Gillibrand 2020
July 24, 2019


Today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will deliver a keynote speech on foreign policy for The Chicago Council's America in 2020 series. 

Her remarks will address the Trump administration's failed foreign policy approach, her plans to restore America's standing on the world stage and today's Mueller hearing.

Watch livestream HERE at 3:30pm ET.

Remarks, as prepared for delivery

Thank you for inviting me to speak today.

I want to start by telling a story that demonstrates the failures of our current foreign policy.  

I’ve traveled to the Middle East with other Senators. Our goal was to understand the regional security threats posed by the war in Syria and see for ourselves the humanitarian crisis, particularly the fate of Syrian refugees. On the trip we met refugee leaders and visited refugee camps, but one moment sticks with me vividly to this day. 

In Jordan, we met with Syrian refugee mothers. These are women who had to flee their home country because President Bashar al-Assad decimated entire neighborhoods and villages and tortured and killed tens of thousands of political prisoners. 

After we spoke for a bit, these women looked me straight in the eye and one got straight to the point: “You are so afraid of Osama Bin Laden. When you turn a blind eye to people suffering here in Syria, you're creating thousands of Bin Ladens every day.”  
No example more powerfully demonstrates how our endless wars, our abandonment of diplomacy, and our lack of strategy have hurt our credibility abroad and made us less safe.
We have an obligation and a moral duty to extricate ourselves from endless battles that turn people against us and cost trillions of dollars, which could be spent more wisely abroad to address root causes of terrorism, and invested here at home in rebuilding America’s infrastructure and education system, guaranteeing Americans medical care, and creating the green jobs of tomorrow. 

Which brings me to President Trump. I’ll say this loud and clear: from his campaign’s conspiring with Russia to his reckless confrontation with Iran, the President of the United States is degrading our standing in the world and making our nation less secure. 

Rather than steady decision making and thoughtful strategy, time and again we are faced with the Trump Administration’s unpredictable and often contradictory positions.

President Trump has said he wants to end the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. But what has happened?

We are still as bogged down as ever.  

In fact, his hawkish administration and erratic positions risk dragging us into a new war at this very moment with Iran, one that our allies will not support, that could cost many Americans and allies their lives - one without a clear need or strategy, which will make us less secure, not more.

And his disrespect to our allies, coddling of adversaries and dictators and bellicose threats of war undermine our standing and the friends who have supported us when we needed them.

In Helsinki, President Trump abdicated his responsibilities as Commander in Chief when he stood with Putin over our intelligence agencies.  

In Osaka, he joked with Putin about getting rid of journalists, eroding a core American freedom, made all the more troubling by Russia’s disturbing record of journalists’ deaths.

And he and his administration have given a pass to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, despite our own intelligence assessment.

We cannot let Donald Trump’s glaring inadequacies on the world stage dull us to this dangerous behavior. We must stand firm every time he risks another endless war, and puts politics and his ego over the lives of our troops.

Americans can disagree about a lot, but we should still all be able to come to the fundamental recognition that we cannot afford to risk four more years of Trump in the Situation Room. 

I am here today to lay out a vision for how we will restore our standing on the world stage and improve our country’s national security.

Put simply: We must protect Americans with precision, technology and a strategy that recognizes the threats of the 21st Century. War should always be the last resort if diplomacy has failed, and should only be used with explicit authorization based on specified threats and clear end goals. 

I’ve had the honor of serving on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees for over a dozen years. 

I’ve traveled with my colleagues to visit our service members in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’ve seen the dedication of our diplomats, intelligence agencies and service members, from Djibouti to Israel to South Korea.

I believe that American leadership is indispensable around the world.

Americans are better off when our democratic values, rule of law, human rights and labor rights peacefully shape the actions of governments around the globe. 

We are a more peaceful and secure global community when our foes and friends alike know where we stand and know that we will stand by our commitments. 

So, let’s talk about how we should take on the global risks that we face:

First, I start with the position I’ve held since I entered public service, that endless wars undermine our national security and must end. In 2005, I ran in a 2 to 1 Republican district on getting out of the Iraq war. In 2011, after I traveled to Afghanistan, I was among the first Democrats to call for bringing our combat troops home from Afghanistan.

It was the right position then and it is the right position today. What we need is the political will to get it done.

We are not naïve about the threats that America faces. But we must use smarter tools than just brute force to protect Americans.

Our country’s war in Afghanistan began almost 18 years ago.

It wasn’t even four weeks after 9/11. The smoke still filled the air at Ground Zero.

The war was supposed to be short. It was supposed to be a quick response to take out the terrorists who attacked us. We had the whole world on our side, and a clear mission.

And our military, with our allies, got the job done.

They decimated Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. They accomplished their mission.

But then, we never left.

We are still fighting there, and we are recruiting new service members who weren’t born when this war began.
Because of political inertia, the Afghan war has become a forever war– without an end-goal, without a clear strategy, without an updated legal authorization that’s actually relevant to today’s threats.

And for nearly as long - 16 years - American troops have faced hostilities in Iraq. 

We went in based on a falsehood, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

And the fallout from that falsehood? Over forty-five hundred American troops have died and over thirty-two thousand have been wounded. Hundreds of thousands Iraqi civilians have perished, and the ensuing chaos unleashed new terrorist groups.

A chief advocate of that war - John Bolton - is now wreaking havoc as the chief architect of this administration’s foreign policy.

After almost two decades of war, Americans understand the costs and consequences all too well, even if this President does not.
We must end our endless wars and conduct our foreign policy with a clear-eyed understanding of the world as it is, an appreciation for the variety of challenges we face, and a long-term vision for accomplishing America’s goals.

As President, I would get the job done of bringing our service members home.  
Meeting the terror threat does not require holding territory. We know that terror groups have metastasized, they recruit and plan via borderless computer networks and can strike us and our allies regardless of physical control of a country.   
We have the best intelligence professionals, quick reaction forces, and the best military assets deployed around the world. There is no geography we cannot reach on short notice, we don’t advance our goals by stationing tens of thousands of US troops and heavy equipment in countries that don’t want us there and that are costly to supply.

The successful mission against Osama bin Laden relied on thorough intelligence and planning and a small surgical force. And a cyber attack several years ago showed Iran the reach of sophisticated tools to counter their nuclear systems. That is how we fight future threats.

We must recognize the increased complexity of today’s world and stop fighting yesterday’s wars.  

And we must stop aiding other countries’ wars that serve only to create grave human rights tragedies and turn people against us. My consistent position as Senator has been to condemn and take steps to stop human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia, both in its brutal war in Yemen and in its repression of its own activists for greater freedoms.

My administration would end U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen - whether refueling of Saudi planes that bomb Yemen’s civilians or selling munitions to Saudi Arabia that have created the carnage in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is waging a war without accountability and with US weapons despite bipartisan Congressional opposition. We stand with allies’ defensive needs, but we do not gain greater security. - quite the opposite - when we aid their indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

Military force should only be a last resort. It should only be used when absolutely necessary and diplomacy has failed. If we do need to use force, we must have clear achievable goals where our tactics must match the threat and only when Congress provides the necessary legal authority to send our men and women into harm’s way.

I have had enough of Presidents using the post-9/11 Authorizations to Use Military Force to wage military action across the Middle East without accountability and buy-in from the American public. We must repeal those authorizations to make sure that neither this President nor a future one can continue to turn outdated AUMFs into legal pretzels for unauthorized wars.
If we need to deploy our military in the future, we must do it faithfully to the Constitution, with the full weight of Congressional oversight and a clear explanation to the American people of the mission, why it’s necessary and what the consequences will be.

But a repeal is not enough, we need a fundamental change. As President, I would not seek to abuse outdated authorizations to keep sending Americans into hostilities.  

I would commit to not asking Congress for a blank check - but rather level with the American people about why we are going to war, what the consequences will be, and how long it would take to accomplish the mission. If our country’s security warrants a longer engagement, as President I would return to make that case.

And to ensure that we protect the country against future forever wars, I will ask Congress to pass a bill to require that we never again authorize a war without a clear time limit, without naming specific enemies, and without geographic parameters. 

Second, I believe that America is stronger when we work with our allies not abandon them. America’s alliances are a comparative advantage to our adversaries, whether that be NATO or Japan and South Korea, because they are based on shared values and shared interests. As President, rather than fraying our ties, I will double down on our relationships and stick to our agreements.  
I will continue our country’s unbreakable bond with our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel. As I have always done, I will do everything in my power to defend it and protect it. This also means supporting security in the region. That is why I strongly disagreed with President Trump’s decision to stop providing long standing assistance to the Palestinians, because that assistance is critical to maintaining security on the ground and winning the war of ideas, which we must do if we ever want to solve this conflict. And that is why I would reopen our consulate to the Palestinians because only direct dialogue can ever foster negotiations toward a lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians.

And while I know that the Iran Nuclear Deal was not popular with many of our Israeli friends, I supported the agreement, not because it was perfect but because it was the best alternative for significantly slowing down Iran’s nuclear military program, and giving the international community an effective verification mechanism. And that’s exactly what it did, even according to this administration’s own intelligence agencies.
President Trump needlessly broke with our European allies when he unilaterally withdrew the US from the JCPOA, putting America at a level of risk we have not seen in years. 

Before the deal, Iranians had breakout capacity in only a matter of months before the deal. After the deal, breakout capacity moved to over a decade. With the deal, we gained new, unparalleled intelligence about Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Rather than increasing our leverage, Trump’s tantrum resulted in Iran’s decision to breach its obligations and begin enriching uranium. I condemn Iran’s recent escalations and its breach of the nuclear deal, but we would not be in this situation in the first place if it was not for President Trump’s irresponsible actions.
President Trump’s unilateral pullout split us from the global coalition that we worked so hard to create, putting our closest allies in the position of seeking to undermine our sanctions.  And his move dangerously undermined trust in America’s ability to stick to a deal anywhere else in the world. 
Let me be clear, Iran and its proxies are a threat to Americans and our allies. But we must not recklessly get into another Middle East war that our allies do not support, we don’t need, and we have no clear strategy to win. We can only box in Iran’s ill intentions when we work with we did in reaching the nuclear agreement.
As President I would rejoin our allies in the JCPOA as long as Iran agrees to comply with the agreement and take steps to reverse its breaches.  And together with our allies, I would press Iran to extend the agreement for a longer period, and tackle other security issues from Iran’s missile program to its support for terrorists. I believe that our leverage will increase as Iran sees the benefit of the deal - not when it rallies its people to resist maximum pressure.

Third, our diplomacy must be based on careful preparation and methodical negotiation. In North Korea, President Trump now touts his great relationship with Kim Jong-Un. I support having diplomatic relations - it is a lot safer than the saber rattling of the first year of the Trump administration.  
But posturing for the media is not a strategy. As President, I will come to an arms control summit prepared with facts based on seasoned policy and intelligence advice. I will strategically leverage diplomatic steps to curb aggression and carefully articulate our national security goals. I believe that by working with our allies, we can make progress in verifiably limiting the North Korean threat, including on lessening nuclear risk, without giving up all of our leverage, and with the ultimate goal of a nuclear-free and peaceful Korean Peninsula.
Fourth, we must invest in diplomatic and economic tools to help prevent conflicts so that we don’t have to call on our military to solve problems when it’s too lateWe must recommit to foreign policy investments in conjunction with our allies to address the root causes of suffering before they happen. 
Terrorists prey on those who feel disenfranchised and who don’t see opportunity to better their own or their children’s lives.  When we help build economic stability and rule of law, we mitigate the risks from failed states. Economic development, building democratic institutions, counter-extremism programs - these are not handouts, they are important to American security, help our economy prosper, and help us avoid the greater costs of war. 
But I am not suggesting America alone makes this investment - rather we must support international institutions and seek contributions from allies to  help shoulder the costs of international development.
President Trump has politicized refugees - families and children seeking asylum. We know that refugees leave their homes not because they want to, but because they must.  They leave because gangs are threatening to kill them in Guatemala. They leave because Assad has decimated whole villages with chemical weapons. And they leave because droughts associated with climate change have made farming impossible. 
That is why I opposed President Trump’s cut to aid programs such as those in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  Rather than building a wall, we need to combine humanitarian application of asylum law with targeted aid programs that have proven to reduce crime and violence that drives refugees to make the dangerous trip to our border. 
Support for human rights and labor rights, addressing climate change will strike at the root causes of refugee flow, of terrorist support, and of the instability that makes it to our shores.
Fifth, as a Senator from New York, I know our country continues to face real risks of physical attacks by our enemies. But we must also increase our focus on the digital battlefield where terrorists and nation-state adversaries continue to do significant harm. 
Robert Mueller has outlined “multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election” by the Russian Federation in our 2016 election. And today we heard directly from Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Trump’s claims of “total exoneration” are wrong, and not what his report said. 
It’s never been more clear that Russia took to the digital battlefield to attack the core of our democracy - and rather than stand strong for our country and our long-held ideals, Trump and his associates welcomed aid from the Russians. 
Since becoming president, Trump’s lack of response to this systematic attack against our democracy by a foreign adversary is shameful. As I have said before, I believe that Congress should begin impeachment proceedings to continue to get to the truth. In the meantime, I’m pleased to hear that Mueller believes that the President can be charged for a crime after he leaves office - that is right and just.
More broadly, we can never lose sight that Russia, China, Iran, and others work every day to steal our military and economic secrets and disrupt our economy.
A twenty-first century Commander-in-Chief must use twenty-first century tools, and I would not hesitate to use cyber tools that can arrest an adversary’s weapons or deter their mischief without unnecessary casualties or risky military actions. Just as we have limited the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, I would work with allies to shape international norms that prohibit the use of rogue technology.
And finally, the world is more complex than ever. Almost thirty years ago, we went from bi-national competition between us and the Soviets to the U.S. becoming a single super power. As countries broke up and new ones formed, the advent of technology created new opportunities to bridge gaps among peoples, but also created new threats as non-state actors could mobilize asymmetrically against our overwhelming conventional power.  
This more complex world needs America to live up to its tradition of stable leadership based on fundamental values that we share with our allies. It needs an America dedicated to peaceful resolution of conflicts, to diplomacy that checks the aggression of others, and one whose commitments our allies can trust.  
These foreign policy considerations are playing out at a time when our country is more divided than ever, when we seem to be on the brink of another war in the Middle East, when our alliances are deeply frayed, we are in a frightening throwback to a nuclear arms race, and our Commander in Chief has undermined our own military, stealing about three and a half billion of their resources to fight children and families fleeing to the U.S. 
Our country deserves a new foreign policy - but we cannot renew our global leadership until we have a President who understands that leadership, integrity and trust begin in the White House.