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Chairman Menendez’s Opening Remarks at Hearing on “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against ISIL”

WASHINGTON, DC –  U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing titled “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against ISIL.”

“Thank you, Secretary Kerry for being here. When you last appeared before this Committee in September you asked Congress to authorize the use of military force against ISIL. We have an AUMF that the Committee will consider later this week. Today, we are asking you to provide the Administration’s views on this text and on your strategic planning to counter ISIL along with the range of military authorities you will need to achieve your goals.

“This is the most important vote that any Member of Congress can take. It is a vote to send America’s sons and daughter into harm’s way, and we do not take that responsibility lightly. That reality demands our full attention and consideration of three issues.

“First, whether military action to counter ISIL is necessary and in the national security interest of the United States. I believe that it is – and doubt anyone would disagree. I believe that the risk of ISIL acquiring a safe haven in Iraq or Syria – or beyond – from which it can attack American interests – and at some point America itself – demands action.

“Second, we need to understand the political and military goals of this operation, how we expect to achieve them; and the time frame of this campaign. I know some may see this as limiting, but, at the end of the day, Americans will not be supportive of an authorization of an endless war. They do not want us to occupy Iraq for decades. They do not want an ISIL Recruitment AUMF allowing ISIL to claim a Jihad against Western Crusaders that enhances their ability to recruit followers who want to fight Americans. In my view, deployment of ground troops at this time would be Ground Hog Day in Iraq all over again.

“Lastly, we need to hear what authorities the Commander in Chief expects that he will need from Congress to achieve his political and military goals of defeating ISIL and closing off the region to extremists and terrorist.

“Frankly, the process we undertake today is not the one I sought. I had hoped to begin this conversation weeks ago so the entire Senate -- not just this Committee – would have time to consider a comprehensive, bipartisan AUMF.  But, that did not happen, and we are today to take action. The American people expect their congressional leaders to engage fully on this issue – to understand the mission, the parameters, and the risks.

“As I have said many times: I am not comfortable with the Administration’s reliance on the 9/11 AUMF and the 2002 Iraq AUMF. The 9/11 AUMF was adopted to counter al Qaeda in the wake of the September 11 attacks. No member could have foreseen that we would still be acting under its authority 13 years later. I do not believe that it provides the authority to pursue a new enemy in different countries under completely different circumstances than existed 13 years ago. Congress, rather than the executive, has the authority to authorize military action and to declare war for these very reasons. We are the check and the balance on executive power and – if we abandon that role – then we will have done a grave disservice to the American people.

“The text that I have presented is based on consultations with the Democratic members of this Committee and addresses the authorities we understand the White House is seeking. 

“In my view, an ISIL-specific AUMF should – in broad terms -- authorize the President to use military force against ISIL and associated persons or forces – meaning individuals or organizations fighting for or on behalf of ISIL. It should limit the activities of our forces so that there will be no large-scale ground combat operations. If the President feels he needs that, he should ask for it and Congress can consider it. It should limit the authorization to three years and it should require the Administration to report to Congress every 60 days.

"As drafted, the text would limit the authorization of force by not allowing ground combat operations except as necessary for the protection or rescue of U.S. soldiers or citizen or for intelligence operations, spotters to enable airstrikes, operational planning; or other forms of advice and assistance.

“The authorization would be limited to 3 years. The President has said this will be a multi-year campaign, but – I do not believe the AUMF should be unlimited. A 3-year timeframe would allow this President – and a new President – time to assess the situation and make responsible decisions – together with the Congress – about whether and how to continue military action.

“That said, Mr. Secretary, I would like to hear what the Administration’s framework is – what you see as the U.S.-led strategy to counter ISIL.

“Let me conclude by saying – I do not believe that placing limitations in this AUMF sends a message of weakness to our enemies. This authorization is intended to provide the authority required by the Commander in Chief to do our part in this multinational effort to defeat ISIL. 

“ISIL is not only an American problem, it is a global problem – and no ISIL strategy can rely on American military power alone. We need to train Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces; stand-up a train-and-equip program for moderate Syrian fighters; work with Coalition partners to cut off terror-financing and foreign fighter flows; and provide humanitarian aid to address the urgent, desperate situation of millions in the region whose lives have been uprooted.

“Mr. Secretary, I look forward to working with you on our mutual goal of degrading and defeating ISIL – and welcome back to the Committee.

“With that, let me turn to Senator Corker for his opening remarks.”