Sep 18 2014
Mr. President, one of the most important and solemn duties we have as members of this body is to authorize the use of military force and ask the brave men and women in our armed services to put their lives in harm’s way.
It is a gross dereliction of that duty – and an insult to those men and women – to tack on a military authorization to this must-pass spending bill, just so members of Congress can hurry back home.
If the United States is going to escalate our involvement in a brutal conflict overseas, if we are going to send American troops to arm and train Syrian rebels for their fight against ISIS, we need to debate that decision on its own merits, not as a condition of funding the government. This is the only way for this issue to receive the careful attention and robust debate that it deserves.
We owe it to our men and women in uniform to separate any military authorization from this must-pass spending bill to keep the government funded. If that means we do not get to go home early, so be it. The lives of troops, and the security of the United States, are too important.
Now, I believe, as the President does, that ISIS is a threat to the Middle East and will take any opportunity it gets to kill American citizens. Many of its fighters carry European and even American passports, which will offer them easier access to the United States.
Tracking and stopping these foreign fighters must be a high priority for the President and Congress, and our allies must work to stop the flow of these fighters into and out of the conflict zone.
We must attack their finances, their abilities to communicate and coordinate and access weapons and supplies. The United States can and should act to protect ourselves from this threat.
And there is a clearly defined constitutional process for doing this, which involves the participation of the President as the commander in chief, and members ofCongress as representatives of the American people, invested with the power to declare war.
But are we following that clearly defined and prudent process? No.
Instead, we’re considering an authorization of military force as an afterthought... to a continuing resolution, which itself reduces Congress’s spending authority to another afterthought.
Why? Because, as far as I can tell, some in Congress want to go home early.
This is shameful and unconscionable. It is an insult to the men and women we serve, and the men and women in uniform who serve us all.We should strike the section to arm and train Syrian rebels from the CR and, instead, have a full debate and separate vote on authorizing the President’s strategy to address the ISIS threat.
Forcing an authorization for our military to act in any manner through a Continuing Resolution – up against a government shutdown - does not meet the standards for this process and does not afford the American people, many of whom are service members, a voice regarding our nation’s most important affairs.
We have ample reason to take the needed time to consider this on its own merits.
The idea of arming Syrian rebels has drawn serious concern from members on both sides of the aisle. But so far, only members from certain key committees have been able to debate the specifics of the President’s plan, and even those of us who sit on those committees are still in need of much more information.
I have had concerns for the past year with the proposed tactic of arming Syrian rebels after hearing testimony from our own Intelligence and Defense leaders that what we refer to as the "moderate rebels" are fragmented, decentralized, their memberships fluid, and lacking in common goals, leadership, and level of moderation. This is borne out in press reports from the region almost weekly.
In fact, I asked General Austin, the Commander of CENTCOM, if the U.S. could “guarantee that the assistance we are supplying to moderates in Syria are not being used by or to the benefit of extremist groups who want to attack the United States.”
His answer was: [QUOTE] “No, we cannot guarantee the assistance we provide doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Undoubtedly, some weapons and funds flowing into Syria wind up in the hands of extremists…”
He continued: The extremists [QUOTE]“work closely with all factions of the opposition and is often aware of logistics and humanitarian shipments into Syria. At times they even acquire and disseminate these shipments to the local populace. This, in turn, benefits [the extremists] in the propaganda war.”
That’s probably why, hardly a month ago, President Obama called the idea of arming Syrian rebels "a fantasy" that was "never in the cards". Now he is seeking authorization for it. In less than a month, what was once a “fantasy” is now the strategy. What was “never in the cards” is now not only in the cards, but it is a card he is playing – and doing so as an afterthought thrown onto a must-pass bill with an entirely different purpose.
On Tuesday, in the Armed Services Committee hearing, when I asked Secretary Hagel about why the President had changed his mind on arming and training the Syrian rebels, Secretary Hagel could not provide an explanation.
This is troubling, to say the least. If there has been some change over the last month in the national security threat or the capabilities and composition of the Syrian opposition groups, why has the President not shared this with our Secretary of Defense? Or if there hasn’t been a change, then is there some reason other than American national security that has caused the President to reverse course?
The American people deserve answers to these questions.
Another important issue that deserves a full and open debate is that this is about more than just arming rebels to fight terrorists.
It became clear through answers from administration officials in our Senate Armed Services hearing on Tuesday that the administration believes that a new government and political structure in Syria is needed for these rebel groups to be successful.
No one doubts that President Assad is a tyrant who has exacted terrible measures on his own citizens. But our constituents need to understand – and I want to be very clear here – the idea of arming Syrian rebels to fight ISIS and Assad while also standing up and supporting a new government in Syria is more like a long-term, nation-building mission than counterterrorism.
The administration has not been clear on this point, and if we are indeed taking steps to toward a nation-building exercise, then we must also debate both the financial and human cost of such an endeavor.
The ISIS threat to the United States is serious, and our response should be given equally serious consideration. When my colleague on the Armed Services Committee, Senator Fischer from Nebraska, mentioned how important she thought it was that this authorization be separate from the CR, Secretary Hagel stated that he agreed it should have a [QUOTE]“more thorough airing with the American people,” but that it couldn’t because Congress was rushing home for recess.
This is not good enough from the United States Senate. It is shameful.
Our constituents expect us to do our jobs, and if that means staying here a few days, then we need to do that. If this plan is the right one, fine. If we need to adjust it or reject it, fine.
But there is no such thing as a must-pass vote of conscience. The American people deserve to have a debate about how and why we are sending their sons and daughters into danger.
We should not set this precedent of sending Americans into harm’s way as an afterthought, on our way out of town – like some kind of political out-of-office reply email. Congress used to be better than this, and I submit that the American people still are.
I urge my colleagues to pull this section from the CR, and have a full debate to give authorization for the President’s actions in the Middle East.