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Thune: Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures Have Made the World Less Safe

“If we don’t start getting our foreign policy right, the consequences could haunt us for generations.”

September 14, 2016


U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the president’s foreign policy failures — from the growing threat of ISIS to a flawed deal with Iran that resulted in a multi-million dollar ransom payment — and called on the president to take action against growing threats around the world. Thune and his Republican colleagues in the Senate remain committed to restoring America’s leadership and strengthening the country’s security.

Thune’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. President, a Fox News poll released this month found that, and I quote, ‘A record-high 54 percent of American voters feel the U.S. is less safe today than it was before 9/11.’

“The article went on to say, quote:

“Voters also think:

“‘- A major terrorist attack is likely in the near future.

“‘- Last year’s U.S.-Iran agreement on Iran’s nuclear program made the U.S. less safe.

“‘- The $400 million the U.S. paid Iran after American prisoners were released was ransom.

“‘- Terrorism is one of the most important issues facing the country.’

“Mr. President, it’s not surprising that Americans are worried.

“When President Obama was elected, he was widely regarded as America’s next great foreign policy president.

“Here was a president who would restore America’s standing in the world and calm the troubled waters of international conflict.

“Confidence in his abilities was so high that he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize before he’d actually done anything to bring peace.

“But after eight years of the Obama administration, the world is less, not more, safe.

“America’s standing in the world has been weakened.

“Terrorism is spreading.

“The Middle East is more hostile and dangerous.

“Iran is counting pallets of ransom money and is in a better position to develop a nuclear weapon.

“And all too often, President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policies have been a contributing factor.

“Take the rise of ISIS.

“When President Obama came into office, he was determined to fulfill his campaign promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

“And that’s exactly what he and Secretary Clinton proceeded to do – on a timetable he announced to our enemies.

“America’s hasty withdrawal left gaping holes in Iraq’s security, and before too long, ISIS had stepped in to fill the void.

“By mid-2014, ISIS had made significant territorial gains in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

“And although ISIS has since lost territory in both Syria and Iraq, it was able to establish a foothold from which to expand its global terror reach.

“Mr. President, the list of ISIS-linked attacks has grown very long. 






“San Bernardino.

“And on and on.

“In the past two months alone, ISIS has been linked to a suicide bombing at a Turkish wedding, a suicide bombing at a hospital in Pakistan, a suicide bombing in Yemen, and a gruesome attack at a church in northern France.

“ISIS has also been linked to an attack on police officers in Belgium, a music festival bombing in Germany, and another railway attack there.

“That’s just in the past two months, Mr. President.

“Yet despite this ever-growing stream of attacks, the president has never seemed to understand the depth of the threat.

“While U.S. efforts have succeeded in reclaiming some territory from ISIS, the group’s terrorist activities continue unabated, and its international profile is increasing.

“Its communications have grown especially sophisticated, making intercepting and decoding ISIS’ messages and tracking its recruitment efforts increasingly difficult.

“In June, the president’s own CIA director told Congress, and I quote, ‘Our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach.’

“Yet just days before the CIA director’s testimony, the president claimed that we were, quote, ‘making significant progress” against ISIS.’

“Mr. President, as long as ISIS’ global terrorism capability remains unchecked, we’re not making ‘significant progress.’

“Unfortunately President Obama’s foreign policy failures are not confined to his halfhearted campaign against ISIS.

“Take the president’s nuclear agreement with Iran.

“This agreement was supposed to protect our nation, and the world, from the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“The actual deal that emerged, however, doesn’t even come close to that goal.

“Even if Iran complies with all aspects of the deal – which doesn’t seem likely – it will not stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“In fact, the deal will actually make it easier for Iran to acquire advanced nuclear weapons down the road.

“On top of this, recent reports suggest that the United States and the other signatories to the deal have actually already allowed Iran to evade full compliance with some of the deal’s provisions. 

“It’s no surprise that even some of the deal’s supporters are getting worried.

“Mr. President, Iran has been in the news lately for other disturbing reasons as well.

“In August, news emerged that the Obama administration had delivered a $400 million cash payment to Iran on the same day four American hostages were freed.

“Furthermore, the administration had paid the money over the objections of Justice Department officials, who were concerned that Iranians would regard it as a ransom payment. 

“The administration, of course, strenuously denied that the payment was a ransom, but it was pretty hard to get away from the fact that there had been a de facto exchange of money for prisoners.

“And two weeks after news of the ransom broke, a State Department spokesman admitted that the administration had held the money until three American hostages had departed the country by plane.

“Mr. President, the president’s ransom payment to Iran is troubling for more than one reason.

“First, of course, tying the receipt of a large cash payment to the release of prisoners could easily encourage Iran to expand its hostage-taking. 

“Since the ransom payment in January, Iran has continued to detain individuals on spurious grounds.

“And in late August, the State Department warned U.S. citizens not to travel to Iran because of the danger of being detained by the Iranian government.

“$400 million in cash in the hands of the Iranians is a disturbing prospect.

“Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and has a finger in many of the worst conflicts in the Middle East.

“There’s a good chance that at least a chunk of that $400 million will go to funding Iran’s illicit activities, from support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to funds for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.

“On top of all this, Mr. President, there’s the fact that every time Iran gets the better end of a bargain, it feels even more free to act aggressively.

“Recently, Iranian fast boats have been harassing U.S. Navy ships, and warning shots have been fired.

“It’s not a stretch to think that this aggression and boldness spring from the administration’s position of weakness when it comes to Iran.

“Mr. President, Teddy Roosevelt used to say, ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick.’

“President Obama’s foreign policy has reversed that.

“The president talks a big game, but he has no follow through.

“To our adversaries, his statements have become no more than empty threats.

“Take Syria.

“The president drew a red line four years ago: If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, the United States would respond.

“Well, Assad used chemical weapons.

“And the United States did nothing.

“It should shock no one that a recent U.N. investigation found that Assad has continued to use chemical weapons against his citizens.

“After more than four years of inaction from our president and five years of civil war, Syrian cities lie in ruin, millions are displaced, and tens of thousands have been slaughtered.

“The world’s eyes are now on the tenuous ceasefire in hopes that it may lead to peace talks and permit humanitarian aid to reach those most in need.

“But we must ask how we got here, and what lessons can be learned.

“Mr. President, the consequence of empty threats is bolder and stronger enemies.

“When the United States fails to follow through, we send a message that the United States can be ignored at will.

“We can see the results in chemical attacks on civilians in Syria.

“In the belligerent acts of the Iranian Navy.

“In a defiant North Korea testing nuclear bombs.

“In China boldly asserting territorial claims and building up reefs in disputed waters.

“In Russia annexing Crimea and flexing military and political influence in Ukraine.

“In 2008, then-candidate Obama spoke of the need for ‘tough, direct diplomacy, where the president of the United States isn't afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands and what we stand for.’

“Well, Mr. President, Candidate Obama was right.

“That is the kind of diplomacy we need.

“But unfortunately, it’s never been the kind of diplomacy actually displayed by President Obama.

“Mr. President, in that same speech, then-candidate Obama spoke of the need for “the courage and the conviction to lead the free world.”

“That’s something we need even more today, after eight years of an administration which has frequently lacked the conviction to lead at all.

“Senate Republicans will continue to do what we can in Congress to restore America’s leadership and strengthen our country’s security.

“This includes working to advance the essential National Defense Authorization Act and defense appropriations measures, the latter of which have been repeatedly blocked by Democrats.

“I hope my colleagues across the aisle will work with us. 

“Our nation is already in a more dangerous position today thanks to the foreign policy failures of the Obama administration.

“If we don’t start getting our foreign policy right, the consequences could haunt us for generations.”