August 03, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on Authorizations of Use of Force

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on the authorizations of use of force: administration perspectives. The committee heard witness testimony from the Honorable Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of State, Mr. Richard Visek, acting legal adviser to the U.S. Department of State, and the Honorable Caroline Krass, general counsel to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for holding the hearing. Thank you to our witnesses for being here.

“It’s interesting to know and I think that probably the objective of everybody on this committee is the same when it comes to AUMFs. I’ve sat through scores of hours, on this committee and on the intelligence committee, both opened and closed, to deal with what’s probably one of the most vexing problems we face.

“Having said that, and having said that we all have the same objective, I think it’s good that we all sit down and talk together in a rational basis to reach a conclusion as to where we go with these things. And, I agree with the chairman, that messaging is extremely important. I think as much as anything, messaging is one of the things that the AUMF telegraphs to both our friends and our enemies. And, I guess I come down on a different side of that.

“But having said that, I think when you are talking about messaging, what you have to do is look at not so much your message as the people who are receiving the message. I suspect that the arguments on both sides probably prevail with some people. Some will read the message one way, and some will read the message the other. And so, it’s important that we discuss it. It’s important that we resolve that. And, it’s important that we do not only message, but interpret that message for the people that are listening to it.

“President Biden has directed airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria twice since February. Both actions have failed to deter further Iranian aggression. 

“Within a few days of the U.S. airstrikes in February, Iranian militias attacked U.S. forces at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, attacked Israeli-owned ships in the Gulf of Oman, and increased drone attacks against Saudi Arabia from both Iraq and Yemen. 

“The day following the most recent U.S. strike, Iranian militias launched multiple rockets at our forces in northeast Syria, and several days of attacks against our troops and diplomats in Iraq resulting in American injuries.

“Beyond Iran's terrorism in the region, we recently saw a plot to kidnap an American citizen on United States soil – an appalling demonstration of Iran's disregard of what we are doing.

“While the administration cited Article II authorities as the legal basis for recent strikes, I’m concerned with the practical impacts of repealing the 2002 AUMF. 

“The fact of the matter is that the 2002 AUMF provides the only statutory authority to strike Iran-backed militias in Iraq. 

“After all, the 2002 AUMF served as part of the legal basis for the strike against General Suleimani.

“The Biden Administration’s policy of less than robust responses to attacks against U.S. interests have clearly failed to restore deterrence. Having said that, it’s all the more important that we underscore the message that we are trying to send.

“Coupled with troop reductions across the Middle East, I’m concerned that the repeal of the 2002 AUMF only adds to the wrong message the administration, and I think all of us, are already sending to Iran, our allies, and the region. 

“A repeal of this authority amplifies Iranian messages that they are ejecting the U.S. from the region, rewards Iranian proxies for attacks against Americans, and decreases U.S. leverage in the nuclear talks in Vienna, indeed if we have any leverage.

“It’s vitally important that we understand the conditions under which we have previously relied on this authority for both strikes and detention, and that we are certain that a repeal would not have negative unintended consequences.

“Finally, I’m concerned that a repeal of the 2002 AUMF could increase calls for a repeal of the 2001 AUMF – an authority that is critical to our global counterterror operations.

“I've already heard my colleagues calling for a repeal of the 2001 AUMF – and I believe such an action without a suitable replacement, which is the real problem, would make Americans less safe.

“Again, I think we have a lot to agree on. I think the messaging is incredibly important. And, again, it is important that we hold this hearing.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.

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