McConnell on Middle East: Administration Must Strengthen American Power, Presence, and Partners

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U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks on Monday on the Senate floor regarding foreign policy:

“A number of Senate Republican colleagues and I recently met with America’s allies and partners across Europe and the Middle East.

“I spoke last week about our message to NATO and our friends in Europe: How the West confronts Russia’s invasion of Ukraine today will shape the future with respect to not just Russia, but China and Iran as well.

“Of course, these same adversaries are aggressively working to counter American influence in the Middle East as well.

“We met with top leaders in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. And a great deal of what we saw was encouraging.

“America has many friends in the Middle East.

“The Abraham Accords are uniting Arabs and Israelis to a degree that would have been unthinkable 15 or 20 years ago — and uniting them around shared interests with our own.

“Our partners want even stronger relationships with the United States.

“But the problem is that, just like in Europe, our friends are questioning America’s reliability and commitment.

“Our partners are not asking us to take care of their security for them. They want a confident and engaged America to coordinate more closely with them and help them upgrade their own defenses.

“If America disengages from the Middle East, some of our partners will turn to other major powers.

“A world in which China and Russia exert more influence in this pivotal region is not good for America.

“Yet too often, this Administration has turned to the Obama-era playbook of flirting with our adversaries rather than standing with our friends.

“President Biden began his Administration trying to dismantle the successful ‘maximum pressure’ campaign on Iran that he inherited. Less than two weeks into the job, he made Iran’s day by removing the official terrorist designation of the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

“Iran is the world’s most active state sponsor of terror. It was continuing its shameless years-long targeting of American partners and our own U.S. personnel in the region. But right from the jump, President Biden took pressure off Tehran.

“Then the Biden Administration tried desperately to reassemble the wreckage of the failed Obama-era ‘Iran deal’ — all carrots and no sticks.

“Then the President ignored the concerns of both our commanders and partners in ordering the disastrous retreat from Afghanistan.

“At crucial moments, President Biden has made decisions that have undermined confidence in America.

“For example, when an Iran-sponsored attack struck the capital of the UAE, it didn’t occur to the Biden Administration to send anybody to stand in solidarity with our friends. Our friends didn’t expect an American military response. But they certainly deserved at least a simple phone call.

“Our friends from Saudi Arabia to Qatar to the UAE have made major investments in their military facilities to facilitate America’s military presence and access, which contributes to deterrence of common adversaries.

“The botched retreat from Afghanistan has made these basing agreements even more vital if we wish to maintain any remotely effective way to conduct counterterrorism in the region.

“And the Abraham Accords pointed to a new and enormously beneficial chapter for American involvement in the Middle East, where we could stay engaged and keep promoting our own U.S. interests in the region, without shouldering an outsized burden.

“But on President Biden’s watch we have squandered much of this momentum.

“Democrats have sought to keep shrinking our influence and credibility in the Middle East. They have objected to arms transfers that would let our friends better prepare to defend themselves against common enemies.

“Look — protecting America and our interests takes power, it takes presence, and it takes partners.

“It’s true in Europe, it’s true in the Indo-Pacific, and it’s true in the Middle East.

“Power, presence, and partners.

“But President Biden’s attempts to under-fund our Armed Forces with inadequate budgets would reduce our power. His clumsy attempts to cut and run from the Middle East have reduced our presence. And letting key friendships languish erodes our partnerships.

“It’s a recipe for less American influence, less national security, and a vacuum that Russia and China would be delighted to fill.

“The Biden Administration needs to get much more serious toward Iran.

“The President says he won’t allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, but does anyone believe him? Iran inches closer and closer to a bomb while the Administration dithers.

“After two years of squandered leverage, the Administration finally admits their foolish negotiations with Iran are, on, ‘life support.’ But in fact, it’s well past time to pull the plug.

“We need to rally Western allies in a campaign of coordinated sanctions. Maximum pressure on Tehran, for real.

“We need to closely coordinate with our Middle Eastern friends, not keep them in the dark.

“We need to help Israel acquire the capabilities it needs to put Iran’s nuclear program at credible risk.

“We need to clear roadblocks that prevent our partners from acquiring the superior American weapons and technologies they need to defend themselves.

“That means reforming our broken, bureaucratic, and convoluted foreign military sales process.

“Right now it takes our partners an average of 18 months just to put American weapons under contract. Our friends are literally trying to Buy American, but we make it more difficult.

“We need to streamline this process and ensure we do not drive our own friends to buy weapons faster, cheaper, and easier from the Chinese.

“And the next time Iran’s proxies attack American outposts in Syria or Iraq, we need to hit back — hard — and restore the deterrence that’s eroded.


“Madam President, some people seem to have a mistaken impression that America can project more strength in one region by projecting weakness in others.

“The notion is that an America in retreat from Europe and/or the Middle East will somehow magically have a stronger hand to play in Asia.

“But the world doesn’t work that way.

“If America were to roll over and let Putin eat our strategic lunch in Europe…

“If we were to abandon our friends in the Middle East and let China and Russia strategically dominate this important region…

“None of this would put America in a stronger position to assemble and lead the international effort that it will take to confront the long-term expansionism of China and others. It would only weaken us.

“America has strong friends who want to continue to take our side over China’s and Russia’s.

“This Administration needs to stop making it harder for them and start making it easier.”


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