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Chairman Menendez’s Opening Remarks at Hearing on “United States Strategy To Defeat The Islamic State In Iraq And The Levant”

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 “United States Strategy to Defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.”

“Mr. Secretary, having just returned from a coalition-building mission that will determine the breadth of support and course of the anti-ISIL strategy in the near and long term – you are here at a critical moment for the Iraqi and Syrian people, for the region, for Europe and the United States, and for the world.

“Let me say at the outset, in my view the coalition you are working hard to build will require fully engaged and fully contributing senior partners – a coalition that must be defined not by words, but by deeds. The U.S. can lead this coalition, but our partners – particularly Sunni partners – must be all-in. I fully acknowledge that getting skin in the game will be different for different coalition partners, but Congress can not be providing a blank check for the anti-ISIL campaign.  I am pleased by the willingness of our partners in the Middle East to support, fund, and provide resources for this campaign – from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi, from Cairo to Amman to Beirut – our partners are sending the signal to ISIL that they are not welcome, that they have a bankrupt religious ideology, and that they will be aggressively confronted.

“Above all, the problems in Iraq and Syria that created an environment susceptible to ISIL’s advance can only be solved locally. In Iraq, this means an inclusive government with a national agenda and leaders ready to empower the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish peshmerga forces to take the fight to ISIL. In Syria, it means training and equipping a vetted Syrian opposition force that shares our vision for a pluralistic, free Syria – free of ISIL and all violent extremist groups, but also free of Assad and his regime backers. This fighting force should be prepared to support a post-Assad political structure, whatever the circumstances under which he ultimately leaves Syria by negotiated settlement or other means.

“The President has laid out a comprehensive, holistic strategy that purports to integrate all the tools of U.S. power to defeat ISIL.  What I expect to hear today is specifics – the timeline for this mission, the scope, the resources in both personnel, funds, intelligence and military assets, and assistance – as well as the role our coalition partners will play. We must also be clear eyed about the risks before providing our enduring support for this operation.

The fact is – we are living in 2014, not 2003 – we must not repeat mistakes of the past given the nature of the threat we face.  This means clearly defining the objectives – the political end state that we seek through this anti-ISIL campaign.  I want to hear what success looks like in Iraq, in Syria, across the region, and what conditions will indicate when it is time to end military action.

“This is what we know about ISIL: It has brutally, mercilessly, barbarically followed through on its threats to kill American hostages James Foley and Steve Sotloff. It beheaded British aide-worker, David Haines on Saturday and threatens to execute another British citizen, Alan Hening. It promotes genocide against anyone who does not share its warped version of Islam: moderate Sunnis, Shias, Christians, Yazidis, minorities. It enslaves women and children. It has seized U.S. and Iraqi military equipment and has built a formidable fighting force.

“It’s pumping oil and selling it to the tune of one million dollars a day to fund its brutal tactics, along with kidnappings, theft, extortion, and external support. It is recruiting disciples for its unholy war at a frightening pace from Europe, the U.S., and anywhere they can find disaffected people. These foreign fighters are crossing from Turkey which – because of fear or maybe ideology – has declined to participate in the effort to counter ISIL. It has declared the territory it occupies a caliphate with intent to seize more territory from U.S. partners and allies – from Jordan to Saudi Arabia to Lebanon. The risk to Jordanian and Lebanese stability is real, it’s urgent, and it’s grave.

“We would be fools to not take this threat seriously. ISIL is an enemy of the United States and the civilized world.

“As I have said many times, temporary and targeted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria fall under the President’s powers as commander in chief, but if the military campaign lasts for an extended period of time, Congress will need to approve an ISIL-specific Authorization for the Use of Military Force. I am personally not comfortable with reliance on either the 2001 AUMF that relies on a thin theory that ISIL is associated with Al Qaeda – and certainly not on the 2002 Iraq AUMF which relied on misinformation.

“I expect the Administration – today and in the days ahead – to brief this Committee on its comprehensive strategy and the operational objectives by which we will defeat ISIL so we can draft an appropriate AUMF to address the very grave ISIL threat we face. To be clear, I support the President’s strategy and his sense of urgency and commend you, Mr. Secretary, for your efforts with allies in the region who also face violent and destabilizing threats from ISIL.

“Let’s not, however, make the 9-11 mistake of rushing into an AUMF that has become the overriding authorization for the last 13 years, has seemed to have indefinite duration, and has been used from South Asia to the Persian Gulf, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The fact is – we need to ensure that whatever AUMF we consider is comprehensive and appropriate in scope and duration to meet the threat and sustain the fight.

“It is our responsibility to answer three fundamental questions: What will it ultimately take to degrade and destroy ISIL? How does this fight end? And what end state do we seek in the region? We need to get it right, not just get it fast; and, in doing so, we need a bipartisan approach that puts politics aside and the nation first.

“This is a long-term effort, and we in Congress must be very deliberate in our consideration of any new strategy, new authorities, and new funding that it will take to meet the new threat we face. I believe we need to defeat ISIL before they develop the operational capacity to perform a September 11th- like attack. That is our responsibility and our solemn obligation.”