Congress and U.S. Foreign Policy

Congress and U.S. Foreign Policy

POOL New/Courtesy Reuters

More on:

United States

Politics and Government

Former Congressmen Mike Rogers (R-MI) and John F. Tierney (D-MA) join CNN's Jake Tapper to explore how the 114th Congress will address a range of foreign policy issues. The discussion primarily focuses on the framework agreement on Iran's nuclear program, which was concluded in early April 2015. The panel considers the framework in terms of the broader geopolitical situation in the Middle East, and the U.S. relationship with Israel. Rogers and Tierney offer their perspectives on how Congress should be involved in the path to a final deal with Iran, and the broader state of the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government on foreign policy matters.

TAPPER: I'm honored to be joined here today by former Congressmen John Tierney and Mike Rogers. We're going to be talking obviously about a number of issues of interest. Just to get the titles correct, Mike Rogers is the national security commentator for CNN. I know that's important to my bosses that we get that right. And a former Republican congressman and chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, from Michigan, and John Tierney, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

With your permission I'm just going to dive right in to events that are going on right now. We a few weeks ago talked about some of the general topics, trying to predict what might be in the news today. We didn't know what the order would be, but I think the subjects that we agreed upon two weeks ago are still basically the same.

Let's start with the Iran framework, if we can. Over the weekend President Obama commented on some of the criticism of the framework, specifically about Senator John McCain referring to Secretary of State Kerry being, quote, "less trustworthy than the supreme leader of Iran when it comes to the specifics as outlined." There is obviously a difference, if you've read the translated-from-Farsi bullet points from the Iranian government and the translated-from-Washington-ese bullet points from the White House.

And the president said, that's an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries. That's not how we're supposed to run foreign policy, when we start getting to the point that the U.S. government and our secretary of state are somehow spinning, that's a problem. It needs to stop.

Congressman Tierney, let me start with you. There are a lot of critics of this deal and I think there are a lot of questions about what's in that still.

TIERNEY:  Well, I think that's why it's inappropriate for Senator McCain to take the kind of stance that he took, to criticize somebody saying they're spinning it. You can have your reservations about what may be in the agreement and you can talk about how you might want to make sure there are other aspects that are dealt with and things that come up, but to start attacking the secretary of state personally and indicate that he's not telling the truth or being less than open about it I think just undermines the whole process we're trying to do with this government in our own country.

I think it would be much healthier if he got out there and said that he was hoping for a good resolution on that but he thinks that the following issues must be dealt with. It's very uncertain what's in that agreement right now. We have an idea that it's a lot more specific than we had hoped it would be, which I think gives us wiggle room coming down to the last three months of negotiation. I think that there's going to have to be some things tightened up and solidified before anybody says there's a deal.

But to go out and start attacking something that isn't even a deal yet, that is in progress and something that's important to our country by taking that path, I think the president was right to call him out and hopefully redirect the conversation back to what's in the agreement or what should be in the agreement and how we go forward.

ROGERS:  Obviously, I'm disappointed in the framework. I think they crossed some very dangerous thresholds just in the framework. So once you've acknowledged and legitimized Iran as a nuclear state, it causes significant and real problems. And we're seeing that already. We're seeing that Saudi Arabia is interested in getting a nuclear program. They signed a deal with the South Koreans. The Jordanians signed a nuclear deal with the Russians.

All of this is going to happen faster than we can put it back in the tube. That's what I worry about. So that was already in the framework. So I think people who were opposed to it—and we looked at this and we looked at it when we served together on the Intelligence Committee—was very, very concerning about any aspect of their nuclear program.

So three parts of the program. The framework only deals with one, and it gave away something that I thought was really dangerous, that is that legitimized nuclear state. Nothing on the Iraq plutonium facility other than they are going to convert to a powdered form, which you can re-convert. But they get to keep it.

So when you start looking at the elements, even of the framework, we're in a place that is really hard to walk back from. And I think that is why so many people are so critical of it.

TAPPER:  If you look at the comments, Congressman Tierney, that President Obama made in the third presidential debate, when he said the deal—Iran would not have a nuclear program. If you look at the comments that President Obama made in 2013, a year later when he was at the Saban (ph) forum, in which he described things that Iran does not need a nuclear program.

It does seem, based on the benchmarks the president said, as the Washington Post editorial board noted, this doesn't meet what President Obama said the deal would be.

TIERNEY:  Well, you know, things change. The ground moves as you move forward on that base. I think you have to say, compared to what? What are the alternatives as you move forward that were going to happen?

A lot of where Iran is today got there before this president got in, and it has progressed, the situation. I think you're going to find you have to deal with the facts as they are and you have to make sure that you have an agreement that takes our national interest in mind and gets us in a place that we can hopefully find that we got something that is in our interest. If it's not then there won't be any deal.

I mean, you have to just move in that direction, but you have to try and nail down what you can because I think the alternatives are hard to find. I mean, I know that Prime Minister Netanyahu is out there railing against this thing but what's the constructive alternative that he's proposed that's realistic in any sense on that?

So you really have to—the other alternative is you can always go in and do a military thing, but we've played that out in committee and had the war gaming on that, and that's not a very attractive option. You're going to keep that on the table if you have to, but you don't necessarily want to rush in that direction.

So I think this idea of taking these three months and trying to nail it down and get things that end up being in our national interest and solidify it to the extent that we can are where we have to go. And if it isn't, at the end you don't sign.

TAPPER:  Senator Tom Cotton was on my show a couple of weeks ago, Republican from Arkansas, very critical of this deal, the one who led the letter campaign. He said that he thinks air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities would be preferable, preferable to this deal. Do you agree with that?

ROGERS:  Well, again, it depends on what the deal is. Now we don't know the details of the deal. The progress of the deal, I think, for those of us who've looked at this a long time, says we've got some real problems brewing here. So I'm not sure you would start there.

I mean, if we haven't gone too far away from a very aggressive sanctions regime—and these may never come back. You know, the Russians, who are part of the P5+1, did a deal with Iran during the negotiations, while we're trying to get a nuclear deal with Iran, to ease their sanctions problem when it comes to export of natural gas. So they've already made it more difficult to keep pressure on them through sanctions, which worries me a lot.

So I would not say that it's more preferable. I think that's probably not a great place to be up front. We should always keep the military option on the table. We should have never taken it off the table. We should have encouraged Israel to keep their options together on technology and other things, to keep pressure on the Iranians.

I do worry the longer it goes, and if this deal falls apart, we are taking away all of our other good non-military options. That's what I'm worried about. When the sanctions start falling off in ways that can be meaningful, you won't have a whole lot left if the Iranians walk away in June completely. That's what worries me. I think that's a very dangerous and a very real possibility we're going to face.

TIERNEY:  I think you overstate it when you say the military option is off the table because I don't think it is. Not for Israel, not for the United States on that.

But going back to Senator Cotton, however much time you served and however nobly you served in the military doesn't make you an expert on foreign policy or on national security issues. And for him to write that letter and for the others to sign it I though was really atrocious and just not where we ought to be going with foreign policy in this country.

But also he obviously has not seen it played out as to what happens with an air strike. It's not that simple. If you look at the air defenses that Iran has, it's not Iraq and it's not a lot of other countries. It's much more sophisticated, much more capable than that, and a lot of their things are really hardened on that. So it's not going to be a walk in the park to go in and start blowing away on that and you may not get the results that you think you're going to get. It may turn out to be Pyrrhic victory, if any victory at all.

TAPPER:  Do you think, Congressman Tierney, that an Iran with nuclear weapons is an Iran that's going to use nuclear weapons?

TIERNEY:  Well, you can never tell. No, I don't think that it's going to be happening. I think there's all sorts of reasons why they wouldn't and I think that they're probably a lot more mature country than people give them credit in that terms. Doesn't mean you want them to have it, but it does mean that I don't think they'll be going around using it without serious deliberation and thought process going into that.

But you know, that sort of belies the question. You don't want them to have it. If they do get it, you hope that they don't use it, and enough (ph) of the reason they don't.  I think proliferation elsewhere, what Mike brings up, is always an issue, but I'm not sure that issue isn't going to arise whether or not this deal goes through.

All those countries are already using this process as a guise to go out and explore that, saying what if this deal doesn't go through and explore it. But they may be exploring it anyway and moving in that direction on that. So you've got a lot of balls up in the air and a lot of things to keep your eye on.

TAPPER:  One of the reasons I even raise the question about whether or not an Iran with nuclear weapons—not just a nuclear power industry but a nuclear weapon, why I raise that is because on its face I know a lot of people in the foreign relations community think if you were just going to analyze Pakistan versus Iran, empirically which one—if you had to pick one of them to have nuclear weapons, you might go with Iran because it's at least more stable than Pakistan. It doesn’t have the al-Qaeda facet to it.

I know that's not a good pick, but it does make me wonder if the alarmism—or if there isn't alarmism about a nuclear Iran.

ROGERS:  Well, two consequences. And I disagree with you a little bit, John. I do think that the fact that the first hurdle they crossed was the legitimate Iranian nuclear program caused these governments to go out and engage in this. None of those deals were on the table even two years ago. None of them. Matter of fact, the one-two-three agreement with the UAE I thought was the gold standard for these agreements. So UAE has a peaceful nuclear program but they do no enrichment and they keep no fissile material and spent material. It all gets removed.

TAPPER:  Where do they get the enriched uranium?

ROGERS:  It's a combination of countries, but Russia also participates in that. France also participates in that. To me that's the gold standard of a nuclear deal in the Middle East. And that was never laid on the table. Never.

So right after the secret talks happened—and I know this because a lot of the senior leadership of those countries came to me as chairman—and said, you've got to be kidding me. You give your enemy a legitimate nuclear program and you make your friends have to get enrichment and export our material. Somebody tell me what we've done wrong by being your friend. Pretty powerful argument.

And so I do think that they took this—and of course the UAE now is saying, maybe we don't need to abide by this. Maybe we should do it ourselves. So I do think that that is going to spread in a really negative way that we won't be able to contain, candidly.

TAPPER:  There are a lot of critics, not just from Israel, but leaders of Sunni Arab countries who think that President Obama and Secretary Kerry are naïve when it comes to Iran and negotiated a bad deal.

TIERNEY:  Well, look, they have got their own interests too.  I mean, how many billions of oil come into the market if Iran and the United States strike a deal and things get somewhat normalized over there. So they are obviously concerned about that. They've got their regional concerns of hegemony and Iran being more powerful and different areas like that.

So they'd love to have the United States go out and carry their water, which we've been doing for a long time...

TAPPER:  So you think that's what's chiefly motivating them, not—

TIERNEY:  No, not chiefly maybe, but I think it's certainly a factor. They're not equipped at the moment and not willing in some senses to stand up and do what has to be done in a number of areas over there. And so if the United States wants to step in and do it, then that's fine.

But I think you look at priorities. If you're looking at Iran, obviously we don't want Iran to have a nuclear weapon program. But shouldn't we be as concerned or more concerned about the cyber capacities that they have and the trouble that they can cause with that in a lot of different places around the world? We almost seem to be not even discussing that.

ROGERS:  That's a problem, but if I can just quickly on the other half of this Iran problem. The Quds force is largely beneficial from—which is a combination of their CIA and special forces rolled into one group. And it only answers to the supreme leader. It has no chain of command through either the military or the civilian government there.

This has been very concerning. Think about it, they are now in Sanaa, they are in Baghdad, they are giving Bahrain fits. They own Syria, for all practical purposes. They are a pretty bad influence in Lebanon. And you look at all of the trouble they've caused, and if you were that Sunni country right across the border, you were thinking, my gosh, you're going to make them a legitimate nuclear power? And they are going to continue to use their Quds force in a way that terrifies them.

I'm not concerned...

TIERNEY: ... Legitimate nuclear power. That's not…

ROGERS: Well, you legitimize their ability to have a nuclear program.

TIERNEY: It doesn't belie the fact that whose interests are most concentrated in that area. Not the United States. You want to stack them up in order of priority, where is Saudi Arabia, where is Turkey, where are these other countries and why aren't they in there doing something more aggressive about a lot of the situations that are exploding over there as opposed to us always running for the poor (ph)?

ROGERS: I agree. The only difference I feel, though, is that if we don't have U.S. leadership in there in a way that separates them, you'll get eternal war in that region. And one thing that we can bring, I think, is peace. We've had peace. Saudi Arabia hasn't engaged militarily...

TIERNEY: Like we did in Iraq?

ROGERS: Well, we can have that conversation.

TAPPER: Let's take a turn—this seems like a natural place to turn to ISIS, which is obviously a concern to the United States and every single country we've just mentioned. And I should also mention there will be time for Q and A, and when I get the queue over there I will open it up and we will have a microphone out there.

ISIS. Over the weekend while you all were reading Hillary Clinton's Twitter feed, ISIS claimed it controlled part of Iraq's largest oil refinery on Sunday. It posted images online that purported to show the storming of the facility, the Beiji (ph) oil refinery 25 miles from Tikrit. They also released a video on Sunday that purports to show the terrorist group destroying an ancient archaeological site near Mosul, the Nimrud (ph) archaeological site, which the Iraq ministry of tourism and antiquities announced that ISIS had previously bulldozed. So this might be old news but a new video.

Are we doing enough to stop this group?

TIERNEY: I don't think the responsibility falls on us all the time. I go back to my comment earlier. Why is the United States expected to be the first one in there and to go in full force on that? I think countries in that region aren't doing enough and…

TAPPER: Who specifically?

TIERNEY: Turkey. Very specifically on Turkey. Saudi Arabia has limitations, doesn't have a lot of ground troops, but it has the ability to get others to come in on that basis. But the United States saying that it is our responsibility to put men and women from this country over there on the ground and expend huge—billions of dollars of taxpayers money on an issue that the others aren't standing up and taking enough responsibility on I think is a stretch.

TAPPER: Why aren't they? Because I'm sure you agree with the notion that more countries with skin in the game should be more involved, whether in Jordan, UAE, Qatar, Saudi, Turkey. Why aren't they? What's the problem?

ROGERS:  This to me is a great study, PhD study for someone in foreign affairs, and engagement in national security decisions along the matrix to putting boots on the ground, which I don't support and I have not supported.

TAPPER: American boots.

ROGERS: American boots on the ground. Now special capabilities forces I do believe have to be a part of this and they have to be allowed to move downrange. Otherwise, we are not going to get the kind of picture on the ground that we need to be more impactful.

But if you look at decisions that weren't made in this process, it was pretty fascinating. I think there is a bit of an Iraq hangover, for all the reasons. I think the president's policy is a bit different than, say, mine is on engagement. But we watched as these groups got bigger and more violent. These leaders from these countries came to us, including in the Congress, knocked on our door and said—before they were even ISIS—and said, we had this growing problem in eastern Syria. It is a real problem, and we think it is going to be destabilizing to all of our governments. We don't want the United States troops on the ground. We need some equipment, we need intelligence, we need the logistics, but we need leadership. We want you sitting at the table.

There's only one country could bring all of those different groups, could bring the Qataris, the Saudis, the Jordanians at the table, Emiratis, and have a discussion that's productive. Because they have got their own differences and issues that go back, and which I think is a very important role for the United States to play.

The decision at that time, we are not getting involved. This is your problem. Well, that's when all the weapons started flowing in. The Qataris said, well, we will give them to anybody that's against Assad, which included unfortunately, what now we know is ISIS.

So you could see this thing spiraling into the ground, and I think it was by a whole series of incorrect decisions along the way. And now we have got this problem of, okay, now they are big and large and in charge, they are financing, they have got one of the best propaganda machines I've ever seen. If you look at old—not even old but more recent al-Qaeda videos, this stuff is right out of Hollywood. It is very well done, it is very sophisticated, and it is making a mark. It is recruiting people in England, in France and United States and Canada and Australia.

 And so now you have got this problem that we are still going to have to put it back together. I think this notion that we are just going to drop a few bombs at 30,000 feet is not going to very—is proven not to...

TIERNEY: You have this problem, and people that should have stepped up and taken leadership didn't. And again, it's like why doesn't the United States come over here and tell us what to do and how to do it and get engaged. If you think that talking to you, talking to me that they were talking about getting the United States engaged in more than just sitting at the table and showing some leadership, I mean, they wanted United States armaments, they wanted United States troops, at least the special forces...

ROGERS: They never asked for troops.

TIERNEY: They never explicitly asked for it but they are aware of how things creep on that basis—(audio gap)—willing to step up and say this is what we will commit in terms of kinetic energy and things, because the situation over there is like come in and take care of our problem. That's not someplace we ought to be engaged.

And when you look at Syria, there were multitudes of forces over there that nobody knew where they stood or who was going to take power. In fact, the information many of us were getting was that if we had tried to arm people on that or whatever, and if Assad got overthrown at that time, likely it was al Nusra was going to be the one most organized and most ready to take advantage of that. And that wouldn't have moved the ball very far for our interest on it.

So it's a complex area, and trying to deal with it from afar, when our interests aren't as heightened as the interest of the countries that are nearby and really impacted by it, I don't think is probably the best way to go. Let them step up. Sometimes you've got to force them to do that.

Where is Turkey in all of this? The most capable military over there stubbornly sitting by because they don't want to encourage the Kurds on that, standing at their border watching a community get annihilated. That's just beyond the pale. And then to say, well, that's what we're going to do, we're not going to engage, why don't you come over and start putting your treasure and your people in line and letting them get involved in that. I don't think the risk to the United States is that high to warrant it.

Nobody likes ISIS and certainly we want to make sure that we participate in trying to tamper that down on that, but it's going to be contained in Iraq by the forces that are there on that basis. Syria, nobody has the answer to right now what's going to happen in terms of that. But Iran's got a stake in the game, Saudi Arabia's got a stake in the game, Turkey's got a stake in the game.

And yes, maybe they're going to have to find a way to have a dialogue and find a way to at least cooperate in taking care of one common enemy and then getting back to having their other regional disputes as they go on. But to just keep looking at the United States and saying, start writing a check and start sending your people over here, I think at some point we've got to put an end to that.

TAPPER:  Let me throw you guys a curve ball because I did not tell you I would ask this question. But I was wondering this earlier today when I was thinking about this conversation. Well, I've got one for you and one for you. I'll start with you, Congressman Rogers.

Do you hear anybody of the Republican presidential candidates, or potential candidates, who is articulating a foreign policy vision?

ROGERS:  A vision?

TAPPER:  A vision, or a vision that you think is right for this country?

ROGERS:  Not a fair question only in the sense that I have briefed probably about half the candidates at some...

TAPPER:  So you're kind of conflicted out of...

ROGERS:  I think I'm conflicted on answering that question.  Let me say this. I do believe that national security is going to be an outsized factor in the 2016 election. It won't be number one but it will probably be number two, and we haven't seen that in a very long time.

TAPPER:  Are you at all concerned that if the likely nominee on the other side is Hillary Clinton that she has so much more expertise, whether or not you disagree with decisions she's made, so much more expertise and you have so many governors running, so many people who just haven't discussed foreign policy—I suspect that's why they are all taking a lunch and don't have ...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But don't have the experience. There are exceptions of course. Marco Rubio is on the Foreign Relations Committee, but generally speaking this is a Republican crop that does not have a lot of foreign policy experience.

ROGERS: I mean, I think that obviously when you have former secretary of state running, if you believe in the work she did or disagreed or agreed with it, to me that is almost irrelevant. That comes with a lot of credibility. So she shows up—if she's their nominee—as the former secretary of state and U.S. senator. I think that's a lot of credibility on the foreign affairs issue.

So I do think on the Republican side they are going to have to work to counter that. They are going to either have to get their act together so that they can have a plan that people can understand, that doesn't mean military adventurism in every case. The default position of sending in troops is always a bad idea, and we should start there and work back. But it doesn't mean do nothing.

I think they will have to nuance that discussion. But I think they can hang—if you can hang on their general notion about how you can reassert American leadership in the world, how America can be reengaged in the world in a way that solves problems, not creates problems, or lets the house burn in some cases, like the Middle East.

TAPPER: I'm sorry I asked you a question, but like I said, I didn't brief them. We didn't discuss that. The one I want to ask you, Congressman Tierney, is, I asked Vice President Cheney once on my show if the Republican nominee were Rand Paul, the Democratic nominee were Hillary Clinton, who would you vote for? And he refused to answer the question.

That reflects, I think, not only conservatives on the right being uncomfortable with Rand Paul, but also, I think, a certain comfort that some conservatives have with Hillary Clinton. Does that make you uncomfortable? She is certainly into the right of the Democratic Party when it comes to use of force.

TIERNEY: I think the concern we have is she going to be too hawkish in terms of that, trying to get over the idea, the misguided notion that Democrats might not be strong enough on defense, or that she might not be strong enough as a woman, type of thing, to try to get over that, that she goes too far on the other direction is a concern on that basis.

I am always amused when people go to people like Dick Cheney and the other neocons ask them for advice after they screwed up the country monumentally with Iraq...

TAPPER: It was an interview, not advice.

TIERNEY: Well, whatever. Why do we turn to them for an opinion on that? We have seen what they do and move on from there. But at any rate, I think it would be a concern, but I would wait to hear her articulate. I think the tricky area is what will you do. I think we can both agree we don't think sending in troops on the ground is a good notion on that, but there is a lot of room between nowhere and doing that and where would she stop, where would she go.

And I would do the same thing with the Republican candidates. I haven't heard any of them really articulate, except for those that signed the Cotton letter, that apparently think that bombs away is the way to go. I would be very leery of that, but otherwise I think they are going to need time to formulate and debate this out so we get an idea of just where they would go, where they draw the line.

TAPPER: Former senator and governor, former Republican, former independent, now a Democrat, Lincoln Chafee—that's a lot to get on a business card. I just want to make sure everyone knows who were talking about. Is contemplating running. And one of the things he said, and I don't want to misquote him, but he said something along the lines of her vote to go to war in Iraq was essentially disqualifying for the job of president. Don't quote me exactly but something like that.

TIERNEY: Well, obviously it's not. I mean, look at all the other people that are running and think that they are qualified...

(Crosstalk)

TAPPER: But it should be, I think he said. It should be disqualifying.

TIERNEY: I think we should be concerned about what her position is now going forward. Obviously it's a concern that she voted for Iraq. I happen to have voted against it so obviously I am biased, whatever, but I think it's a concern where is she now, given that vote and how would she go forward on that basis, as well as the other candidates as well. It's a serious issue.

I think the economy is going to be the first issue, but national security is going to be up there. I'm afraid what they're going to do is going to get into a lot of fear-mongering and ISIS is going to be blown into an entity much larger than it is. Things like that are going to go on and we are going to get into a screaming match on that as opposed to having a real rational discussion how we deal with things with the United States national security interest in mind.

TAPPER: I'm allowed to do one more question and then I'm going to open it up to everybody. I'm going to ask you about Israel, and specifically about the effect of the last few months in U.S.-Israel relations on the relationship and on the support the Jewish voters have had historically for the Democratic Party.

There are some polls out showing an erosion in support of Jewish voters for both Hillary Clinton and for President Obama. Different polls, I believe. Is the relationship actually damaged or is this just a lot of sound and noise because Obama and Netanyahu, the respect they have for one another knows bounds?

TIERNEY: I don't know, I can't answer that question. I think it's going to take a lot deeper research on that, but I think you can't just speak of the Jewish community as monolithic. So I think who in the Jewish community are you talking about, what's their age group, who do they affiliate themselves with, is it J Street or is it AIPAC, how do they look at things. I think within those different subsets you're going to find a lot of people much happier with the president then not, and others be much more unhappy with him.

I obviously have real concerns about Prime Minister Netanyahu's posture in what he did and some people—John Boehner, for instance, my friend John who invited him over, I think right outside of protocol and a very bad effort on that. They have politicized this. So we really do need both parties to be supporters of Israel and both parties to understand where it plays in the regional balance over there. But to start to politicize it I think has been a real detriment to everybody's interest on that and is going to take some effort to put it back together.

It is going to weigh in the politics. I'm sure they are going to make a rush—back since the days of Tom DeLay when there was a large focus on going after the Jewish vote, so to speak, and the Jewish money, and really started an effort on that and it has had some effect.

ROGERS: You know, this didn't happen just in the last few months, so I have spent some time in Israel with both military and civilian intelligence services over my time on the committee and my time is chairman, as you know. I watched this up close and personal happen along the way, including some meetings it just absolutely took me aback, to have a prime minister talk to a U.S. ambassador in a way that I have never seen until that time and I hope never happens again, because of something that happened.

One of the things that happened is when Israel was talking about—they were ramping up that notion that, hey, we are thinking about going in and taking out their facilities. If you remember this a few years ago. It was leaked to the press, and in those articles it was attributed to a senior White House official. The plans...

TAPPER:  Taking out Iran's facilities?

ROGERS:  Yes. But it was leaked how they would do it, including the relationship with a third-party nation for refueling their aircraft that was as devastating a thing to do to your enemy as it is your friend. I have never seen anything like it. And you can imagine if you are the prime minister of Israel reading that in the newspaper. And that really started it.

And then all of the other decisions combined, secret meetings. Imagine if you were the Prime Minister of Israel, an ally, reading your intelligence reports that get plopped on your desk about a secret White House meeting with Iran in Oman about a nuclear deal. After this article came out highlighting that they were basically taking this opportunity to strike these targets. I mean, that is as serious and as personal as it can possibly get. It didn't get a lot of press coverage, but I will tell you I watched it deteriorate from that exponentially bad, right. I mean, it just fell through the floor.

So what you are seeing now in this public display is a whole series of events. And they were upset, and of course they came to us. The naïve part of that was to think that you are going to go anywhere in the Middle East and not have foreign intelligence services pick up on this and talk to each other, and oh, by the way, tell people like me. I mean, it was the craziest thing I've ever seen. I don't know how the White House ever imagined that they were going to do these secret negotiations and keep them secret.

What they ended up doing was offending all of their allies, scared bejesus out of everybody in the Middle East, and again, I think you saw this ramp-up of...

TIERNEY:  Let's not forget this goes on both ways and has a history doing it both ways. Part of what is so annoying this whole thing too is you have credibility problem for Netanyahu now with respect to the Palestinian issue that sort of bled over all the guys into the Iran issue.

Back when Oslo was being negotiated in 1993, there was great momentum for peace. You had maybe 100,000 settlers and they were pretty much collected together so that you got the idea maybe we can have a swap for land. Well, under Netanyahu's watch now there are 300,000. They are pretty well dispersed. They are even in East Jerusalem. So where is momentum for peace? If you are, how are you going to do that, how are you going to get some of those details done?

He's done that pretty blatantly and in your face against the opinion of the United States and many others that you shouldn't do that. If you're really serious about a two-state solution, you've got to sort of keep that in. And he took great pride in just flagrantly doing it at the worst of times.

So there is fault on both sides of that thing, but it really means that right now the chances for anything happening in that area of the Palestinian question are remote at best.

TAPPER: Let's open it now to questions. We now invite audience members to join the discussion. Please wait for the microphone, speak directly into it. Stand, state your name, give your affiliation, and if you could, keep your questions and comments concise so as to allow as many people as possible to speak.

I would be remiss if I didn't first call on my colleague, and then we would do you right in front.

QUESTION: I think we'll start with Congressman Rogers, but Congressman Tierney, if you want to weigh in. I was wondering if you could talk about Corker and Menendez and whether you think that this is an effort to just kill the deal, because a lot of people think that's a pretext for killing the deal and so then there is some type of military confrontation.

Or how does what is likely to be a veto-proof majority give Congress a real tool to help shape this deal, and is that even possible if you think, given how far the administration already is down the road with Iran?

ROGERS: I don't think its intention is to kill the deal at all. I do think it is a mechanism to reengage the other branch of government into this discussion. And I thought the president made just a huge tactical and strategic mistake by trying to exclude people who spend hours and hours—I can't tell you how much time we spent on these issues, people in the Senate spend on these issues—to try to bring them in to the deal. I thought that was a big mistake.

Nobody is opposed to talking to Iran. What people are opposed to, including me, are giving them too much. And I argued to get them to the table they relieved sanctions just to get them to talk. I thought that was a big mistake. That told me where the negotiators were going.

And so I think what you are seeing is a bipartisan group coming together saying, hey, we want the final stamp on this. You are telling us you are going to spend the next two months negotiating, putting some meat on a framework of which there is no signed deal yet—there is nothing signed, which is why you have all this disagreement in open discussion—so that we can have that final imprimatur.

And by the way, that would normally mean if that passes—and I argue it should pass—that they would actually have to do something very odd for the administration. They would have to actually come up to Congress and have discussions with these people about what they are trying to do, why they are trying to do it, what they're trying to get.

I think they are trying to reinstate regular order on something as serious as what many believe the largest existential threat to an ally, Israel. I'm not a cynic about this. I really do think, and I think Bob Corker's done a really good job. This is a very hard thing for him to do, to thread that needle. I think he has done an exceptionally good job. And I think Mr. Menendez has also done a good job. Obviously he is in a tough spot for a whole host of reasons.

But I do think that they have walked this line very well for the right intentions. I really just don't believe that most of those members over there are thinking, well, we are just going to go for the military option. I don't believe it.

TIERNEY: I wouldn't ascribe motives to anybody. I haven't talked to him about it, so I think it would be out of line to do that. I think it could have the effect of causing severe problems on that. I do think there are some people that didn't want to talk to Iran. I do think there are a number of people that just didn't want to engage in this process at all and go down that path on that.

I think that the place for Congress—and they have been engaged. I know there had been conversations between the White House and different people in Congress, and that will continue on. But the place for Congress to weigh in is when there is a final deal and something to weigh in on, they could. But the job of negotiating that, of doing the diplomacy, is for the executive branch and the State Department and the president on that.

I think we should think of this as a pretty good effort so far. It really put some credibility back into the notion that not all problems can be resolved with military force, that there is the prospect that with sanctions and diplomacy we can get to another end. It ought to give our allies confidence that sometimes sanctions work. Even ought to give Russia and China perhaps a little notion that sometimes when our interests align that maybe them supporting some sanctions would move things along as opposed to leaving the only option being military is not such a bad idea.

I think that that could have a problem on that, but the timing of when Congress would weigh in should wait until after there is a final package for them to weigh in on, and not try to interfere with the process as it goes on.

TAPPER: The gentleman in front, please.

QUESTION: My question for both former congressmen has to do with—we have all seen that ISIS is certainly an issue that is going to divide the Congress, divide the parties from the administration. What priority should Congress be giving some of the bigger geostrategic issues? Russia, for example. We still don't have our trade agreements with Europe or with Asia. We still have the issue with China but we have no Law of the Sea Treaty, not to even mention looming conflict and continued conflict in Africa as well.

My own view is that I am a little bit worried that this discrete issue, as important as it is for the Gulf and for the Middle East, is really overtaking everything else that is going on in the world.

ROGERS: Two things, though. Sixty-five percent of the trade will go through the Red Sea, 40 percent through the South China Sea. So I argue we can pretend it doesn't have an impact on us, but it has a significant impact on our economy. We have a blue water navy because we are going to protect commerce. That's the whole reason we started our blue water navy.

I agree with you, we have some huge strategic issues, some we tried to deal with—the militarization of space, China's militarizing space, Russia now is getting in on that game, which means we're going to have to spend a lot more money and probably get half as much. This is a very dangerous, interesting time for space. Used to be uncontested for the United States until about 2007. We think that if we don't—I think, I should say—if we don't start pushing back on some of those issues and dealing more significantly diplomatically with China, we are going to have problems.

I argue, you deal with China while they are an export country. They become a consumer nation like the United States, you will never get them back in the can, ever, on anything. So we have to be tough with them today. I hear estimates of 20 to 50 years if they become a consumer nation, they can sustain themselves from what they produce by themselves. That doesn't happen today.

Once that switch gets flipped, I worry about how we contain a country that has invested over 10 percent every single year on new technology and modernization of its military. Really concerning. They are just now finishing out their triad. They have air-based nuclear missiles, they have ground-based nuclear missiles. This fall for the first time China will engage in strategic patrols with submarines carrying nuclear weapons. And they are not pointed anywhere else. I've got news for you. They are pointed at us.

This is a new strategic threat that we are going to have to face, and we are talking about taking our Navy down to 285. You got me on my soapbox.

QUESTION: Actually we are not. We are going to 304.

ROGERS: No, that would be great. Unless you get that sequester number off there you will be at probably 286, I guarantee you.

QUESTION: We can debate but actually I think that's a good point. Where does Congress fit in on this? The executive branch cannot make national security policy on its own, and what we see I think publicly and I certainly see, is that we can't even get Congress to move on the most basic thing.

You all have a unique vantage point now, so where would you go with that?

ROGERS: My argument is, yes, Congress is as much at fault in this as the administration. But when you look at the budget proposals, I did not believe last year it was in line with what the strategic threat level was. So you are right. Iran is taking up a tremendous amount of diplomatic effort. We still have a lot of work to do on China. If you have seen, Russia is building up in the Arctic in a way that's really very concerning for us, for a whole host of natural resource reasons we think. But it also puts them in a better position to run those bomber runs down the West Coast of California too.

So we really haven't dealt well with those big strategic long-term threats, both from a Congressional perspective, of which I have had this argument with both my friends on the other side and my own colleagues for years. I think we have decided we are going to get some odd peace dividend at a time when the world is getting more dangerous, not less dangerous. It made no sense.

After the Soviet Union you could see where the peace dividend made sense. It does not make sense today, given the divergence and the matrix of the threats, the strategic threats and other.

TAPPER: Let's move on, if we can. I would love to do boy-girl, if possible. That's something that President Obama does. Betsy.

QUESTION: Chairman Rogers, speaking about the Hillary Clinton campaign, now we know she is having one, how would you assess her term as secretary of state? Is there an area that you think she is most vulnerable on, and is there an area that you worked with her on that you would find admirable?

ROGERS: I thought she was one of the sages in the room on Afghanistan and I worked well with her on that issue. I thought she was right. She supported the surge, opposed the early drawdown, opposed the announcing of the numbers. I thought she was right on that.

The part on Libya that I think is going to be a problem for them is there were lots of discussions leading up to the Libya event about you can't just show up, do something and leave. If you're going to break something, you have to at least have some stability force. It didn't have to be us but it had to be somebody. That was missing, and when that was missing, boy, the place collapsed. That's a vulnerability for her.

I think the Russia issue is going to be hard for her to explain. The notion of the reset and what it means and how did Putin take that versus what we intended. If you remember, all of our diplomatic effort up to that point was, how can they do that? This is the 21st century. How can they do that? That told me somebody wasn't in the room talking that needed to be talking.

As the saying goes, they may look like us but they don't think like us. Putin had some very strategic goals laid up front, even during those discussions, and those never got put on the table. Keeping Georgia out of NATO, that's a win. Keeping Ukraine out of NATO and leaning West, not that they are not leaning West, but who is going to invest one dollar in business opportunity in Ukraine right now? It's not going to happen. That's a win.

The fact that he now has reengaged opportunities with Cuba on naval ports of call, that's a win. I mean, so he is looking at this so strategically different than we are. We are looking at it thinking, these sanctions are killing you. What are you doing? He's not looking at it that way. He's looking at this great national figure, that his scorecard looks pretty darn good to him right now.

You look what he's doing in the Arctic, you look what he's doing modernizing his military, which has paid big dividends. I think all of that is going to be really hard to explain. The thing in a presidential campaign, all the things I just talked about, most people aren't all that interested in.

So it's both a benefit and a curse. I think she'll gain the credibility walking in as secretary, and I think Republican candidates will have the challenge of saying, well, wait a minute on Russia, wait a minute on fill in the blank.

TAPPER:  I feel like Congressman Tierney wants to say something.

TIERNEY:  It is your opinion. I don't have his opinion.

TAPPER:  He just doesn't want to share it.

TIERNEY:  No, I mean, I have an opinion. I think that, you know, she's going to come out strong on that basis. There will obviously be cases made against it, but it's going to be the same argument you had anyway. Some people really believe that everything is about military force and other people believe that diplomacy should be given a chance without giving up that final line of a military thing on that. I think that's probably the debate's going to come out.

I really do think there's going to be a lot of far-mongering on one side of the equation on that. The United States, anything you can put the term globalization to, apparently we have an interest in. There is no place in the world that we shouldn't be spending U.S. money and having U.S. assets going on that. You read the latest February review that was put out on that, it basically says every place in the world is a United States concern. Therefore we have to spend money and the Navy and other troops and different things around everywhere.

We have 1,100 bases, by one count. I spent three years trying to get the Department of Defense to give me an idea how many bases we had, and it turns out it depends on what you mean by bases. Everything is we've got to do it and we've got to have troops everywhere. There is no reason—just going back a second to the gentleman from the Navy's question on that, this whole rebalancing issue that was supposed to happen, haven't seen a lot of resources go from land forces and the issues in the Middle East to the Navy and to China. And you'll never hear a debate between the branches about how they're going to allocate resources.

The only autonomy we ever see is when it comes to education, social programs, on that. But when it comes to the military, there is no autonomy at all. It's how much more money can we throw in in addition to that, and you can never get any of the different forces, the Navy, the Army, the Air Force, to say they really get too much over here, but we could really take some of that and use it to advantage over here.

QUESTION: (OFF MIC)

TIERNEY:  I advise you not to. That's just ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous that you never had that conversation. When we have joint forces now, it just really means that we will leave each other alone and we will all just try to get more.

TAPPER: The gentleman in the back has been patient.

QUESTION: I had the privilege and actually obligation to brief you guys before on matters of foreign acquisitions, sif-fee-us (ph), and also cyber security. And as we become a more global, more commercial defense organization, I just wonder if you could comment on what you think are the issues, cyber security in particular, but are the issues that we should be thinking about as a nation but also on the Hill?

These are big issues. They are not issues that make the headlines but they are kind of under the water, if you will. I know there is a cyber bill up and I know there is a lot of organizational restructuring. Could you both comment on how you view these issues?

TIERNEY: Well, from my comment earlier you can probably tell that I think cyber is not getting the attention it should get in a lot of different spheres. Not that we should be paranoid about it or say that the world is coming to an end, but taking it with a seriousness that's required because of the havoc that can be wreaked by someone that really decides they want to use it for ill purposes on that.

One of the problems I think we are going to have, and we spent a lot of time with Mitre Corporation and others, I think Northrup was part of that group, on how do you get private industry to take on the expense of putting in place all of the security checks that you need to have, particularly the smaller companies.

On the one hand we want to go to small business and we want to have smaller companies get engage with this, but they are the ones least able financially to sort of spend the money that needs to get the security to the level where it makes the whole system be able to work. So we are still working through that problem, and folks at Mitre are trying very hard to pull people together at the table so it's a voluntary thing. But I think you see legislation filed because it's just not happening.

If there's a chink in one place in the armor, it's going to be out there and it could be devastating, not just to the defense industry in terms of everybody getting the plans and all the intelligence on that, but from our water supply to our electricity supply, just goes on and on. So we've got to spend some time doing serious effort of making sure that we have those things in place and finding a way to finance or get private industry to finance—I'm not sure you're going to be able to do that voluntarily—so that everybody along that chain has the kind of security that means the system is impenetrable.

We are far from that right now and far from an answer on how were going to do that. And Peter Singer (ph) has a book out on that. I think he did a nice job with the cyber security issue. I don't know if you had a chance to read it or not, but he sort of lays it out and puts it in perspective, doesn't let it get out of control, but educates I think a lot of people who really aren't sure where it is on that.

ROGERS: I think two big things happened in the last two years that changed the face of cyber warfare, and I disagree a little bit. We are in a cyber war. Most Americans just don't know it. Companies are just keeping their nose above water because of the sheer volume of attack that is coming.

So two things changed. We knew about cyber espionage. We all knew that. We have admired the problem, we worshipped the problem; now we can't quite get to do anything about it but we sure talk about it a lot. In the Sony case, so, yes, a nation-state made the determination—and if you think about this, this should give you a bead of sweat on your forehead. This is the least capable nation-state when it comes to cyber. About a third of their population has electricity 24 hours a day. They are the least capable cyber actors on the world stage.

They decided that that movie, whatever their motive was, they took a team outside of North Korea because, by the way, they couldn't sustain, they couldn't do it from their own country. They didn't have the capability, the infrastructure to do it. Outside. They went to a third-party country, took over a hotel's servers—think of this—and then launched a very long, sophisticated attack.

There's two things that happened. One, there was not one piece of new code. They didn't have one piece of new malware that they wrote. What they did is they went out on the Internet, including the black net, and went in—black net is a place where don't go, please don't go—where you can buy just about anything you can possibly imagine—Social Security numbers, dates of birth, malware. You can buy it right off the shelf. Somebody will sell it to you.

UNKNOWN: Michael knows this because he hangs out there.

ROGERS: Exactly. It's a dark place.

(LAUGHTER)

They put this together, launched a pretty successful attack. They stole stuff. We saw that. Everybody went, yes, yes, stole stuff. We've seen that before. Stole the movies. That cost them intellectual property, pretty damaging economically.

Then they did something different. They destroyed data. We hadn't seen it before. So they went in and wiped out people's computers. And I'm talking you are not rebooting. That thing is a paperweight. It's gone. So think of this. This is a great American company. They had to go out, buy laptops and try to re-create their finances.

I was convinced that they weren't going to make it for a while. Now publicly we find out—we knew about this in classified channels—this was not the first time a nation-state has decided to take a political act of destruction to try to bring economic damage to a company. The Sands resort casino.

So the Iranians decided that they didn't like the CEO of that company talking about how dangerous it was—he gave a speech about how dangerous it would be for Iran to get a nuclear weapon. Think about this. So a nation-state makes a determination, with all its capabilities, that they are going to cause economic harm to his company, and they do it.

So they got into—it's a casino and resort. They found a weakness up in Pennsylvania. They got onto a slot machine, think about this. They were able to hop over to their office function, and so they lurked around the office for a while. Then they were able to get in over on their security side and they were trying to get that, work that back to the headquarters back in Las Vegas. Took them forever. They couldn't do it until one person made a mistake. They showed up, they went into a security inspection, logged in with his password—he never changed his password. He went back. By the time he landed in Las Vegas, their system had been penetrated. Cost them about $40 million. One attack. One nation-state.

So I agree with you. We are not talking about this in the way we need to talk about it. What we found was that—you know, I thought there would be a couple of key moments when people would go, oh my gosh, we've got to do something, Target. But that was between the banks and the retailers so I wasn't involved. They sent me a new credit card, wiped it clean, I get to go back to Target.

Then I thought, remember when they went into the cloud and took very intimate pictures, Hollywood people and published them? Those were meant to be private pictures. They were, as my dad would say, nekked. Remember those? We thought, okay that will shock the psyche about how aggressive people can be to get your private information. Most Americans wanted to see the naked pictures of the starlets, is what we found.

Now with Sony what we found was, we thought that will do it. Now we've really got an incident here where Americans can identify with. What we found is most Americans said, isn't it cool, we can read the emails between the Hollywood executives and the starlets. They got more involved in the personalities and not what the event was.

I don't know what it's going to take. I worry ...

TIERNEY: It has to be prevention because the problem is attribution is difficult. You make attribution who did what, but it's not really that easy. To get to the point where you can identify who actually did the act is a herculean task, and the more sophisticated the nation-state or anybody that is doing it is, the more difficult it's going to be to track it down with such definition that you can actually take action against it.

We've really got to get up front on that and legislation that's moving along, I don't know if it's going to be adequate enough to deal with it, but it's really going to come down, I think in the end...

ROGERS: If we don't get cyber sharing, this won't work, because 85 percent of the networks in America are private sector networks. Contrary to popular belief the government isn't monitoring those networks. So when they are getting attacked, the government doesn't necessarily know. The only way they would know it is if they see it overseas first.

TIERNEY: Some companies don't even admit that they had been attacked.

ROGERS: Clearly. Look at Sony. After a while they said everything is fine, nothing to see here, move along. Almost took them off the planet. They needed to reengage in commerce. So this is the challenge. If we can get the cyber security sharing regime, and that means liability protection, I think it can work. It won't be perfect but it will be a good start.

TIERNEY: Is this to say Northrop Grumman doesn't have the answer?

QUESTION: I haven't been there long enough. I know the department doesn't have the answer.

TAPPER: We have time for one more question. A woman if possible, if there any women. I won't enforce my strict gender code on people. All right, sir.

QUESTION: To follow up on that cyber security issue. One thing that Congress has to do by June is to consider the extension of the Patriot Act section 215 and the whole question of the NSA's role, the government's role versus the attention on privacy. Could you comment on what Congress might be doing in that area?

TIERNEY: Well, I mean, look, I think Congress can find a solution to that pretty easily if it wants to. Jim Sensenbrenner is out in front again on that issue, but he did have a lot to do with the original prospect and he is agreeable with a lot of other people on both sides of the aisle of finding a way so that the information can be made available when it's needed, but have enough due process and privacy rights in place to do it.

It's a balance and it is somewhat difficult, but it is not really rocket science and it can be done on that basis. I think Congress has the capability of doing it. I think they are moving in that direction, and if they can keep level heads at it and trying to work together to get that issue, that's one that really should have a bipartisan solution on that because the balance can be made.

TAPPER: Where are we on the process of it? It passed the Senate, or there was NSA reform along with...

UNKNOWN: I don't think they passed anything on the Patriot.

ROGERS:  The thing that passed the Senate that you are talking about was a version of the cyber-sharing bill. This would specifically deal with the NSA's ability or the FBI's ability or any intelligence agency's ability to collect. So I am a little bit tainted on this. I supported the program when I was on the Intelligence Committee under George Bush. I supported the program under Barack Obama. That was when it was all classified. I support the program today when it is not classified.

I think it is the right thing to do. I think you can build in protections, and over time—before I got there, when it first went in, they just went and grabbed it. Probably not the right idea. By the way, they didn't record your phone calls and they don't record your emails. This was the most maddening thing trying to debate this issue because it was so—we got behind the narrative and then people believed that was happening, that they were recording all this information and anytime they wanted they could go listen to Aunt May's phone call about her bunions. Not happen. I can't tell you how many times I have had that conversation.

I think there's a way that we can do this. I do think they are in for a political fight on it coming up on what that looks like. My argument is, listen, it has got to be effective first. If it is not effective, let's not pat each other on the back and say that it is something that it's not. And if the political will is get rid of it and hunker down and hope for the best, that's not me, I'm not there, but if that's what it is, better to do that and know than try to find something that is so restrictive it can't work and won't function.

That's the fight right now. Will...

TIERNEY: ...the reports out there, I think the point of direction where there should be enough area for agreement. You may be right, there may be a battle on it, but there's enough third-party reports out there as well as from the White House and others on that.

One of the reasons we are in this problem, of course, is national security structure tends to be very secretive, even to Congress. The real problem is whatever you put in place has have sufficient oversight from Congress. It has to have judicial oversight on that, it has to have control over who gets the records and when and what level of proof they have to get it there. But it's going to require enforcement and Congress, which has always been a tough row to hoe.

Because I tell you from sitting on the Intelligence Committee, I swear that I thought the opinion was, how much can they not tell Congress. It was like 20 questions to get half an answer, going to every single meeting on that. So there has got to be some more transparency there and there's got to be a way for it to be set up so the Congress can actually have effective oversight for the public to get any trust at all. Once the public gets some trust, they won't be telling stories, oh, they are going after Aunt May. They will listen to you.

But right now, given the history of the intelligence agencies and their desire for secrecy, even against Congress sometimes, people rightfully are a little bit skeptical on that.

ROGERS:  I didn't have that same experience that I think you did, but lastly, the reason I think—you watch the politics on it, in November of last year there was an amendment to require a warrant if you were going to intercept overseas if there is a slight possibility somebody may pick up the phone call back into the United States. This is my example. And it passed, by the way. It passed. There was five minutes of debate on it.

So think about what's happening in Syria right now. If they have a terrorist identified in Syria, I want to know if that terrorist is calling back into the United States. You still would have to go through the warrant process once you determined it was a U.S. number, but you wouldn't be able to do that under that amendment.

I really worry that they are going to do something like that. I hope that they get to the right place, but it passed. It passed overwhelmingly.

TIERNEY: I hear what you're saying, but there's a lot more process to go before—and generally in all of these laws and statutory fixes on that, there is the creation of an emergency aspect of it as well so that you are not always waiting to get approval if something is that immediate. There is generally a way to get it done so that...

ROGERS: Getting a warrant overseas, how do you do that? How do you present that to a federal judge, an FBI agent? These are hard to do domestically. I don't know how you would do it based on what you don't have overseas.

TAPPER: I am being asked to wrap it up. That's all the time we have. I want to remind everyone of course that this was on the record, but what a great panel we had here with Congressman Tierney, Congressman Rogers. If we could give them a round of applause thank you so much.

(APPLAUSE)

END

Up

Top Stories on CFR

United Nations

Trump has revealed himself to be a man resistant to compromise, with few qualms about going it alone when he doesn’t get his way. For the leaders gathering for the UN General Assembly this week, the question hanging in the air is simple: Is that all there is to American diplomacy?

Hungary

The European Parliament’s vote to reprimand Hungary over its growing authoritarianism has tested the EU’s readiness to stand up to illiberalism within the bloc.

South Korea

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in has had more success than many expected in Pyongyang for his third summit with North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un.