Susan Glasser from The Global POLITICO interviewed Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee:
Breefing Notes :
1-Russia Interference in U.S Presidency Elections
Russia intentionally interfered in our election, and Mr. Putin was behind that. And sanctions need to be imposed.
If Russia’s conduct continues—that is, if it continues to interfere in Ukraine, if it continues to be counter to what is right in Syria, if they continue to interfere in elections in Europe and the United States—I think Congress will remain united in demanding that action be taken against Russia.
We do know from our intelligence community that Russia had a design to discredit the U.S. elections, and took sides in favor of Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton. We do now that they engaged individuals and entities to do cyber-attacks to get as much information as they possibly could, and of course, also used WikiLeaks to accumulate information, and released it in a strategic way that could affect our election, and certainly the credibility of our election.
We also know that there were contacts made between representatives of the Trump campaign and Russia. We know of several contacts that were made, and we also know contacts that were made by WikiLeaks to Donald Trump, Jr., and shortly thereafter, the candidate Donald Trump tweeted out information about WikiLeaks, which was known to be an entity against U.S. national security interests.
So, there are a lot of dots, and they’re starting to be connected, that show that Russia intentionally engaged Americans, and American’s cooperated, and we’ll see exactly where that leads.
We know that they’ve done things that are very much against our interests. They’ve done things that require us to take punitive action against Russia. That does not mean we can’t work with Russia where we have a common agenda. Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council; we certainly need their help in isolating North Korea and their nuclear weapons violations.
2- U.S Diplomacy
on foreign policy We believe that the best course for containing North Korea’s nuclear program is through diplomacy, and we disagree with the language the President has used, and the fact that he’s made it more difficult for diplomacy to work.
We believe that in regard to the Iran nuclear agreement, that we have to enforce the agreement rigorously, but we don’t want the United States unilaterally withdrawing from that agreement.
I think Secretary Tillerson has made several major mistakes. He hasn’t been the advocate for the Department of State the way he should have been. The president came in with a budget that cut his agency dramatically. Secretary Tillerson didn’t stand up against that cut. Diplomacy is a critical part of our national security. We haven’t seen that type of passion come from the Secretary of State.
And quite frankly, American values are represented by our diplomats, and I haven’t seen Mr. Tillerson put the highest priorities on American values. So, I think he has not been as helpful, and I think as a result, that we’ve seen a morale problem in the State Department.
Having said that, I think there have been times that Secretary Tillerson has been very much right on in regards to foreign policy issues, such as negotiation with North Korea, where President Trump has undercut his own Secretary of State.
So, there are times that I think Secretary Tillerson has been on the right track, and there are other times where he’s been on the right track, where the President has undercut his abilities.
And clearly, we’ve seen an exodus of some of the top career talent at the State Department. And there’s still a freeze at the State Department, despite the fact that the Office of Management and Budget has released an overall hiring freeze. So, we do need leaders at the State Department that will make it clear that diplomacy is a priority and support the mission.
… Glasser: So, a lot of this discussion around foreign policy is that, in a way because of the uncertainty surrounding President Trump, you hear a lot more about Congress, and especially about the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, than you have in a while. You guys had a pretty interesting hearing last week. I think it was the first time in 40 years a discussion—an open discussion—about the role of the president in being able to order a nuclear first strike. Is this Congress getting its voice back on foreign policy?
Cardin: Clearly, Congress has taken on a stronger role. You see that with the sanctions bill we passed with Russia—and, by the way, also with North Korea and Iran—that discretion that is normally given to the president has been taken over by Congress in our role as the policy arm of government.
So, we have been more prescriptive on the responsibilities of the president on foreign policy, and that’s Congress’s prerogative, and we’ve done that under President Trump. So, yes, we are taking a more active role.
And the nuclear command structure, which was developed during the Cold War for two nuclear superpowers with the concept of mutual destruction if either party decided to use it—that premise is no longer valid, because the chances of a nuclear conflict are more with a North Korea-type country than it is with a Russia or China-type country.
we could now have a more deliberative process under the presidential command for the use of nuclear weapons, and I think Congress is looking for a way to assert itself in that regard.
… Glasser: Well, really, it is quite striking in that regard. What do you hear from foreign officials? I assume that many of them are coming to you with certain high levels of concern about what’s going on.
Cardin: You’re absolutely correct. I’ve had numerous discussions with foreign leaders who were trying to get as much insight as possible as to how America will respond to certain of our international challenges. They recognize that President Trump is not predictable, and that has been a subject we have talked about.
But, I think they are somewhat reassured when Congress interjects itself. We did that, quite frankly, on the Transatlantic Partnership and NATO where there was some doubt initially about the President’s commitment. Congress, in a nonpartisan manner, reinforced that Transatlantic Partnership and the NATO alliance. That, I think, was helpful.
I tell people who are concerned about President Trump, whether they be Americans or foreigners, stay focused on the issues of concern. If you are talking in regards to the Iran nuclear agreement, let’s stay focused as to how we can keep Iran in compliance with the agreement and keep all parties in the agreement. This is a strategy we have to focus on.
If it is dealing with America’s commitment to maritime security in the China seas, then let’s develop a strategy working with Congress that will give you greater assurances. So, we try to find a path forward to make it clear that America will live up to its traditional commitments.
3- the Global Climate Accord
Glasser: You were just on a congressional trip over the last week to Bonn when the subject was the Global Climate Accord—and in a way, that was sort of the message, right, that you and other Americans there were sending, which is basically, “Well, there’s Trump’s policy, but there’s also America’s policy.” Right?
Cardin: You’re exactly right. Our message was very clearly, we are still in. We are in the Paris Climate Accords; we are in the international effort to deal with our climate commitments. America will meet its Paris targets, and we’re on target to do that. And that the President does not speak for this country. We have governors who are taking action; we have mayors who are taking action; Congress has taken actions. We had five senators speak in regards to that. We have private companies that are doing things; we have NGOs, and universities.
We reassured the international community that the United States would, in fact, live up to its commitments, despite the fact what the President did was, I think, extremely dangerous to the international effort.