Mr. President, Today, as we debate the Defense Authorization Act, there is no more pressing concern than how we deter Iran from further escalating their attacks. The decisions we make in this bill will have a direct bearing on the options the president and the military have available to keep our military, our citizens, and our friends and allies safe.
The Senate is poised to vote soon on my amendment, Romney 861. It would reaffirm what has long been American policy: our military is authorized to defend itself and to protect our citizens. Enacting this amendment makes clear to our military, as well as to any potential adversary, that America does not shrink in the face of attack.
This is not an authorization to use military force against Iran or anyone else. It is a statement of continued commitment to our national defense.
Mr. President, as we all know, my esteemed colleague from New Mexico, Senator Udall, has proposed an amendment on a related topic which I wish to briefly address.
Since our nation’s founding, the President has had the authority to defend the United States.
The Udall amendment would dramatically limit the existing authority that the Constitution provides the president to respond to Iran. It would prevent the president from defending U.S. citizens abroad, important U.S. interests, and our allies and partners against an Iranian attack.
This is not only my opinion. It is the carefully considered conclusion of the U.S. Department of Defense. In its letter on June 26th to Chairman Inhofe it states: “The Department strongly opposes this amendment…At a time when Iran is engaging in escalating military provocation…this amendment could embolden Iran to further provocations.”
Tying the president’s hands in the midst of the current crisis is misguided, dangerous, and sends the wrong message to both Iran and our allies.
Last week, the Iranians continued their provocative escalation in the Middle East. After weeks of buildup where Iran attacked six commercial ships, and its proxies bombed an oil pipeline and launched a rocket at a commercial Saudi Arabian airport, Iran shot down an American drone over international waters.
The Udall amendment raises serious questions about how our military could respond to these attacks after the fact. Could we fire on the missile launcher that downed our drone? Could we sink one of their small, outboard motor vessels that attached the mines to the ships it attacked?
Imagine for a moment that if in the future, another American aircraft, perhaps one that is manned by an American pilot, were to be shot down by an Iranian rocket. It is possible that the Udall Amendment would limit our military’s options to subsequently respond to such an outrage.
I do not pretend to know whether Iran will continue its pattern of aggression. But I do know that when bad actors think they can escape consequence for malevolent acts, such acts are more likely to occur.
I am glad that Senator Udall’s revised amendment concedes the broad point that our military has an inherent right of self-defense, but in the case of a rocket hitting one of our planes, the president should not have his hands tied in determining the most effective option.
Note also that while the Udall amendment provides for the military to defend itself from attack, it does not provide for the defense of our citizens. Iran could take this as an invitation to attack Americans abroad.
Further, it would prohibit our military from defending or responding to an attack by Iran on our Iraqi partners so long as it did not directly attack American troops. Passing the Udall amendment would effectively give a green light to Iranian forces to invade Iraq, so long as they don’t attack U.S. forces.
If Iran were to attack Israel, or one of our NATO allies, the Udall amendment would not allow the President to respond.
And finally, the Udall amendment would effectively override the authorization Congress has provided the president in 2001 to use force against al Qaeda and other terrorists wherever they may be found. By carving out Iranian territory, the Udall amendment would potentially prevent us from pursuing and taking out terrorists who seek refuge in Iran.
I oppose the Udall Amendment not because I want to go to war with Iran or rush to respond without carefully evaluating our long-term strategy to counter Iranian aggression. I know no one who wants to go to war with Iran.
My amendment is not about Iran. It does not even mention Iran. My amendment is about affirming the fundamental authorities that any president must have to properly protect and defend this nation.
As the Department of Defense maintains, the President of the United States must always have the option of responding to attacks by Iran or anyone else at a time and place of our choosing, today and in the future.
I urge my colleagues to support my amendment.