McConnell Addresses Protests in Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks Wednesday on the Senate floor regarding protests in the Middle East:

“I spoke yesterday about the courageous people of Hong Kong who are standing up to Beijing and speaking out for their freedoms. But Hong Kongers are not alone in bravely speaking up at this time.

“The Middle East continues to be swept by widespread and cross-sectarian demonstrations. In Lebanon, in Iraq, and in Iran, millions are demanding a better future, greater justice, less corruption, and more democracy from their governments.

“These protests span three countries. Each is unique. But one common thread connects them: Iran.

“For years, Iran has systematically sought to undermine the territorial integrity and manipulate the politics of countries across the Middle East. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Lebanon and Iraq, where Iranian proxies have challenged the very sovereignty of the state.

“In Lebanon, Iran backs Hizballah, the terrorist group that has become a dominant political player. Hizballah has become a state within a state.

“Its weapons and fighters do not work to defend the Lebanese state, but to embroil it in Syria’s civil war and imperil its security by threatening Israel with precision rockets.

“In Iraq, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have spent years sponsoring Shi’a militias and proxies that are more loyal to Tehran than to Baghdad or the people of Iraq.

“So in both these countries, Tehran has used—and promoted the use of—force to acquire power and influence. A few weeks ago, the leader of Iran’s terrorist Quds Force reportedly flew to Iraq for secret meetings to guide Iraqi leaders through the protests there. Here’s what this Iranian thug told the Iraqis: ‘We in Iran know how to deal with protests.’ Enough said.

“A violent crackdown on peaceful protesters will not resolve anything…what Iraqi and Lebanese leaders must do is stop listening to the poisonous advice of Iranian tyrants who are losing their own grip on their own people…and start addressing their own citizens’ demands for transparency and reform.

“Iraq and Lebanon should give their people what they want: Less corruption, less malign foreign influence, more opportunity, and the rule of law.

“That is the path forward for Iraq and Lebanon. Commit to prosperity and pluralism at home, combat corruption and injustice within all sects and confessions, protect the sovereignty of your country, pursue peace with your neighbors, and enjoy support from the United States as a result.

“I would note that, in contrast to Hizballah’s thugs, Lebanon’s Armed Forces by most accounts continue to be one of Lebanon’s few institutions of national unity. The LAF has respected the rights of protesters, protected them from violence, and sought to de-escalate tensions on the street.

“I know the U.S. military believes its training and partnership with the LAF is paying off, helping it to be a more professional and responsible security force.

“And while these events transpire in Iraq and Lebanon, the Iranian people themselves are also engaging in their own demonstrations.

“Iran used to be a modern, open, and prosperous society. It could be again. And now tens of thousands of Iranian people themselves are raising their voices in righteous anger at what has become of their living conditions and their country. The Iranian people are feeling the pain inflicted by the brutality, selfishness and extremism of their ruling class.

“The regime seems to be doing all it can to put a stop to this.

“Reports over the weekend indicated an enormous, unprecedented Internet blackout aimed at keeping Iranians in the dark, and suggest Iranian leaders are threatening yet another violent crackdown against their own citizens.

“But Iran’s leaders know exactly what must be done to alter the course of their once great country and unlock a better future for its citizens.

“Iran needs to stop pursuing nuclear weapons and long-range missile capabilities…stop supporting terror and cyber-offensives…stop causing bloodshed to weaken its neighbors stop the horrific mistreatment of its own citizens.

“There is an entire civilized world full of diverse nations that get by just fine without engaging in any of these rogue state activities.

“Iran engages in all of them.

“Iranian leaders will either listen to their own citizens and start behaving like a normal nation or they will be treated, more and more, like the backwards pariahs they have become.”