WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, today participated in the nomination hearing of Lieutenant General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. of the United States Marine Corps to be the next Commanding General of U.S. Central Command. There, he questioned Lt. General McKenzie on his assessment of the threats that Iran poses to the United States’ national security and the long-term implications for the region.
Watch Sen. Cruz’s full line of questioning here. A full transcript is below:
Sen. Cruz: Gentleman, welcome. Thank you for your service. Let’s start by talking about Iran. General McKenzie, could you give your thoughts as to the short-term and the long-term threat posed by Iran?
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: Senator, the most significant long and short-term threat in the Central Command theater is Iran. And Iran’s ambitions both in the theater, and also to a degree globally.
Sen. Cruz: How do you assess the impact of the President’s decision pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal?
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: Sir as we spoke just a few moments ago, I would say that Iran’s malign behavior in the theater hasn’t abated from before, during, or after the nuclear deal in the other domains which I see. Which is in their development of ballistic missiles, their activities both in Syria and in Yemen and in other nations across the AOR [Area of Responsibility].
Sen. Cruz: So, let’s take those one piece at a time. In terms of ballistic missiles, what are we seeing? What’s their capability? And what is the threat of those ballistic missiles?
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: Iran has chosen to substitute ballistic missiles, both short and medium and long range, for their paucity of aviation assets. They have an aggressive developmental program going forward that would include an aspiration to develop an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missiles].
Sen. Cruz: And how close do you assess they are to having an ICBM that could hit the continental United States?
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: Well they’re testing and we watch their space launch vehicle with great interest, because as we’ve seen in other places around the world, that is technology that is easily transferred from a space launch vehicle to an ICBM of significant range.
Sen. Cruz: And what would be the national security threat posed to the United States if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons?
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: Should Iran acquire nuclear weapons I think that – they’ve been inimically opposed to us for many years, you would always – and so you can only speculate what they might do with those weapons. But I can’t imagine that anything good would proceed from Iran possessing a weapon of great striking power and ability to destroy.
Sen. Cruz: How would it impact the region if Iran were to become a nuclear power?
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: Senator, I believe it would be destabilizing in the region if Iran procured nuclear weapons. It would possibly lead to other nations pursuing nuclear weapons. It would lead to the worst of all outcomes for us which would be widespread proliferation of those weapons across the theater.
Sen. Cruz: And, describe for this committee Iran’s conduct in terms of spreading, and fomenting, and funding terror.
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: Senator, we see it active in Yemen. Actually, the humanitarian tragedy that we confront in Yemen is the child of Iranian ambitions in Yemen, and their support for the Houthis and trying to create a Hezbollah-like state there. So, that proceeds directly from them. We see the same activities in Syria as well, where they are actively supportive – actively participating in supporting the government of Bashar al-Assad and all that proceeds from that, and the terror that he has inflicted on his own people. Just to cite two examples, Senator.
Sen. Cruz: What’s been the state of the Iranian economy following our withdrawal from the nuclear deal?
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: Pressure remains on the Iranian economy. As you know Senator, it’s hard to see there. We look, but it’s hard to know. But, I believe there is pressure on the Iranian economy. It remains to be seen if they’re going to be able to work with other countries that will seek to circumvent some of the sanctions that are on them. I don’t know the answer to that. I’m probably not the best person to describe that. But, I believe there is pressure on the Iranian economy.
Sen. Cruz: But even with that pressure on the economy, have you seen any indications of their scaling back their terror activity funding of Hezbollah and Houthis and other terrorists?
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: I’ve seen nothing of appreciable change, Senator.
Sen. Cruz: What’s your assessment? We saw earlier this year significant protests against the Ayatollah and the Mullahs. What’s your assessment of the degree of unrest and dissatisfaction among the Iranian people with the regime?
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: Senator, it’s an authoritarian regime that responds very harshly. And so, I haven’t seen anything and I defer to the intelligence community for a better look at that. But, I haven’t seen anything that I would characterize as spreading or essentially threatening the fundamental nature of the Iranian regime.
Sen. Cruz: Now we’ve certainly seen in the past that Iran has a long history of making promises and then breaking those promises. What do you see as the likelihood that they either have initiated, or will initiate again, a nuclear program working to develop nuclear weapons?
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: Senator, I think we should watch very closely. We should watch very closely that possibility.
Sen. Cruz: Gentleman, thank you both for your service.