IRI President Dan Twining Testifies Before the U.S. Helsinki Commission


“Mr. Chairman and Members of the Commission: The free world is under assault from an authoritarian axis that wants to cripple American leadership, break American alliances, and make the world safe for autocracy. America’s role in the face of this coordinated campaign of authoritarian aggression is to restore deterrence and stand on the side of freedom. We can do that by serving as the arsenal of democracy that allows our allies in Israel and Ukraine to prevail, while making sure Taiwan does not succumb to a similar assault.

“First, let’s be clear – the balance of power is on our side. Russia and Iran are broken economies. Russia is a declining power that steals from its own citizens; Iran’s leaders invest in fomenting violence and repression rather than improving the lives of ordinary Iranians. In contrast, the United States and its allies control some 70% of global GDP.  Yet authoritarians no longer fear American power, perhaps confusing our domestic political divisions for lack of strategic will.

“Our adversaries are emboldened by our flirtation with isolationism. American retrenchment does not produce local solutions to problems – it creates vacuums of power our enemies seek to fill, leading to larger conflagrations. America cannot cede the field to revisionist powers and violent extremists. Pullback makes the world more dangerous for Americans.

“Unlike democracies that seek prosperity and security through peace, authoritarians sow conflict abroad to distract their citizens from problems at home.  This is true of Putin’s war on Ukraine, China’s threats against Taiwan, and Iran’s sponsorship of terror. Hamas rules Gaza by force, spending their resources on weapons to attack Israel rather than tend to the needs of desperate Palestinians.

“Authoritarians are working together in novel ways.  Moscow and Beijing used Hamas’ assault not to express support for Israel, but to condemn American policy in the Middle East. Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, yet China’s Foreign Minister has expressed firm support for Tehran ‘on issues concerning core interests.’  Iran arms Russia with drones to attack Ukraine.

“Putin openly supports Xi Jinping’s ambition to conquer Taiwan by force.  China massively increased energy imports from Russia to offset Western sanctions and has tripled exports of integrated circuits to Russia. Both China and Russia help Iran circumvent international sanctions. China has more than tripled imports of Iranian oil. Russian, Chinese, and Iranian media amplify each other’s anti-Western propaganda, including that Ukraine and Israel are aggressors not victims. 

“It is vital not to mistake Hamas’ control of Gaza with legitimacy. There have been no elections in Gaza since 2006. Hamas will not hold them because it thinks it will lose. Polling from September shows that only a quarter of Palestinians support Hamas leading the Palestinian people. Before the conflict, 77% of Palestinians said they wanted elections as soon as possible. A supermajority tells pollsters that Hamas is corrupt. It is a terrorist organization, not a governing authority that seeks to better the lives of Palestinians. Residents of Gaza suffer lives of poverty, isolation, and violence at its hands.

“What are the implications of these dangerous developments for the United States? First, if America’s three greatest adversaries are going to actively collaborate in armed attacks on our allies, that’s all the more reason for us to ensure that friendly democracies prevail in the fight. Giving Ukraine and Israel what they need to restore their sovereignty and security is essential.   Appeasing aggression in one theater only invites belligerence in another.

“Make no mistake: China is watching our reaction to the wars on Ukraine and Israel with great interest. If we don’t show the will and staying power to help our friends win, we only embolden Chinese designs in Asia. Defeating aggression in Europe and the Middle East is central to deterring aggression in Asia.

“The United States must be the arsenal of democracy to support Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan in the face of authoritarian aggression. But that’s not all we need to do. Dictators fear their own people. American policy should much more strongly support the Iranian people, who yearn for modernity and openness, not despotism and terror. We should stand with Ukraine not just to repel armed aggression, but because a successful democracy in Ukraine could transform Russia, by showing that the cradle of Russian civilization (which was founded in Kyiv) thrives under freedom. 

“Finally, America should double down on investing in responsive governance around the world. Violent extremism incubated in Gaza’s hothouse of repression.  China, Russia, and Iran exercise the most influence against us where governing elites are corrupt, media is censored, civil society is repressed, elections are not free, and democratic institutions are underdeveloped or absent. Investing in the cause of freedom abroad is a sound way to protect American security at home.”

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