January 18th, 2015

Sen. Murphy: Send military assistance to Ukraine

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) tells Jim Sciutto “the United States needs to start sending more significant military assistance to the Ukraine.” Full transcript of the discussion is available after the jump.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I’m Jim Sciutto in Washington.

And with me now is Senator Chris Murphy. He’s a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Murphy, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes. Thanks for having me, Jim.

SCIUTTO: We were just speaking with the Republican Senate Intelligence chair, Richard Burr. And he made a point at the end of our conversation which I thought was very powerful.

I was asking him about, during the week of the Paris attacks, you have two close U.S. allies, Saudi Arabia flogging a blogger for just sparking a debate online about extremism. You have Pakistan, another close ally, sentencing a Christian for blasphemy.

And I asked him if our close allies here are doing enough to fight extremism. And he said, in these cases, no, they’re not and that if they — if that is — if that holds true, that there should be consequences.

I wonder if you agree with him.

MURPHY: I do agree with him.

And the reality is, just as Richard said, this is not a war between Christianity and Islam, between the East and the West. And I think he was very right to point that out. But when you have these kind of actions inside Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, it perpetuates this myth that that is indeed the fight that is going on.

And, of course, we know that, for years, for decades, the Saudis have been funneling money to Wahhabi clerical organizations that fund the very madrasas that train Islamic jihadists. We certainly know in Pakistan that, at the same time that they have been fighting radical elements, they have also been funding those radical elements, or at least being permissive of them.

So, we have got to have some hard conversations with our allies in the coming weeks and days. We have let it go on for far too long. And now that we have realize the reality, the danger, the immediacy of this threat to the United States and to our allies, I think Republicans and Democrats can come together and say, listen, time is up. We need to see some progress or, especially with a country like Pakistan that’s the recipient of major dollars from the United States, there’s going to be some consequences.

SCIUTTO: Fair point.

I want to ask you. You made some interesting comments this week talking about the perennial nature of America’s wars and how that may contribute to extremism. And it echoes, to some degree, the comments made more than a decade ago by the defense secretary at the time, Donald Rumsfeld, who, in his words, are we creating more of them than we are killing, in effect?

And I wonder if you could make your point here. Are you saying that, by repeated military intervention in Iraq, in Afghanistan, drone strikes in countries such as Yemen, that there is a downside to that, that that helps recruit extremists?

And I might mention that one of the Kouachi brothers, in court papers, said specifically that it was the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the mis — the abuse at Abu Ghraib that led him to want to go fight American forces there.

MURPHY: Well, here’s the first and most important thing.

There is never a justification, an excuse, a rationale for these kind of murderous terrorist attacks. The only people to blame for these murders in Paris and other assaults around the world are the individuals who perpetuated them.

But my point has been simply this. We shouldn’t be full of such hubris here in the United States that we don’t have a conversation about the fact that there are things that we do, there are actions that we take that can create more terrorists, create more threats to the United States, and there are things that we can do, actions that we can create that will create less terrorists across the world.

And I think that’s a useful conversation to have. I have argued — and I think many others would agree with me — that the war in Iraq, which became a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists all around the world, made this country less safe, not more safe.

I would argue that the way in which we have conducted drone strikes in some parts of the world have become bulletin board recruiting material for many of these terrorist organizations. That doesn’t create a rationale, a justification for anything that has happened, but it just, I think, should create a conversation here in the United States about being careful about conducting a foreign policy in a way that ends up creating more of the very kind of people and organizations that we’re trying to fight.

SCIUTTO: Now, would you say that the U.S.-led air campaign in Iraq and Syria is repeating that mistake, then?

MURPHY: No, my caution has been that we should not be sending in a new deployment of massive ground troops into that fight.

Robert Gates, the defense secretary under both Bush and Obama, said the next president that proposes such a thing should have their head examined. And there are many of my colleagues that are saying that we can’t beat ISIS unless we put a massive number of new ground troops into that fight.

I think ISIS is so dangerous, their momentum was so clear that we had to put significant airpower and advisers on the ground. I support that. But I don’t support essentially beginning a new U.S.-led ground invasion in Iraq, or in Iraq and Syria, because that would, I think, tip the balance in terms of what is necessary to protect American national security vs. what is going to, in Donald Rumsfeld’s opinion or the way in which he phrased it, create more of the people that we’re trying to eliminate. SCIUTTO: I want to ask you about Boko Haram, because, last week, while we were focused on the Paris attacks, you had a horrible atrocity committed by Boko Haram north of Nigeria, perhaps as many as 2,000 killed.

CNN had its reporter on the scene as well. And I just want to show you a political cartoon here that made a point that was not unusual, focusing, of course, all the attention that there was on Paris, some would argue, ignoring what’s happening in Nigeria.

A number of months ago, when those girls went missing, Boko Haram, the White House focused — you will remember “bring back our girls” was a popular Twitter hashtag. There was talk of U.S. military cooperation there, particularly intelligence and surveillance to help locate the girls.

Is the U.S. helping fight Boko Haram? And are we minimizing — because this, of course, is another terror threat — are we minimizing the terror threat emanating from Boko Haram?

MURPHY: Well, I do think it’s unfortunate that there hasn’t been as much world attention as there should be on this increasing threat from Boko Haram.

We’re seeing literally thousands of deaths due to their terrorist activities. Twelve deaths in Paris is an atrocity, but it shouldn’t excuse us from paying attention to what’s happening in Africa. I know that we will have conversations in the Foreign Relations Committee in the coming weeks about some new assets that the United States can provide to those fighting Boko Haram on the ground.

It deserves an equal amount of attention from the United States. Now, I think the reason which we have seen more attention on Paris is that the organizations that are claiming responsibility, whether it be al Qaeda or ISIS, are making more credible and have a history of more credible threats against the United States. That’s why this deserves a good degree of American attention.

But Boko Haram, unchecked, is a threat not just to the region, but the entire world. And it deserves our attention as well.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you about Ukraine now, because there is, when you look at the evidence on the ground, a low-level war under way in Eastern Europe.

And I just want to, for the sake of our viewers, show some drone video over Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine, which, when you see this area from the air — and I have been to this airport in Donetsk before, just a number of months ago — this looks like a war zone, and the deaths on the ground and the Russian troops on the ground indicate a war is under way there.

The administration’s position has been that economic sanctions will lead to de-escalation. Meanwhile, on the ground, Senator Murphy, we’re seeing escalation in recent weeks. Is the Obama administration policy failing with regards to Russia and Ukraine?

MURPHY: Well, listen, ultimately, the United States is not going to fight a proxy war against Russia inside eastern Ukraine. And so long as the United States is not fighting that war, the Ukrainian army which has been undermined over the last 10 years by corrupt generals is going to be at a disadvantage against an invading Russian army or Russian supported army.

But I have come to the point where I believe now that the United States needs to start sending more significant military assistance to the Ukraine. That was not a position I held initially in this debate. And I’ve been pressing the administration to support that view.

Right now economic sanctions are not in a short run convincing Russia to pull back. You’ve seen some significant improvements in terms of central governance out of Kiev with the new President Poroshenko taking the reins of government. But I think the administration has to start looking at some more serious levels of defensive armaments being sent to the Ukrainians. I think that would help in a fight that we have to admit is not ending anytime soon.

SCIUTTO: More military to Ukraine. Thanks very much, Senator Chris Murphy. Great to have you on (ph).

MURPHY: Thanks, Jim.