Event Wrap-Up: A Conversation with Congressman Adam Kinzinger on the Middle East

May 31, 2016

On Thursday, May 26, the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Hudson Institute jointly hosted a conversation with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) on the Middle East. The event covered a range of topics, including Syria’s civil war, the fight against ISIS, the Iranian nuclear deal, and the importance of America’s leadership role in the region.

In addition to the full video and transcript of the event, the following quotes will be helpful for policymakers and the general public to understand the key challenges that America faces in the Middle East.


The Importance of American Leadership

“I’m a really passionate believer in America’s role in the world … I think we have a unique mission, which is to be an example of self-governance to a world that’s drowning in chaos and strongmen and poverty. We have a unique responsibility.”

“In the political dialogue that’s happening today, which is actually quite depressing, it’s very tempting to fall prey to the rhetoric that we need to just withdraw from the world, we need to lick our own wounds, and we need to cut off all foreign aid.”

“All you have to do is look through history and see when America has made the decision to withdraw from the world, that it is only a matter of time until that decision comes back and bites us in a big way. We look at World War II. When America withdrew after World War I, all the events that happened after, and frankly the West’s reticence to engage against Hitler in Germany, led to many, many millions of people giving their lives when this could have been stopped way earlier.”

American Leadership as Self-Interest

“Being engaged in the world is not just out of the altruism of our heart; it’s in our own self-interest. You know, when you have leading candidates for president, and one says that, you know, a country should pay us to defend them, I call that a narcissistic foreign policy. And I call it that because it doesn’t recognize the reality that troops in South Korea is not just for the benefit of the South Koreans; it’s for the benefit of the United States of America.”

“Our involvement in NATO is not because we just want to defend Europe out of the goodness of our heart, but because without NATO we never would have been able to drop the Iron Curtain and bring freedom to millions of people and make us safer. … Are there challenges? Of course. But that needs to be done in the context of ‘how do we get NATO reengaged’ versus ‘let’s just get out of the rest of the world.’ That’s a narcissistic foreign policy.”

The Need for American Action in Syria

“What we have in Syria, is a generation of voiceless people right now that are being destroyed by a very evil dictator.”

“I think the first thing that needs to happen is the declarative statement and red line — and I’m always hesitant to say red line now in this context — but that Assad absolutely must leave power, and if he will not do it voluntarily, it will be by force. That doesn’t necessarily happen immediately, but immediately you put up no fly zones and you protect the population. The reason you have people fleeing to Europe right now is because they have no safe place to be. Create that safe spot for them in Syria. Make sure that aid is getting in, obviously. Defend that safe area with troops on the ground, with a no-fly zone, stuff in the air.”

“You can begin to build a construct of a next government. You have a police force — we know the Jordanians are very good at training police forces — you have a police force that polices themselves in the camp and gains the trust of the population, so in a post-Assad world people trust the police force that’s there. You begin to build the structures of governance, you begin to teach people a version of democracy. And you understand it’s not gonna look like ours. And I think that’s mistakes we’ve made in the past, is we expect an American version of democracy.”

“We have very strict guidance right now on who we recruit into our train-and-equip program. That’s gonna have to be loosened. Are there gonna be people that maybe slip through the cracks? Possibly. But if we get more people than not, we will find a good alternative.”

“And lastly, just briefly. Arab regimes in the area are willing to do this themselves. But they need American leadership. …We can build alliances to fix this problem.”

The Iranian Threat

“[The Iranians] support a regime that murders half a million of its own people. They support Hezbollah. I mean, it is, it is — they are the problem in the region. Why were we concerned about Iran getting nuclear weapons? It’s not because we’re just anti countries getting nuclear weapons. It’s because they’re terrible actors.”

“You know, if I was president today, obviously I don’t think you can just unilaterally say the Iran deal is off now, immediately, but I think you have to make it very clear that any inkling of violation of that deal, and the deal is off. Sanctions snap back, and you’re going to rally a world to do what it has to. We have the technology to prevent getting Iran from a nuclear weapon. They have to decide how they want to get there, either peacefully or other means.”

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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