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Senator Menendez Opening Remarks at Hearing on “The President's Request for Authorization to Use Force Against ISIS: Military and Diplomatic Efforts”

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the hearing titled “The President's Request for Authorization to Use Force Against ISIS: Military and Diplomatic Efforts.”

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to Secretaries Kerry and Carter and Chairman Dempsey for being here today.

“Last December this Committee reported a resolution to authorize the use of military force to counter ISIL.  We acted because many of us shared a view, then and now, that we stood with the President to defeat ISIL, but that the 2001 AUMF was not – and is not – intended to apply to our current engagement in Iraq and Syria. We believed then, as now, that it is imperative that Congress authorize any further military action against ISIL. It is imperative that we don’t shoehorn this conflict into an old AUMF – it may be convenient, but it isn’t right. We have an obligation to the families who are sending their children into harm’s-way, to understand our goals – what is achievable and what is not – and ultimately to vote to authorize or not authorize the use of force. 

“This Committee had extensive discussions of many of these issues last year, and the AUMF we passed had a restriction on the deployment of ground troops, allowing for all potential uses that the Administration has so far identified – including the use of Special Operations forces to go after high-value ISIL targets, search and rescue of downed pilots, and the use of forward air controllers with Iraqi units to better direct Coalition airstrikes. It also repealed the 2002 Iraq AUMF and set a 3-year timeframe for Congress to reconsider the 9/11 AUMF. What it didn’t do, and what I think Democrats are not willing to do – is to give this or any other President an open-ended authorization for war – a blank check. And as someone who opposed the 2002 Iraq AUMF and who has seen the 2001 authorization that I did support go far beyond what anyone would have contemplated – this is the critical question moving forward.   

“So, I look forward to getting some answers from our witnesses that will allow us to move forward in writing and passing an authorization. But, we need to know what combat operations may be undertaken by U.S. troops on the ground in Syria and Iraq. We need to know whether associated forces that come under this agreement could include forces affiliated with ISIL in Libya, Nigeria or elsewhere. We need to know whether a new Administration could revert to relying on 2001 AUMF in three years if this AUMF, if passed, were to expire and we need to know how long we expect to be there and what our exit strategy will be.  What metrics will indicate success or tell us it’s time to bring troops home?

“We heard from General Allen two weeks ago that, under the President’s proposed language prohibiting enduring offensive combat forces that U.S. troops could be deployed for as little as two weeks or as long as two years before they would trigger the restriction on “no enduring offensive operations.” On the other hand, General Dempsey said last week that he does not view this language as time-restrictive, but as mission-specific. So, General Dempsey believes the language in this AUMF would allow, for example, U.S. ground forces to accompany Iraqi forces into Mosul. Clearly, there’s a need to define exactly what would be allowed. It would seem to me that, legally, there’s at least the potential for large numbers of U.S. troops to be deployed in Iraq and Syria, and maybe beyond the authorization as submitted.

“So, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing the answers to these and other questions from our distinguished witnesses and I thank you for this opportunity.”