U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

McCONNELL: Attacks on Freedom of Navigation are Direct Challenge to American Leadership

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks Monday on the Senate floor regarding Iran-backed terrorism:

“The weekend brought even more glaring evidence that Iran and its terrorist proxies feel emboldened to escalate their attacks in the Middle East. In the past two months, the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have repeatedly used lethal force in brazen attacks against both military and commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea.

“Just two days ago, the destroyer U.S.S. Carney engaged and destroyed at least 14 terrorist drones. U.S. Navy vessels have thus far succeeded in defending against these attacks.

“But the risk of American casualties is growing. Air defense is not perfect. And it doesn’t come cheap – the Navy is having to use expensive interceptors to bring down low-cost suicide drones.

“Commercial vessels have been less fortunate. Several ships have been hijacked or struck by drones and anti-ship missiles in recent weeks – including two strikes just today.

“This violence represents a grave and immediate economic threat. Iran’s network of terrorists is making an artery that carries nearly 12 percent of global trade essentially inoperable.

“In recent days, four of the world’s five largest shipping companies have suspended operations in the Red Sea. The carriers who account for more than half of maritime container traffic are opting to add weeks to transit times and untold extra fuel costs to avoid terrorist attack. And supply chains everywhere are bracing for the effects.

“Make no mistake: An undeterred adversary is laying down a direct challenge to American leadership. And the world is watching to see if we rise to meet it the way we’ve met it before in countless times.

“Protecting the freedom of navigation is an essential American interest because maritime commerce has been central to our nation’s economy from the very beginning.

“The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps waged their first successful expeditionary campaign against the Barbary pirates in order to protect American shipping. The ‘shores of Tripoli’ are immortalized in the Marine Corps hymn. And freedom of navigation operations have been an essential part of U.S. power projection ever since.

“In recent years, these operations have been especially important in the Indo-Pacific, where China increasingly threatens sea lanes.

“But let’s be clear: If America conducts freedom of navigation operations as peace-time exercises but fails to actually protect this freedom from immediate, real-time threats, then we’re just play-acting as a global superpower.

“What’s happening right now in the Red Sea isn’t an exercise. It’s a blaring siren that deterrence has failed.

“The United States and our allies and partners have a stake in defending the freedom of navigation. If we fail to take more serious action against Iran-backed Houthi terrorists, we’ll embolden other aggressors to challenge this freedom everywhere, and risk major consequences.

“Needless to say, our greatest strategic adversary and systemic rival is watching especially closely how we respond to this brazen challenge.”



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