A Conversation With U.S. Senator Ben Cardin
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin discusses national security concerns, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the relationship between Russia and China, climate diplomacy, and global human rights abuses and corruption.
STOCKMAN: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us. We are here at the Council on Foreign Relations with a meeting with Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. I’m Farah Stockman. I’m an Editorial Board member of the New York Times. And I am author of a book called American Made about globalization and its impact on factory workers in Indiana. I’m going to be presiding over today’s discussion.
And we have so much to talk about with Senator Cardin, who is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he’s chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission which deals with cooperation and security in Europe, and he’s also the top Democrat on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. So I’m going to kick off the conversation with about thirty minutes of questioning, and then we’re going to open it up for questions from all of you.
So thank you so much, Senator, for being with us. I can’t help but just ask—(laughs)—you’ve had such a busy day today. Tell us what you just came from. Tell us what it was like.
CARDIN: I almost, to tell you, had a tear in my eye. You know, it was just one of those moment where you’re—you pinch yourself to be part of this moment in history, to be a member of the United States Senate as we confirmed Judge Jackson to make her Justice Jackson. It was just an incredible moment. There was so much energy in the Senate chamber, with the galleries completely full. You know, after all the COVID we’ve gone through, to be there collectively and watch this moment. And we know it’s going to have just such an impact not only on the Supreme Court but on opportunity here in America and giving hope to people who have been left behind for so long and being represented at the highest levels of government.
And then I might say, earlier today while I was chairing a Helsinki Commission hearing I voted then went over to conduct the hearing. And the results were announced when I was at the hearing that the permanent reauthorization of the Global Magnitsky Act passed one hundred to zero in the United States Senate. So it was a busy day. We had a really strong hearing in regards to one of the humanitarian problems that we’re having on trafficking, on the migrants, the refugees leaving Ukraine. And we’re really concerned about the children. So it's been a very busy day, but an exciting day, particularly with the Supreme Court confirmation.
STOCKMAN: I want to follow up, of course, on Ukraine and Russia. And there was also a vote—a unanimous vote to suspend normal trade relations with Russia? I mean, I am just trying to get my head around how much the world is changing. And I want to hear you talk a little bit more about what you think the impact of this will be on Russia and, you know, how big a deal is it to suspend normal trading relations with Russia?
CARDIN: Our strategy in regards to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine is multiple facets. We first want to make sure that the Ukrainians have all of the equipment and the weapons they need to defend themselves. And quite frankly, they’ve been doing a remarkable job. You know, we’re inspired by the Ukrainian people and by President Zelensky, their leader. Their ability to hold back the Russian forces, and to maintain the territorial integrity of Ukraine the way they have. So we are very much on board to provide what they need to defend themselves.
But the second part is to make Mr. Putin pay a heavy price for what he’s done. And that is isolating Russia, imposing crippling sanctions, unprecedented sanctions. And that continued today, as you pointed out, by 100 to zero vote in the United States Senate to suspend trade relations with Russia, putting Russia in the category of the worst states in the world as far as being able to do business with the United States. We expect our traditional partners to follow course and isolate Russia in regards to trade. That hurts. That means the market is not going to be open for Russian products.
But just as importantly, Russia depends upon our products and our technology in order for their economy to be able to perform. And they’re going to be cut off from Western technology and supply chains. So it’s going to have a crippling impact on the Russian economy. We also, as I mentioned earlier with the Magnitsky statute, have imposed personal sanctions on Mr. Putin and his family as well as his support structure of the oligarchs, which is where he gets his corrupt financing in order to be able to prosecute these military operations. So it’s a—it’s a campaign to isolate Russia, to make it pay a heavy price for what they’re doing, and to act as a major reason why Mr. Putin and his calculations need to understand that they have to find an off-ramp.
STOCKMAN: So you’ve just said that we expect our traditional allies to get on board with this. But there are an awful lot of countries that are kind of sitting on the fence. And I guess I’m curious how you see this playing out in the future. Do you see the bifurcation of the East and the West? Is there going to be an economy of autocracy and an economy of democracies? Are we—are we seeing an end to globalization as we know it?
CARDIN: Well, first, let me mention the positive. We have countries that have never taken positions in supplying lethal weapons that have been engaged. We’re seeing Germany do more than we ever thought they would do. We see countries that have never taken a position, such as the Finlands of the world that are nonaffiliated joining us in these—in this effort. You’ve seen Turkey, a NATO ally but one which has not been always on our side, take really aggressive actions both in supplying defensive lethal weapons to Ukraine, but also denying the sea passage of Russian war vessels. So we’ve seen great international unity, much more so than I think Mr. Putin ever expected to see. That’s the positive side. It’s beyond just the traditional Western allies. We’ve been able to get the global community to speak out and act out against Mr. Putin.
But as you point out, there are several significant countries that are on the wrong side of history here. And sitting on the sideline is the wrong side of history. You can’t take a pass on this one. This is good versus evil. And, yes, we are disappointed. And as President Biden has indicated, particularly as it relates to China, there are consequences if China continues to provide the support for Mr. Putin being able to persecute this campaign. And we are clearly disappointed by a country like India that we think should have done a lot more. They have not been helpful at all. So there are countries that we’re disappointed with, but I do want to point out that there’s a lot more international unity than we ever expected.
STOCKMAN: Can you say another beat on China and what else we might do? And I mean, I have to say that I kind of winced at some of the headlines because I don’t know if announcing threats to China is effective, but I am curious what you—you know, what you think would be in the works because I haven’t seen all that much evidence that they will back away from their—you know, what they—the statement that they made—that President Xi made with President Putin shortly before this began.
CARDIN: I would characterize it a little bit differently. We’re not threatening China. China is very strategic in how it makes decisions. They want to do things that benefit their country. They’re very narrowly focused as to how they can get an advantage over a circumstance, and they use rules that are different than our rules in order to put themselves in a position where they can get things that we think are wrong. So they have—but they’re strategic.
And I think what Mr.—President Biden was saying, if that, in fact, China is providing help for Mr. Putin to be able to pursue this war, then there may be actions taken that will not be in China’s interest. We don’t think there’s a close, fuzzy relationship between Russia and China. There are some who believe that China’s rooting for both Russia and the West to lose in this campaign so they can gain. So we do not necessarily believe they’re there to help Russia, and we think we can try to change that equation a little bit to back them off on some of the things they’re doing that help Mr. Putin.
STOCKMAN: Any more details? Are we just talking secondary sanctions, or is this something—some other kind of—
CARDIN: Well, no, secondary sanctions are clearly on the table. They’re controversial, as you know. We don’t always get the same unity with our European partners on secondary sanctions. But secondary sanctions are clearly some of the issues that we’re looking at.
STOCKMAN: And just about—are we—are we entering an era where globalization as we know it is in retreat and we’re only going to be trading with countries that share our values? Do you see that as the future?
CARDIN: No. No, obviously, what Russia has done crosses every line imaginable. I am active, as you pointed out, in the OSCE, the Helsinki process. Russia has violated every fundamental principle of the Helsinki Final Act—an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country, not using diplomacy, the way they’ve conducted this military campaign. Mr. Putin and many of his leaders are war criminals and need to be held accountable as war criminals. So we don’t believe that’s globalization to do business with that type of a—of a country or leader.
So there are limits. We don’t expect countries to necessarily share our values. We recognize that and we’ll do business with countries that don’t share our values. We believe in globalization. We believe in trade. We believe in sharing technology and sharing medical information and being involved as—dealing with the environment. All of those are global issues that we have to deal with the global community, and we’re prepared to deal with every country in the world, but not those that are doing what Mr. Putin is doing in Russia. They need to be isolated because that’s not globalization. That’s absolute gangster bullying activity trying to overrun a sovereign country, and we’re not going to participate in helping Russia do that.
STOCKMAN: Say a few more beats about war crimes and how accountability might work. I mean, we don’t have—obviously, the U.N. doesn’t have a police force that can go and arrest Mr. Putin, but how can this work? Is it just to keep him in—keep him in Russia? You know, how would—how would it work?
CARDIN: I raise this at every hearing that we’ve had so far. I raised it today at the Helsinki Commission hearing. I raised it yesterday at the Helsinki Commission hearing on oligarchs.
You know, you see what Mr. Putin has done, you know, these are war crimes. We can see it. We can see that he targeted civilian populations. We see exactly what he did in this horrible way that—the weapons that he used that are clearly aimed at killing innocent civilian populations. So we recognize that he’s a war criminal. We also know that he is using misinformation and weaponizing that. So he needs to be held accountable.
Now, you asked a great question. The Ukrainian government, their prosecutors are preserving evidence today of the war crimes. And, yes, they’ll be able to bring charges under Ukrainian law against those who have done these horrible acts on their soil, but we need international accountability. And here there are several examples how this can be done.
Under the United Nations, the United Nations has the capacity, particularly through the General Assembly, to establish a mechanism to handle war crime type activities. And we go back to the Nuremberg trials after World War II, where the international community came together. Or we can look at the International Criminal Court in their capacity to be able to do investigations, and they’ve already started an investigation.
But we—now, the most important thing first is to preserve the evidence in a way that you can prosecute the case, to preserve the evidence. And that’s where I’ve asked the United States to give the financial and technical support to international organizations that can be on the ground to preserve the evidence.
I would hope that we would establish an international venue in order to investigate, indict, and prosecute those who have committed war crimes, and we can talk about what venue that should be. To me, this is—this is just an area that requires a big focus on it. You don’t want to hide it behind a mechanism that won’t bring about the transparency that’s necessary.
STOCKMAN: Is military defeat also necessary, though, to bring accountability? I mean, how—we don’t tend to be able to arrest and prosecute people internationally if they’re still in power.
CARDIN: Well, that’s a great question. If you would have asked this a couple weeks ago, I think most of us would have said that we see the war satisfactorily ending with Ukraine defending its country and Russia withdrawing its troops. Now we have higher goals, that we really do want to see not the invasion of Russia—that’s off the table, so we’re not talking about invading another country—but we do believe that as part of winning this war it’s the Ukrainians being able to protect the sovereignty of their country and having accountability, not only individual accountability on war crimes but also accountability on rebuilding their country and holding those responsible for these—for the damage and harm that’s been done, their assets and their wealth being used to help rebuild Ukraine. So there’s more chapters in this than just getting the Russian troops out of Ukraine.
STOCKMAN: I mean, Putin has an awful lot of cards still in his hand that he hasn’t played. I was just in Poland and interviewing people coming out of there—coming out of Ukraine—and they were talking about how destroyed—people from Chernihiv, you know, just utter destruction that they were talking about, and many people they know who were still in that condition in Mariupol. I mean, there are an awful lot of cards that Putin can play, and Ukraine is so close to Russia and so far from us. So I guess I’m wondering, you know, what are—what is the appropriate response if Putin ups the ante and uses some sort of chemical weapon or a tactical nuclear weapon, crosses some sort of red line in that way? He doesn’t seem to be a guy who backs down, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen him do this to civilians. He helped Assad do this in Syria. So, you know, what’s the appropriate U.S. response if we see him go past some of those red lines?
CARDIN: So in an effort to avoid those types of actions we need to heed the warning and the call of Khodorkovsky, who was with us yesterday on Capitol Hill. As you know, he’s a former oligarch who fell out of favor with Mr. Putin because he stood up for—against the corruption of the regime. He ended up spending I think about ten years in prison before he was released. He now lives primarily in London, but he was here in the United States.
And what he said is we underestimate Mr. Putin’s ability to use propaganda and misinformation within his own country. And that most Russians believe that this is some degree of a conspiracy, the damage being done in Ukraine not by the Russian soldiers. And we’ve got to counter that information. And, yes, we’re doing—the news medias in the West have done a great job in broadcasting what is happening. We’ve had reporters on the ground and, God bless them for their bravery in reporting what’s happening in Ukraine. But it’s not reaching Russia. The Russians are being denied that type of information.
Mr. Khodorkovsky’s point is that we have Russians that need to get access to the—to our help to be able to get their message and information and the right information to the Russian people. The reason I say that is—you were alluding before, can we win this war with Mr. Putin remaining in power? You didn’t say that, but that’s what you were inferring. And it’ll be up to the Russian people as to whether he remains in power or not, but if the Russian people don’t know what’s happening, they don’t get the facts, we’ll never get to that type of support we need for the Russian people to make their own decision about their future.
And there’s different levels of political activity within Russia. We got to penetrate that. There isn’t a lot of love and loyalty for Mr. Putin among the ruling groups. There is among the people because of the misinformation. So we want to knock off that support network by getting the facts out there so the Russian people can truly select a leader that can rule them in the right director for the future. And we think we do that we minimize the risk factor that Mr. Putin would use chemical weapons of mass destructions or nuclear weapons because he wouldn’t have the base in his own country that would permit that type of use.
STOCKMAN: Are there some sanctions or some of the—I mean, some of the actions we’re taking right now make it harder for Russians to get access to the outside world, whether it’s getting a VPN or, you know, their credit cards are getting shut off so they can’t actually buy the things that they might have bought to get access to the news, or even travel. So I guess I’m just curious if, you know, to a certain extent when we talk about isolating Russia and Russians, aren’t we also putting up a firewall that makes it harder for them to get that kind of information?
CARDIN: I think there’s always tradeoffs. But I think at the end of the day the answer is no to that. And as far as denying technology, that technology would never be allowed to be used by the Russian authorities today for typical Russians to be able to access Western information or information other than the propaganda being put out by the Russian government itself. If we had wide open borders for travel I think there would be a reluctancy of Russians to travel, quite frankly, to Western countries because of the propaganda that’s been used in their own country, and there are fear factors. So I don’t think we could break through where we are today because the sanctions are making it more difficult. And I don’t believe that.
I do think, though, we are naïve in that we allow countries like Russia and its asymmetric arsenal to use our democratic institutions in our countries against ourselves. You know, if you want to talk about the oligarchs, the oligarchs have employed the most talented lawyers and accountants and financial advisors. And they use our legal system to tie us up so we can’t—have a hard time bringing them down. So I don’t think it’s the sanctions against Russia that is—are an impediment. I think we’ve got to strengthen our own laws to deal with some of these issues and remove the support system that Mr. Putin has. And that’s our best chance to unmask what he’s doing to his own people, for them to find out what is happening and see firsthand, and to bring about a change in the attitude of the Russian government.
STOCKMAN: Do you think this is going to take years? It’s going to be years? We’re in this for the long haul?
CARDIN: Well, if you take a look at recent history, this is not the first invasion that Russia has done. And we know about the original invasion in 2014, I think it was, and what happened. Russia seems to have—Mr. Putin seems to have use of his military every time his polling numbers go down a little bit. So I think if Mr. Putin has his way, this will go on for a long time. I think those of us who are fighting to win this war, as I said earlier, it’s more than getting the troops out of Russia. That doesn’t win the war. We also have to have accountability. And if we have accountability, then I do think we can bring about really a change in the way that Russia is conducting itself in Europe and around the world.
STOCKMAN: I’m going to ask one more question that’s not about Russia, and then I want to open it up to everyone. I mean, we’re in such a time of uncertainty—uncertainty about war, about tax policy, about who’s going to win the next election. You know, we’re in this period. There’s a lot of churn—policy churn. What is the number-one thing you hear from small businesses when they talk to you about how they’re surviving or how—what it takes to be successful with all of these question marks over what the future’s going to look like.
CARDIN: It’s a great question, but it changes. Today it’s supply chain. The number-one problem is getting the products they need in order to be a successful business, whether it’s a restaurant or whether it’s a manufacturer, or whether it’s the hospitality industry. It’s all supply—the supply chain seems to be the number-one challenge. But let me be clear, part of that is the workforce problems, getting workers. Small businesses have always had a challenge getting trained workers. And that certainly is an issue. And then a perennial problem is access to capital.
Particularly if you are the traditionally underserved community or an individual, the amount of venture capital and risk capital available to minority businesses and women-owned businesses is certainly—was a challenge before COVID-19. It’s been even more of a challenge today. So it depends on what audience I’m in, but today it is supply chain. It’s inflationary costs. It’s getting workers. And it’s reliable access to long-term capital and risk capital. And it’s particularly acute in traditionally underserved communities.
STOCKMAN: What do you tell them, especially about the supply chain?
CARDIN: If you have—if we’re in a—the ability to have a discussion, if it’s not just a one-line response like the letters I receive or the emails, we’ll go through the issues. We’ll go through what COVID-19 has done in regards to supply chain problems. We’ll go through the challenges we’ve had in manufacturing, particularly the microchip issue and what impact that’s had. And you see that directly in the car industry and the price of used cars, et cetera. Or we’ll talk about the labor market and what’s happened in regards to the fact that we have closed our borders and we don’t—I mean, in Maryland it’s easy for me to talk to my seafood industry.
They know what the problem is. It’s H-2B visas. It’s our border policies that have been the problem. I talk to Ocean City, Maryland. They’re getting ready for their next season. You know what their number-one problem is? Number one problem is the J-1 workers. They can’t get—they can’t get the workers here because of our immigration restrictions that we’ve had for so long. And it’s—part of it as a result of COVID. Part of it is because of an attitude on our border which has been counterproductive for us having the workforce we need for our economy to work.
So if we can have that type of discussion, that’s what I talk about. And inflation is global. It’s not because of what we did to get out of COVID-19, the stimulus that we did starting with the CARES Act in March of 2020. What we did is saved our economy. We saved jobs. We saved businesses. We avoided a deep recession. But today, because of supply chain challenges, because of the issues I talked about and the tightness of the labor market, the cost factors are beyond planning for a lot of small businesses. So where small businesses don’t have deep pockets and need to be able to plan for more than one month, it’s very difficult to do that today. And that seems to be the number-one challenge they’re facing.
STOCKMAN: Sure. Sure. Well, I could ask a million more questions, but let’s open it up and hear from some folks in the audience.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
We’ll take the first question from Kip Hale.
Q: Thank you so much, Senator, for your time. And my name is Kip Hale. I’m an attorney specializing in atrocity crimes accountability.
You touched upon this, so I just wanted to get to as fast as I can. But it put it mildly, the U.S. position towards the ICC has been schizophrenic. It was not too long ago that there was, sadly, bipartisan support for U.S. sanctions of the ICC chief prosecutor and her civil servant staff under the Trump administration. Now there’s strong bipartisan support for the ICC to investigate and possibly prosecute atrocity crimes in Ukraine. And that is in large part because it’s quite clear that the most sensible option with the Russian veto on the U.N. Security Council is the ICC.
While it’s understandable, Senator, for the states to have varied positions with respect to the ICC’s docket, the extremes of the U.S. position destabilizes the entire system, I would argue, damaging the credibility and legitimacy of the system of—global system of accountability for atrocity crimes. So my question, with the Ukraine situation as a primer, Senator, is it not time for the U.S. to revisit its overall stance towards the ICC, revisit its anti-ICC laws, and find a better equilibrium on this issue? Thank you so much.
CARDIN: Well, Kip, you described it accurately. We are schizophrenic. There’s no question about it. There are times we want the ICC to be much more active, aggressive, including right now in regards to Russia. And there are time that we want to—them to acknowledge we’re not part of the ICC, and we think what they’re doing, particularly as it relates to U.S. interests, is meddling in our affairs that they have no right to do. So you’re correct.
And I think the—if I give you the legal response and then we can talk about that perhaps at a different time. There is a concern that the United States is truly a unique country in regards to its military power. And there is a concern that it could become a forum for claims against America’s military because of our engagement globally. So that seems to be the major fear factor at least that I’ve heard among my colleagues on why the United States has never belonged to the ICC.
Having said that, I think it would be far better to have an internationally recognized forum which the United States is part of in order to deal international issues. But I think there needs to be some clarification in regards to military actions. Now, that becomes complicated because it’s always a matter of degree. There’s mistakes that are made in war. But the problem is, what Russia is doing is clearly a war crime—at least, in my mind it’s clearly a war crime. And how do you differentiate from that and how do you have an effective international body that can differentiate between those issues? To me, it’s just having an independent judicial body that makes those types of judgements. And I’m not afraid of being part of that, but I think until that’s clarified politically it’s going to be difficult for the United States to give its full approval to the ICC.
STOCKMAN: I think we can go to our next question.
OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Barbara Slavin.
Q: Hello. This is Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council.
And I’d like to ask about Iran. First, Senator, can you give us your sense of whether we will see a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal? Whether it will have to pass through Congress for some sort of approval? And what the final sticking point is, in your view? Also, have you changed your view? Are you more supportive now? Some of your recent comments suggest that you are more supportive of reviving the agreement than you were back in 2015. Thank you.
CARDIN: Well, Barbara, thanks for the question. I’ve never changed my views. And that is in—when the agreement was originally presented to us back in 2014, I expressed—I’m giving the right years, make sure I get the right—well, when it first came to us, I thought the administration set up the negotiations in the wrong way. I thought we really should have had a much stronger position on enrichment and that the time limits needed to be adjusted and there were related issues that were not directly nuclear-related that deal with nuclear issues.
So in my review of the agreement, I opposed the agreement, voted against it. I think perhaps one of the worst foreign policy decisions ever made by any president in the United States is when Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran agreement. That put us in much, much worse position. Iran was in compliance with the agreement. And once the United States pulled out, Iran was able to accelerate its nuclear technology. And today they’re in a far different position than they would have been if we were still in the agreement.
So you can no longer go back to the original JCPOA because Iran’s in a different position today than they were when we pulled out of the JCPOA. So it’s—I don’t have a view on coming back into the JCPOA until I see what the agreement looks like. So I can’t give you an answer on that. But once I see that, then I’ll be able to make an evaluation. And I do believe Congress will review it if there is an agreement, because it comes under the INARA statute which provides for congressional review. And in my conversations with the administration, I think they recognize that an agreement is going to have to come to Congress. Now, the chances of Congress passing a resolution of disapproval and the president vetoing that and overriding a president’s veto is not very likely, but it has to go through that process.
You asked where are we in the agreement? The challenge is that the United States is not directly negotiating with the Iranians. As you know, we’re not party to the agreement and the Iranians will not accept direct negotiations between the United States and Iran. So it makes it more challenging, because we’re operating through surrogates, and sometimes surrogates give different spins on issues that would be a little bit different if we were directly in the room doing our own negotiations. But my understanding is that the administration is willing to make certain compromises to get back into the agreement, but the Iranians to date have been very challenging and difficult to come to the table in a way in which the Biden administration believes they must in order to come back into the agreement.
That could change any day. But as of the last time we got an update, which was about a week ago, it was primarily the Iranians. Now, there are a couple open issues, including how the Revolutionary Guard is handled and how sanction relief is—goes into it, and how non-nuclear issues are handled in the agreement, and the time limits. So there are some open issues that are still being negotiated. But I believe the Biden administration would like to reenter the agreement. I think the European partners would like to have the United States back into it. They would like to have the IAEA eyes and ears back in Iran watching what is going on. And we’d like to have some limits on the enrichment of uranium by the Iranians. So I think there is a desire to get back in, but I can’t tell you where you are at the particular moment because I’m not sure the administration knows.
STOCKMAN: If, I just want—thank you for that question, Barbara. I just want to follow up one more beat on that and ask, if the agreement does return us to the JCPOA, which you just said we can’t go back because Iran is in a totally different position, all this time has passed. So we’ve—you know, we’ve wasted all these years. But it doesn’t sound to me like the agreement is actually lengthening it, extending anything, right? The sunset—from my understanding of where it is, the sunset clauses, everything is all the same. We’re just getting back to finish the tail end of it. Is it—you know, is it worth it, especially if the next administration can reverse it again? I mean, I guess I’m struggling with this as—we’re a democracy, which means that the next president can be of a different party and totally reverse things, as we saw with Trump. Is that more—is that a more dangerous situation? Is that perilous, I guess?
CARDIN: Well, the way you’re analyzing is what the administration’s going through. The Iranians originally wanted a guarantee from the Biden administration that this would be solid beyond just his administration, that future administrations couldn’t withdraw. The president explained to him the U.S. Constitution, where the president cannot make that type of a commitment. There was then some talk about compensation in the event the United States withdrew by a new administration. The United States would have no party to that, from what I understand. The Biden administration said absolutely no to that. Other countries have offered certain help to the Iranians that may help soften that issue.
But you are correct in your assumptions, but the—what you achieve by getting Iran back into an agreement is you have the IAEA in-country, you have eyes on enrichment. And that’s a known quantity as to how long it would take for them to be able to break out, to have enough nuclear material for a weapon. You don’t have that today. You would have that under an agreement. And the question is, is the price to get that worth it when you have to give the Iranians the type of financial assistance that they could be very well using to support terrorism and other activities that are against our national security interests, knowing full well that this could be a very short-term agreement because of a new administration or because of the deadlines that are in the bill itself.
So you set it up right. That’s what the administration is going through. And I’ve weighed in with the administration. I’ve given them my advice. And I want to give the Biden administration high marks for transparency. They at any time are willing to let us know where they are on the agreement. We’ve had open sessions and classified sessions. And I complained during the Trump administration that they never conferred with us, either Democrats or Republicans, to tell us anything that was going on on foreign policy. And I complained regularly. I’m now complaining about the Biden administration because they contact us too frequently, using too much of our calendar in order to keep us informed on issues.
So they’ve gone to the other extreme, and I’m very happy about that, I must be clear. I just came from a briefing before this on the circumstances in North Korea and China. So we get updates on a very, very regular basis, both in public and in classified settings, including Iran. And I give the Biden administration very, very high grades on their working with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
STOCKMAN: So we’ve only got about, what, eighteen minutes left. So let’s get a couple more questions from the audience.
OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Jon Alterman.
Q: Thank you very much, Senator. Jon Alterman from CSIS, also a constituent. Thank you very much for doing this. Farah, good to see you again.
I’m wondering about timeframe on Russia and the Ukraine. It seems to me that the Russians are sort of expert marathoners. They have been slogging away in Syria for more than seven years. Their Chechnya war was waged over more than a decade. Do we have the right timeframe in mind to think about what the Russians are doing in Ukraine? Do we have the patience and the focus to sustain unity on this? Or are the Russians going to try to wait us out? And are we going to have to—we’ll get involved in elections and all kinds of things. We’ll get distracted. Is that—do you think that’s the Russians’ strategy? And if it is, what can we be doing to stay focused on Ukraine six months, a year from now, if the Russians are still trying to fight?
CARDIN: Jon, I think you mentioned one of the most difficult challenges that we have, and that is do we have the resilience to stay focused on helping Ukraine, isolating Russia for the long run? History teaches us that that’s very challenging, to be able to maintain pressure. If you recall the initial incursion into Crimea, it lasted for a few months, and then interest waned and we hardly heard a peep about Russia’s control over Crimea, including its annexation. So Russia’s been in Georgia for, I don’t know how many years now. Russia’s been in Moldova. And you don’t hear much about that at all. In fact, I would say—dare say, most of the international community doesn’t even know that Russia has troops in these countries. So you’re exactly right, will we have the staying power?
And when you put that to the countries of Europe, which had economic reasons to try to break down barriers as quickly as possible because of their dependency on energy or other issues involving Russia, the question you asked is a very valid point. I would point this out—and if you’ve been in the region you know from whence I speak—the countries that are bordering Russia, are in that neighborhood, they’re going to stay focused. (Laughs.) Because they look at themselves as being next. You don’t have to worry about Poland, or Lithuania, or Latvia, or Estonia, or Finland. They’re very much—or Moldova. They’re very much focused on what is happening and are prepared to take as long as it needs to to keep Russia at bay in Ukraine and ultimately to get the troops removed and to have accountability.
So because of the real fear factor that this attack was so brazen on an independent state, we do have a lot more attention than we’ve had in the past. But I really do think you raise the fundamental question. And President Zelensky has talked to us personally about that. That’s one of his major fears, that we’ll lose interest, that something else will come up that we have to deal with. There’ll be a problem with North Korea, or there’ll be a problem with Iran, or the Middle East. And all of a sudden, the attention no longer is focused on Ukraine. Or we’ll start worrying about our domestic agenda for the election. So it’s something that is of major concern to all of us.
I can tell you, we in Congress are really trying to maintain a strong bipartisan, bicameral focus on Ukraine for the long run. We’re there for the short run, but we want to make sure we’re also there for the long run. So we recognize that what you raise is a very legitimate concern. And we’re trying to do everything we can to make that not happen, that we stick with Ukraine as long as they need us, until the Russians are out of Ukraine. And even then we’re not finished, because we want accountability.
STOCKMAN: I just wanted to mention when I was in Poland people were joking that Putin should be given a Nobel Peace Prize for getting rid of COVID, because suddenly in forty-eight hours nobody was talking about COVID. (Laughter.) But he should also be given a price for producing unanimous votes on the Senate. Like, I mean, how unified are you? I mean, Tucker Carlson aside, is there—do you feel like there is a degree of unity that you haven’t seen in a while?
CARDIN: Oh, my goodness, yes. I mean—(laughs)—absolutely. We comment about that often, that Putin’s done something that no—he got us together, Democrats and Republicans. He got NATO together. He got Europe together. I mean, what he’s been able to do—I mean, look at the problems we were having with Poland and the EU. Look at Turkey. He’s done things that we never were able to get done. So, yes, I think there is genuine unity and resolve in regards to this issue. But Jon’s question is one that you can’t overlook. As you get closer and closer to November, the elections are going to be what’s on people’s minds. And will that take precedence over the people of Ukraine? I hope the answer is no to that. I really mean that. But as you know, we have elections in Europe this weekend. So, I mean, there’s elections taking place all the time. So politics is going to get into this.
STOCKMAN: Yeah. Well, let’s hope we can walk and chew gum at the same time. Let’s have another question. We got twelve more minutes.
OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Hani Findakly.
Q: Thank you very much, Senator, for this excellent presentation.
have a couple questions, quick ones. One is, what is, in your mind, the ultimate goal for this—dealing with the Ukraine situation? Is it to liberate the Ukraine? Is it to beat Russia? Or in both cases, is it also to send a signal to China of what lies ahead if they were to move into Taiwan? And my second question is you—well, it’s twentieth anniversary of the Iraq authorization of force resolution that I believe you voted against. I wanted to know in your mind what the differences are between Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and our moves into Iraq, there’s any, and what differences there are?
CARDIN: Well, thank you. First of all, as I said a little bit earlier, to me to win in Ukraine is more than just getting the troops out of Ukraine—the Russian troops out of Ukraine and having the sovereignty of the country. It’s also dealing with accountability. And that means protecting against—and making it—you know, we’ve said never again several times in history and we always see it occurring again. So these atrocities occur on a regular basis, and I recognize that, and I’m not proud of that. But I think that it’s not—this campaign in Ukraine, the defense of Ukraine is not aimed at any other country but Russia today, make no mistake about it. But we do recognize that if we don’t stop Russia in regards to Ukraine, that there are countries that are going to be next on the list.
Does anyone here think that if Mr. Putin was able to take down Ukraine in a short period he would not have moved into Moldova in order to continue the land bridge? Does anyone think that he wouldn’t think twice of entering a non-NATO country in order to take more territory and to cause more problems? And quite frankly, our NATO allies on the east believe that he would go into NATO and that Mr. Putin may not believe us on our Article 5 responsibilities that we would, in fact, carry that out. So there is a risk—there is a concern that if you don’t stop Russia in Ukraine it will spread to other countries (that eye ?) Russia.
But as far as other countries’ behavior, I don’t think that’s the reason why we’re doing this. We are concerned, obviously, about Taiwan and China, and we recognize the risk factors of other countries. But there’s a—there’s a major difference. I strongly support Taiwan and the arrangement that we have with Taiwan, but Taiwan and China is a lot different than Russia and Ukraine. So we got to be able to draw distinctions in what we’re dealing with. We would very much provide the type of support that we’re committed to in regards to Taiwan, so we clearly are engaged in that.
As far as our involvement in Iraq, you’re right, I did vote against it. But the—it was authorized by Congress because of the belief that Iraq was engaged in the terrorist attack on our country. That, in fact, was not true, but that was—or, had weapons of mass destruction, if you remember Colin Powell’s appearance before the United Nations about weapons of mass destruction. So there was a justification to the international community and a transparency that was involved in that campaign that is far different than what Russia was doing.
Russia, they lied to the international community. I don’t think the United States did. I think they were misled by their own intelligence community. But Russia, Putin’s lied in what he said was happening in Ukraine as a justification to try to take down a sovereign country. So I don’t think you can draw the comparisons here at all. As much as I was against the U.S. military engagement in Iraq, I don’t think there’s any equivalence to this as to how those campaigns were—and how those campaigns were conducted, as well. It was a lot different than what Mr. Putin has done.
STOCKMAN: Putin clearly has been bringing up Iraq a lot. (Laughs.) I mean, he’s—it’s almost like he’s, I don’t know—his whole speech about Ukraine seemed to echo allegations that were made in Iraq. Does that hurt us, to make us look like hypocrites, even if you think the comparison is not fair?
CARDIN: Look, if it’s not that, he’ll do something else. He lies. What can I tell you? He uses misinformation. He uses propaganda. So he’ll—to the extent that we give him some part of history that his people can point to and say that really happened, yet, I think that probably helps his propaganda machine. But anyone who takes a look at this can see that this is a different circumstance. The United States was—had the largest terrorist attack in our history that led up to the invasion of Iraq. Tell me what Ukraine did to the—you know, what Russia did—what Ukraine did to Russia. I don’t see anything. I don’t see any provocations here at all, none whatsoever.
So I think it’s a different circumstance. And I’m acknowledging that there are some historic mistakes that were made by the United States, but it’s not in the same category as what Russia has done. And to the extent that it’s hurt it, it’s because it feeds into his propaganda machine.
STOCKMAN: All right. We got six more minutes. Let’s see if we can get two more questions.
OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Esther Brimmer.
Q: Hello. This is Esther Brimmer from NAFSA, the Association of International Educators. Senator, thank you so much for this conversation. And thank you, too, Farah and the Council, for organizing this opportunity.
I would like to ask you, Senator, if you could comment on the state of the refugee regime. Indeed, we have created, really, since the Second World War a regime to support refugees, but the nature of conflict is so different now that we—that we, in a sense, often don’t see the end of conflict. We end up having situations where refugees may be out of country for generations. We see it particularly now even with students who would perhaps like to come to the United States and study, but they are—you know, would have to say they were going home to their war-torn countries. But the support for refugees has been a fundamental pillar of United States foreign policy. Could you comment on opportunities to bolster that, whether dealing with refugees from Ukraine or from so many other regions in the world, and how we can maintain that commitment to supporting refugees in their—in their long time of need? Thank you, Senator.
CARDIN: Well, thank you for that question because I believe in that. That’s something that I think that the United States has been one of the great leaders in the world in regards to displaced people, refugees, those seeking asylum, et cetera. We have been a haven over our history for persecuted people and people who are seeking a better way of life. Immigrants built America—there’s no question about that—and also helped build our economy. So I couldn’t agree with you more.
We saw after World War II at the time the largest refugee population, and the United States played a major role in dealing with the Marshall Plan as well as the resettlement of so many refugees, including here in the United States. So I couldn’t agree with you more.
We have today numbers that approach where we were at the end of World War II. And some of these—many of these refugees are in our own hemisphere, as we see what’s happening in Venezuela, we see what’s happening in countries in our own hemisphere producing a large number of refugees.
We now have, what, 4 million Ukrainians who have left their country, mostly children and women. And we have another 6 million or so that are displaced within their own country. You have about 50 percent of the children of Ukraine who have been displaced. And they’re very, very vulnerable to starvation. They’re very vulnerable to trafficking and abuse. It’s a—it’s a horrible humanitarian crisis and the United States needs to exercise leadership.
So, yes, President Biden was right to say we’ll take a hundred thousand refugees here in the United States. There are not many Ukrainians who want to come to the United States right now. Most of them want to stay and hopefully be reunited with their families. They want to—they want to be in Ukraine and they want to be close to Ukraine. So we’re not going to get a flood of Ukrainian refugees here in the United States.
But we’ve got to show the world through our own actions that we’re a leader on these issues. That means, yes, substantial resources need to be provided to the international communities, and we are doing that. We are a world leader in resources. But also, by our immigration policies. And we do not proudly display our immigration policies.
President Biden was right to reconfigure the health restrictions that were imposed as a result of COVID-19 under the Trump administration and say, you know, you no longer have those health problems here in the United States; people who have legitimate asylum claims should be able to make those claims. And what type of reaction do we have here in America? Well, you tell me. You can probably judge it better than I can, but my guess is that there’s been a strong negative response to allowing anyone to come through our borders.
So I mentioned earlier the challenges we have with worker visas. We need an enlightened immigration policy here in America. We need to deal with those that have been here long term on temporary protected status. We need to deal with the DACA registrants who have been here and the DREAMers who know no other country but the United States. We need to modernize our immigration system here so that we can show it as a model for the world.
And while we’re having all these domestic political fights on it, look at Poland, what they did for the Ukrainians. I applaud Poland. They’ve been incredible in opening up their borders—not just opening up their borders, but really trying to find decent accommodations for a substantial increase in their population at their own cost. Now they’ve gotten international assistance.
So thanks for asking that question. I want the America—I want America to lead by our actions and our deeds in regards to assuming responsibility for the number of displaced people globally, including in our own hemisphere.
STOCKMAN: Well, that’s a great thought to end on. I have to say it’s amazing, the population of Ukraine is bigger than the population of Poland. So if you think about all the people who could be ending up in Poland, it’s enormous. It’s enormous, and I—anyway, it boggles the mind to think about what would happen here if such a similar situation cropped up.
Well, obviously, we have much to talk about. We hope to have you back again and we really appreciate your spending this time with us this afternoon. So I’m sorry to all those who didn’t get a chance to have their questions answered, but CFR is here for you and we’ll see you next time, everyone. Thanks so much.
CARDIN: Thank you. It was good being with you all. Stay well, everybody.