Menendez Speaks on Senate Floor on Authorizing the Use of Force in Syria
Menendez on Senate Floor: “I do not take the responsibility to authorize military force lightly… But today I urge my colleagues to support this tightly-crafted, clearly-focused resolution to give the President authorization to use military force in the face of this horrific crime against humanity.”
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WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke on the Senate Floor today, talking about his resolution to authorize the use of military force in Syria.
The statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
We come to this Chamber, as we have many times before, to make one of the most difficult decisions we are tasked to make: the authorization of the use of American military power, this time in Syria, to respond to the horrific attack including the use of chemical weapons of August 21st that took the lives of 1,429 Syrians including at least 426 children.
The world is watching. America is waiting to see what we do in this Chamber in response to the threat the world faces from those who cross the line of human decency and use chemical weapons against anyone, anywhere in the world. The images of August 21st were sickening and, in my view, the world cannot ignore the inhumanity and horror of what Bashar al-Assad did.
As I have had to say too many times before as a member of Congress, I do not take the responsibility to authorize military force lightly, or make such decisions easily. I voted against the war in Iraq when it was popular according to the polls to vote for the war, and strongly supported the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But today I urge my colleagues to support this tightly-crafted, clearly-focused resolution to give the President authorization to use military force in the face of this horrific crime against humanity.
Yes, there are clearly risks to any action we authorize, but the consequences of inaction, the consequences of standing-down from fully upholding the norms of international behavior are greater and graver still: further humanitarian disaster in Syria; regional instability; the loss of American credibility around the world; an emboldened Iran and North Korea; and the disintegration of international law.
This vote will be among the most difficult any of us will be asked to make. But the American people expect us to make the hard decisions and take the hard votes. They expect us to put aside political differences and personal ideologies, forget partisanship and preconceptions, forget the polls and personal consequences. This is a moment for a profile in courage, a moment for each of us to do what we know is right, based on what we know is in the best interest of the United States, regardless of the polls or pontifications of political pundits.
To be clear, the authorization Senator Corker and I are introducing is for focused action, with a clear understanding that American troops will not be on the ground in combat. We have worked closely together to put politics aside, weigh the facts, search our consciences and pass a resolution in Committee that we believe is in the national security interest of the American people.
I have said before and will say again: This is not a declaration of war, but a declaration of our values to the world. I want to thank Senator Corker for being a close partner in helping to tailor and focus the language of this resolution so it reflects the will of the Committee, the interests of the American people, and gives the President the authority he needs to respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people.
What we know is clear, notwithstanding Assad’s interview and his denials. According to the declassified intelligence assessment, we know with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21st.
We know that the buck stops with Assad – his interview-denials aside. We know that he controls the regime’s stockpiles of chemical agents including mustard, sarin, and VX gas and has thousands of munitions capable of delivering them, again, under his control. It is inconceivable and defies all logic that he would not know about the preparations and deployment of these horrific weapons.
We know that personnel involved in the program are carefully vetted to ensure loyalty to the regime and the security of the program. We know that chemical weapons personnel from the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center – subordinate to the regime’s Ministry of Defense – were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18th until early in the morning on Wednesday August 21st near an area the regime uses to mix chemical weapons including sarin and human intelligence, as well as signal and geospatial intelligence, have shown regime activity in the preparation of chemicals prior to the attack, including the distribution and use of gas masks.
Some may still be skeptical about Assad’s direct involvement, but clearly the buck stops with Assad when it comes to the use of these weapons.
Some may also suggest that we have not done enough to allow diplomacy to work, but the fact is we have tried diplomacy. We have gone to the UN on many occasions, and it has only bought Assad more time. Notwithstanding Russia’s belated offer today to take action – which, by the way, may only be on the table today specifically because of the imminent threat of the use of force – let’s not forget it has been their intransigence that brought us to this point in the first place.
Syria and Russia lack credibility on this issue, Syria having denied until recently that it had chemical weapons or that it deployed them. The fact is, on August 28th, a week after the attack, Russia blocked a UN Security Council Resolution that called “for all necessary measures” to be taken, and simply called for any state that used chemical weapons to be held accountable. On the day of the attack, August 21st, Russia blocked a Security Council press statement simply expressing “concern” that chemical weapons might have been used. On August 6th, Russia blocked another press statement welcoming the news that a UN investigations team would investigate three sites, and calling for their full and fettered access to those sites.
Russia has also vetoed a Security Council Resolution enshrining the June 30 Geneva Communique brokered by Kofi Annan, vetoed a resolution calling for an end to violence in Syria and vetoed a draft resolution endorsing the Arab League’s plan of action that would have condemned human rights violations. They blocked a press statement calling for humanitarian access to the besieged city of Homs, and one calling for Syrian authorities to provide the UN with humanitarian access and over the course of the conflict in Syria, the United States government, specifically the State Department, has met consistently with its close allies and partners, as well as with Syria’s neighbors, to help prepare the region to detect, prevent, and respond to potential use or proliferation of chemical weapons.
As Ambassador Power acknowledged in her remarks at the Center for American Progress on September 6, the United States has regularly engaged with the Russians and Iranians to attempt to get them to use their influence to stop the Assad regime from using chemical weapons. And the same day, September 6th, the United States and 10 other countries issued a joint statement condemning the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons: Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, and Great Britain.
Since then 14 other nations have also signed onto that statement: Albania, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Morocco, Qatar, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates.
It is only the threat by the President, and this resolution, that would drive both Russia and Syria to the negotiating table. The facts are clear. We have tried diplomacy.
Let us understand that this action is not a choice of force or diplomacy. It’s about both. It’s about enforcing international norms that will, at the end of the day, leverage necessary UN action and help bring about a political solution. For those who want to see UN Security Council action, those who want to push Syria to sign a chemical weapons agreement and give up their weapons and this resolution is the best path to getting there.
And let me say to my colleagues who believe that the authorization of the use of military force will be nothing more than a pin-pick -- this resolution will have clear and verifiable consequences. It will help keep these weapons in check, degrade Assad’s ability to the deploy them, and prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons and their use by anyone, anywhere in the world.
The resolution will have clear consequences, but it is also not open-ended. It appropriately narrows the scope, duration, and breadth of the authority granted to meet Congressional concerns, and the concerns of the American people. It is tightly tailored to give the president “necessary and appropriate” authority to use military force to respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government; protect the national security interests of the United States and our allies and partners; and degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future.
It has a requirement for determination that the use of military force is necessary that appropriate diplomatic and other peaceful means to prevent the deployment and use of chemical weapons by Syria have been used and that the United States has both a specific military plan to achieve the goal of responding to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government and that the use of military force is consistent with the broader goals of U.S. strategy toward Syria, including achieving a negotiated settlement to the conflict and a limitation that specifies that the resolution “does not authorize the use of United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purposes of combat operations” assuring there will be no “boots on the ground.”
The authorization would end after 60 days, with the president having the ability to request and certify for another 30 days and with congress having an opportunity to pass a resolution of disapproval. It provides for an integrated United States Government strategy for Syria, including a comprehensive review of current and planned U.S. diplomatic, political, economic and military policy towards Syria and requires a Report to Congress on the status of the military operations. I know my colleagues on both sides will want to offer a range of amendments.
Let me say in conclusion – history has taught us harsh lessons when it comes to the use of chemical weapons. The images we saw of children lined on the floor on August 21st were not the first images the world has ever seen of the horrors of chemical attacks. We saw them almost one hundred years ago in World War I.
If we do not learn-from and live-by the lessons of the past, if we fail the test of history then we are destined and doomed to repeat it. If we allow the use and proliferation of chemical weapons despite the world’s horror at the gruesome and horrific use of mustard gas, phosgene, and chlorine at the beginning of last century then we risk the same horrors again in this century.
Let us not fail the test of history. Let us say to the world that we cannot allow anyone to use chemical weapons again and that we can never allow such weapons to fall into the hands of stateless-actors and terrorists who would unleash them against America or American interests around the world.
I repeat what I said earlier: Let us understand that this action is not about force or diplomacy. It’s about both. It’s about enforcing international norms that will, at the end of the day, leverage necessary UN action and help bring about a political solution. For those who want to see UN Security Council action, those who want to push Syria to sign a chemical weapons agreement and give up their weapons, this is the best path to getting there.
Make no mistake – the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime ultimately represents a national security threat to the United States, a global security threat we cannot ignore.
Let me read what our former colleague and respected Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Lugar, recently said in the press: “We are talking about weapons of mass destruction. We are talking about chemical weapons in particular which may be the greatest threat to our country of any security risk we have -- much more than any other government, or another nation – because they can be used by terrorists, by very small groups. The use of those weapons has got to concern us to the point that we take action whenever any country crosses that line and use these weapons as we have seen in Syria.”
Senator Lugar is right. We must be concerned – deeply concerned – and that is why we must act. The danger of proliferation is too great, too much of a risk, for us to stand-silent and stand-down.
I urge my colleagues to put aside politics, polls, and preconceptions and do what we know, at the end of the day, is in the national security of the American people.
Again, I want to thank Senator Corker and Members of the Committee for working quickly together to respond to this crisis with a well-crafted resolution that is a declaration of our values and will send a clear message that we, and the world, cannot and will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons anywhere by anyone.
With that, M. President, I yield the floor.