IRI President Dan Twining Testifies Before the U.S. Helsinki 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. The world America built from the ashes of World War II and the Cold War is now at risk of fracturing in the face of coordinated authoritarian aggression, with alarming consequences for U.S. national security. America’s role in the face of this coordinated campaign of authoritarian aggression is to restore deterrence and stand on the side of freedom 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, wracked by sanctions and led by strongmen with dreams of imperial restoration rather than innovation-driven prosperity for their citizens. 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 and feel emboldened, perhaps confusing our domestic political divisions for lack of strategic will.

“America’s authoritarian adversaries are emboldened by our flirtation with isolationism. American retrenchment does not produce local solutions to problems – it creates vacuums of power that our enemies seek to fill, leading to larger conflagrations. The United States cannot cede the field to determined revisionist powers, or to violent extremists. Pullback makes the world more dangerous for Americans, and can lead to broader conflicts that draw us back in under unfavorable conditions.

“Unlike democracies that seek prosperity and security through peace, authoritarians sow conflict abroad to distract their citizens from problems at home. Putin shores up his control by painting Ukrainians as Nazis and himself as a defender of Russia against an imagined “NATO aggression.” Iran’s ayatollahs cannot offer their people a modern way of life, but they can use state resources to fund terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to bleed Israel and undermine American alliances. Hamas leaders have ruled Gaza through terror, never holding a free election since taking power and spending their resources on weapons to attack Israel rather than tend to the need of desperate Palestinians.

“Authoritarians are working together in novel ways. Incredibly, given Russia’s experiences with domestic terrorism, Putin responded to the worst attack on Israel in our lifetimes not with sympathy for Israel, but as an opportunity to attack American policy in the Middle East. Russia and Iran are allies, with Tehran providing arms for the Kremlin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has played an active role in helping Iran circumvent international sanctions on its nuclear weapons program. China’s state-owned media has amplified false Russian narratives about the war in Ukraine, and Russian, Chinese, and Iranian media outlets amplify each other’s anti-Western disinformation – including in Latin America and Africa.

“China has also suffered from domestic terrorism and has benefited from extensive high-tech trade with Israel. But Beijing also failed to express sympathy with Israel following the attacks, and has pursued a concerted strategy of easing Iran’s international isolation and supporting the Iranian economy. China has more than tripled its imports of Iranian oil in the last two years and is the biggest buyer of Iranian oil.

“Putin, who is visiting Beijing this week for the Belt and Road summit, has been given a lifeline from China to keep his economy afloat during the war in Ukraine, and has benefited from China’s material assistance during the conflict. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China has increased its imports of both Russian oil and gas in ways that more than offset the effect of European energy sanctions against Moscow. Last year, China nearly tripled exports of integrated circuits to Russia to offset Western sanctions.

“Despite grandiose Chinese statements of support for sovereignty and territorial integrity, Xi has never condemned Putin for the most naked act of territorial aggression since Saddam Hussein annexed Kuwait in 1990. Muddled hopes that China can act as a broker of peace in Ukraine disregard the fact that China is allied with one side in the conflict and has been an enabler of Russian aggression.

“Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, underscored yet again by Hamas’ shocking attack on Israel, and both Russia and China have aligned with the Islamic Republic. China’s Foreign Minister has expressed firm support for Tehran ‘on issues concerning core interests.’ Both China and Iran have supported Russia throughout its war on Ukraine – the modern era’s most brazen act of territorial aggression. Russia and Iran jointly provided battlefield support to prop up the Assad dictatorship in Syria. And Russia supports China’s threats to retake Taiwan by force: In 2022, Moscow added Taiwan to its Unfriendly Countries and Territories List, and Putin has stood by Xi’s side to express support for China’s revisionist claim to the free island nation.

“Turning to the unfolding war in the Middle East, 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 views Hamas as corrupt. It is a terrorist organization, not a governing authority that seeks to better the lives of Palestinians living under its rule. There is no moral equivalence between terrorists who explicitly target civilians and democracies who strive to avoid civilian casualties.

“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 is 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. We don’t get to pick and choose, because appeasing aggression in one theater only invites belligerence in another.

“Make no mistake: China, America’s only near-peer rival, 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, that will only embolden Chinese aggression in Asia. That’s why our closest Asian allies have strongly supported Ukraine. As Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says, ‘Ukraine today could be East Asia tomorrow.’  Defeating aggression in Europe is vital to deterring aggression in Asia.

“The same is true in the Middle East. The conflict there is different, because it was launched by a terrorist organization, but one with state sponsorship. Iran’s dictators think they are winning: they provoked an American retreat from Iraq; savored America’s humiliation following the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan; benefitted enormously from the end of the U.S. ‘maximum pressure’ campaign; secured a Chinese-sponsored deal to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia; and have now enabled the most stunning assault on Israel since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. 

“The United States must be the arsenal of democracy to support Israel and Ukraine in the face of authoritarian aggression. But that’s not all we need to do. We must take advantage of any and all sources of weakness in the regimes that seek to harm the free world. Dictators fear their own people. American policy should much more strongly support the Iranian people, who yearn for modernity and openness, not kleptocratic despotism. The United States should stand with Ukraine not simply 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 rather than rule by a neo-imperialist mafia state. Investing in Ukraine’s civilian institutions, not just its armed forces, is essential to this effort.

“Autocracies are working together to weaken democratic alliances. Democracies should be working together to expose fault lines in authoritarian alliances. Russia and China are competitors in Central Asia. A powerful China is a much greater danger to Russia, with its empty and resource-rich eastern expanses, than is NATO. Russia’s alignment with Iran threatens Moscow’s strategic equities with Turkey. Iran’s incubation of violent Islamic extremism is a danger to Russia and China, both home to oppressed Muslim minorities. U.S. foreign policy should seek to exacerbate these fissures to undermine these malign powers.

“Finally, the United States should double down on investing in responsive governance around the world. Our authoritarian rivals exploit governance gaps to spread their pernicious influence at our expense. China, Russia, and Iran exercise the most influence against us where governing elites are corrupt, civic and media space is limited, elections are not free and fair, governance is not transparent or accountable, 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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