HARTFORD, CT — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, just back from an annual security conference in Munich, said “it is hard to over-hype how badly America’s image and influence has been damaged” since President Donald Trump took office.
“Our allies simply don’t know what America’s foreign policy is any longer,” Murphy said in giving reporters a briefing on his weekend in Germany at a press conference at the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday morning.
Murphy was one of 10 senators, five Democrats and five Republicans, who attended the conference along with Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to talk about issues such as countering Russian aggression, support for NATO, and the fight against terrorism.
Murphy is a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was recently named Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, which includes NATO and U.S.-Russia policy.
Murphy said Pence’s talk at the conference “went over like a lead balloon.”
“Because our allies didn’t know if Vice President Pence was speaking for the government’s foreign policy positions or whether President Trump’s twitter account was,” Murphy said. “Pence was claiming that United States and Europe share values when just hours before President Trump had been suggesting the press was an enemy of the American people. So there was a lot of confusion at this conference. And it left the parties who attended very worried.”
Pence tried to use his Munich speech to bring a message of reassurance from the new president. “The U.S.,” he said, strongly supports NATO and will be “unwavering in its commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance.”
But with few European allies actually meeting the agreed target for defense spending, there was warning from the vice president, too.
“Let me be clear on this point: The president of the United States expects our allies to keep their word to fulfill this commitment and for most that means the time has come to do more,” Pence said.
By current standards, Washington funds about 70 percent of NATO spending.
Trump wants allies to spend 2 percent of their Gross Domestic Product budget on military spending. Many currently don’t hit that mark.
On this point, Murphy said he actually agrees with Trump.
“It is important for Trump to push the European countries to spend more,” said Murphy, adding that he believes the countries are a “little more scared” of Trump’s threats on this issue than they were of former President Barack Obama’s.
Murphy was also supportive of Trump’s selection Monday of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his new national security adviser, a widely respected military strategist known for helping to turn around the Iraq war strategy when that war wasn’t going well.
McMaster would replace Michael T. Flynn, who was forced out after withholding information from Pence about a call with an ambassador from Russia.
Murphy said while he didn’t know McMaster well, but what he did know was the general was known for his “sober, common sense leadership.”
He also praised Trump for comments the president made Tuesday against anti-Semitic threats targeting Jewish communities and centers in the country.
But those were the only issues on which Murphy was in agreement with Trump, reiterating that he felt when it came to national security issues the “White House has been pretty dysfunctional.”
What Murphy said he finds most alarming — and which was discussed at great length at the security conference — was the Muslim ban and Trump’s continued coziness with Russia.
Murphy said he met with officials from Iraq, including Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region of the country, who “pleaded with us to strike down the ban on Muslims from Iraq entering this country.”
The senator said the Kurdish military forces have taken the heaviest losses of any military force in the fight against Isis, and the Barzani could not understand how “America could ask Iraqis to fight and die in battle against Isis and then ban those very same soldiers from entering the United States.”
Murphy said they heard over and over again the Muslin ban was hurting the U.S. abroad.
As far as Russia is concerned, Murphy said it has been “emboldened” in Europe just as it has been in the United States.
“There are French and German elections coming up later this year,” Murphy said. “We heard stories about how the Russians are using some of the same tactics in those countries that they used in the United States . . . So it was more clear to me than ever that we need to expand sanctions against Russia. And we need to make them pay a price for their interference in American elections so that they understand the cost of doing the same thing in European elections.”