Richard Burr heads to the Senate's big leagues

The following editorial appeared in the Greensboro News & Record:

Sen. Richard Burr plans to run for re-election in 2016 and knows the price has gone up. “Anybody in my position who says they don’t have to raise $20 million is crazy,” he said in a News & Record interview Wednesday.

But that’s not what keeps him up at night. “I probably lose more sleep over Iran because they’ve got their hands on everything.”

In January, when the Senate shifts to Republican control, Burr will become chairman of its Intelligence Committee.

In just 10 years, the Winston-Salem resident has risen to 31st in seniority, thanks to high turnover in the last two elections. His intelligence chair puts him in the big leagues of national security and anti-terrorism strategy.

“Of all the bad things that can happen, a nuclear Iran trumps everything,” he said, adding that it’s “happening in a hurry.”

Obama administration diplomacy has failed, Burr said, leaving possible military action as a last resort for stopping Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. “It’s the only credible thing we have anymore,” he said. It would not involve U.S. ground troops: “Clearly it would be someone else with our help,” he said.

It’s hard to imagine the U.S. – with troops still engaged in Afghanistan, more “advisers” returning to Iraq and an air campaign underway in Iraq and Syria – would initiate a war with Iran, no matter whose troops were employed. Burr warns that other countries in the region would scramble for their own nuclear weapons to counter Iran, justifying a potential limited war, but that’s a reason to press harder for a diplomatic solution.

Burr also challenged the conclusions of the torture report recently released by Intelligence Committee Democrats. He said he was upset about interrogation methods and doesn’t think they'll be used again – but won’t rule it out – yet believes they were effective on many occasions.

Information obtained helped detect and stop terrorist threats in the U.S. and Europe and track down Osama bin Laden, he said – “no question in my mind on that.” Eliminating every technique described in the report – Burr mentioned sleep deprivation as one he doesn’t think is torture – means “we might as well not pick up people.”

Burr knows these are difficult subjects, but he believes the American people support the work U.S. intelligence and security agencies are doing to defend the country. As chairman, he will “attempt to hold open hearings that are educational for the American people about our intelligence community.” He also wants to redesign the committee’s approach to provide “oversight functions in real time,” calling directors to testify every six weeks.

Burr said he’s been to “black sites” – overseas locations where captured terrorists are held. He’s had feces thrown on him by a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. He’s been fully briefed all along about National Security Administration activities, which he defends as legal, necessary and limited.

“These are extraordinary times,” Burr said. They are. He should press intelligence and security agencies to defend our country, but in ways that are consistent with American values.

Tribune Content Agency