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Thune: Iran’s Reign of Terror Must be Stopped

“Having the military might alone isn’t sufficient for a credible deterrence. These capabilities must be backed up with a clear willingness to use them.”

January 31, 2024

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today spoke on the Senate floor to offer his condolences to the families of the three American soldiers who were tragically killed in an attack by Iran-backed militias in the Middle East last weekend and to the two Navy SEALs who were lost at sea off the coast of Somalia earlier this month. Thune also discussed the dangers of Iran’s influence in the Middle East and the Biden administration’s failure to implement effective strategies that deter and degrade Iran and its proxies. Thune called on the president to take decisive action and articulate his strategy to the American people.

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):

“Mr. President, the nation received tragic news on Sunday morning.

“Three American soldiers were killed in an attack by an Iran-backed militia against Tower 22, a base in northeast Jordan that sits near the border of Syria and Iraq.

“More than 40 service members were also injured in the attack, with eight requiring evacuation.

“The families of the fallen and injured are in our prayers – as are the families of the two Navy SEALs who were lost at sea off the coast of Somalia earlier this month during a dangerous nighttime raid to interdict Iranian missile parts being shipped to the Houthis in Yemen.

“We owe all of these military members a tremendous debt of gratitude.

“Mr. President, there will no doubt be an investigation into how the drone that killed our soldiers on Sunday was reportedly mistaken as a friendly drone.

“But with more than 165 attacks against U.S. troops over the last several months, the risk of a U.S. fatality has been very high.

“And the half measures so far pursued by the Biden administration have failed to stop us from reaching this tragic milestone.

“And that’s because the Biden administration’s posture is missing a key element.

“It is possible to deter an adversary from taking certain actions by having the military capabilities to deny their success or impose a crippling response.

“But having the military might alone isn’t sufficient for a credible deterrence.

“These capabilities must be backed up with a clear willingness to use them.

“So when the Biden administration repeatedly asserts that we don’t want to escalate with Iran, that we don’t seek a war with Iran, the Iranian regime sees that as permission to set loose its terrorist proxies.

“It’s unquestionably true that we would prefer to avoid escalation in the region.

“I am not here to call for war with Iran.

“And if the ayatollahs in Iran are to be believed, they say they do not want war either.

“But if every diplomatic admonishment and so-called proportional response to the Houthis or Iran-backed militias comes with the caveat that we are not seeking to escalate, it’s interpreted as we won’t escalate.

“This is not the language of deterrence.

“And it neuters the ability of our counterstrikes to compel any change in behavior.

“So what should this administration do in response to the 165-plus attacks against U.S forces in Iraq, Syria, in the Red Sea, and now Jordan?

“First and most importantly, keep all options on the table.

“Let the Iranian regime guess the lengths to which we will go to protect our troops from attacks, combat terrorism, uphold our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, and help our ally Israel.

“Second, the president as commander-in-chief needs to take decisive action and articulate his strategy to the American people.

“I defer to our military leaders on what measures will send the clearest message to Iran that its days of enabling attacks against U.S. military targets are numbered.

“But there is no question that we need something more compelling than the president’s handful of air strikes, which have clearly done nothing to deter Iran and its proxies.

“When the stakes are this high and American lives are on the line, half measures will not cut it.

“Mr. President, when it comes to President Biden’s handling of Iran, a course correction is long overdue.

“First there was President Biden’s attempt to reinstate the Obama administration’s flawed Iran nuclear deal.

“Then there was the Biden administration’s attempt to unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian assets as part of a deal to free American prisoners.

“Thankfully, the administration ultimately refroze those funds in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 attack against Israel.

“But unfreezing them in the first place was a serious mistake.

“But it isn’t just this kid-glove treatment that has emboldened and enabled Iran.

“The president’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, on a timeline announced to our enemies, seriously dented perception of America’s resolve.

“And then there are things like the president’s decision to restart funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA.

“New intelligence has confirmed what has long been suspected, that roughly 10 percent of UNRWA workers in Gaza have ties to Islamist militant groups.

“Worse, at least 12 staff members actually participated in Hamas’ October 7 attack, with two kidnapping an Israeli woman, two raiding an Israeli kibbutz, and another providing ammo to Hamas terrorists.

“President Trump stopped sending taxpayer dollars to UNRWA in 2018 in response to reports that its staff held affiliations with Hamas and promoted anti-Semitism in classrooms.

“So why in the world would the Biden administration restart this funding without certifying it wouldn’t be used to support terrorism?

“Another unforced error that has harmed our credibility in the eyes of our adversaries.

“So what happens next matters, Mr. President.

“President Biden needs to demonstrate resolve and leadership in bringing a swift end to Iran’s campaign of terror.

“He must respond forcefully to Iran and show that the U.S. will be unwavering in defending our national interests, especially our troops.

“And he needs to seriously reconsider the reported plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and Syria based on an arbitrary timeline rather than security conditions on the ground – which will only be interpreted as a retreat by Iran and its terrorist proxies.

“It would also be nice if he stopped stifling American energy and unfroze the liquefied natural gas export approvals he recently halted so that our allies aren’t forced to turn to countries like Russia and Iran for energy supplies.

“This is a critical time, Mr. President.

“The eyes of the world – and particularly the eyes of our adversaries – are on our president.

“I hope he will step up to meet the challenge.

“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”