or the run-up to the Afghanistan war. This is complete fiction. The Afghanistan AUMF, the Afghanistan war, was one in which the Bush White House came to the Congress back then and said, ‘Look, the Taliban was allowing Al-Qaeda to operate with impunity from its territory and we're going to go take them out.’ That was an offensive operation, it was an invasion. With Iraq we all know the justifications that turned out not to be the case about weapons of mass destruction and the like. Again, an offensive military operation. No one in American politics that I’ve seen, certainly no one in the Trump Administration, has talked about ramping up and sending 150,000 - 200,000 American troops marching into Tehran. No one is contemplating that.
The only thing the Trump Administration has talked about is if you attack our troops or we think you are getting ready to attack our troops, we are going to prevent it if we can. We're going to repel that attack if it happens. And we're going to respond proportionately if you do it, appropriately, as a deterrence. You don't need congressional authorization to do that. Imagine the practical implications if that were the case. That the President of the United States would have to come to Congress on December 30 because we're under attack and ask us to reconvene, everybody fly in, take a vote, debate for a week and a half, and then decide whether I have a right. By that time you got 300 dead Americans. It's ridiculous. It's just not a requirement. It's not even practical.
So I don't understand the purpose of this AUMF. What war are you trying to prevent unless you believe that we’ve brought this upon ourselves because we pulled out of the Iran deal. And even if you believe that, even if you believe that one of the reasons why we stayed in the Iran deal was to prevent these sorts of attacks, which I don’t think is justified — it's not a justified argument by the very fact that even during the Iran deal they were already doing some of these things and have a long history of doing that — but even if you argue that and believe it, you can't argue that attacking and killing Americans — violence — is an appropriate response to economic sanctions. And you most certainly can't argue that we cannot have a military response to protect our men and women and our interests in the region. And yet that seems to be the argument embedded as AUMF.
Now, some will tell you ‘all it does is restate current law, it doesn't really have any practical impact. In the end, if the House doesn't pass the same thing, what is this really going to mean?’ That's true from a legal perspective. Now let me tell you what all the headlines already say and are going to say. Here's what they're going to say, ‘Congress votes to limit president's military options’ or ‘Congress votes to limit Trump's ability to respond militarily to Iran.’
And I want to be clear, because some people have heard this from others and thought they were being told not to debate this issue — debate it all you want. But I want to be clear. Those headlines, how they are read in places like Iran, is very different than the debate we're having here. How they read it is the president has political domestic constraints about how much he can respond to what we do.
Now, we already have a fundamental problem with Iran. And that is that, unlike many countries in the world, they don't view things or respond to things the same way. For example, it's pretty clear that their view of what they can get away with is much higher than the reality of what they can get away with, as evidenced by the increasing scale and the increasing magnitude of the attacks that their proxies were taking against the United States in the region.
So the threat of miscalculation on their part is very, very high. Let's not forget that just a week ago they launched over a dozen rockets at a U.S. military installation — that by the grace of God no one was killed, but they could have been. You don't launch that many rockets at a U.S. military installation and not expect that some Americans are going to die. So their internal calculus about what they can get away with is already twisted.
Imagine adding to that the perception that somehow the president's hands are tied. ‘No matter what we do, we can kill a hundred Americans because he's not really going to be able to do very much because the Congress took away his power to do it.’ Now, you can take the chance that these guys are somehow legal scholars and schooled in the American legal system. You can take the chance that they read Congressional Quarterly or whatever publication or that they've read the latest issue of the Congressional Research Office's — produced the practical implication.
Or you can worry that they will misinterpret this vote and its impact for what it means to what they can get away with. Go ahead. We want to have this debate, have it. I don't know what you're having a debate about. There's no one here planning an all-out war against Iran. In fact, the administration's position is pretty straightforward. If they attack us or are getting ready to attack us, we'll respond. If they don't, we won't. The question of whether there's going to be armed conflict between the U.S. and Iran is not in the hands of the White House. It's in the hands of the Ayatollah.
And I assure you that no matter what we vote on here, it's not going to impact what decisions they make over there. No one, no one that I know of wants a war with Iran. That's not the goal. The goal hopefully is to one day have an Iran that doesn't sponsor terrorism, that doesn't want nuclear weapons, and acts like a normal country. I bet you that's the goal of millions of Iranians themselves.
But in the interim, until that day comes, we have an obligation to protect our interests. We have an obligation to protect our men and women who we sent into harm's way. And for the life of me, I just don't understand what this AUMF seeks to prevent. A war that no one's calling for. And I don't want to imply that we can't have these debates in America because we can and we should — we're a free society. But I want everybody to be clear how these debates can be misinterpreted and how these headlines can be misinterpreted by the people who actually have these rockets and control these proxy groups.
The bottom line is that Iran's goal is not just to get us back into a nuclear deal; their goal is to drive us from the region. They want us out. And they have concluded that the way to do that is to use other groups that they are arming and equipping increasingly with more and more lethal capabilities — meaning bigger munitions, deadlier munitions, UAVs, rockets and the like — to kill Americans. And that the more Americans die — even if they're there on a counter-terror mission — the more Americans die, the likelier it is that we are going to have to pull them out of there. That is what they want.
They want us to leave Iraq so they can turn it into a puppet state. They want all NATO and allied presence out of Syria, so they can control Syria entirely. They want to fracture our relationship with Lebanon so Hezbollah can control that country. They want to destroy our presence in Bahrain, where the Fifth Fleet is located. You can go on and on. And in the end, I think the question becomes, ‘Are we prepared to retreat from that region entirely?’ Because you can't come here and criticize the president for removing troops from the Syrian-Turkish border and abandoning Kurds, and at the same time argue, ‘But you don't have the power unless we authorize you,’ to defend those very troops if they come under attack by some Iranian proxy group.’
And yet that seems to be the argument. You can't argue — we can't just pick up and leave the Iraqis at the mercy of the Iranian regime because I assure you that if President Trump announced tomorrow, ‘I'm pulling out of Iraq,’ or announced before the Soleimani strike, ‘I'm pulling out of Iraq overnight,’ the floor would be filled with people saying, ‘we have abandoned our allies, we have abandoned the Kurds in northern Iraq, we have abandoned the Sunnis who are scared of the Iranians.’
You can't argue that — that you think we need to be present and continue to work towards the functionality of that state — and at the same time say, ‘But you need congressional approval to act in the defense of the people we send there that wear our uniform, or our diplomats for that matter.’ And yet that seems to be the argument behind this AUMF. And the vote’s going to be what it is. We're going to have this debate. I remember about a year and a half ago when tensions were high with North Korea, they wanted an AUMF for that.
I’ll say this — look you can disagree with this White House all you want. I think it's fair to say I don't think we've had a more anti-war president in my lifetime than the one we have right now. You think about it for a moment. Almost any other predecessor may have responded with a lot less restraint to some of the provocations and attacks we've seen from Iran and its proxies. He acted in a way that I think history will fully justify: in the defense of American lives in taking out Soleimani and in disrupting a near-term plot that could have very easily have killed dozens, if not hundreds, of Americans in the near-term.
I chuckle when I hear people say, ‘Well how do we know that's what Soleimani was doing?’ Because that was his full-time job! The guy wasn't a stockbroker. He wasn’t a realtor. He wasn’t a diplomat. His full-time job was to travel the world and set up groups and equip groups, so that when he told them to go, they could kill Americans. That's his full-time job! That's what he was doing there. And I believe when all is said and done, that history will fully vindicate the decision that was made.
So we'll have this debate at some point. I imagine at some point it will move to the floor. It’s a privileged resolution. I just think it's very shortsighted. And I hope that some of my colleagues who have signed on to it thinking that somehow we were exerting Congress's constitutional authority — I have no problem with asserting Congress's constitutional authority when it's actually being challenged — but there is no congressional constitutional authority that can prevent a president, or should prevent a president, from acting in defense of our men and women in uniform when we deploy them abroad. And that is in my view what this bill before us or certainly before us — that's the practical implications of it. So I hope those who have chosen to support it will reconsider.