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DeFazio Statement for the Record on McKeon Amendment to H.J. Res 24

Sep 17, 2014
Press Release

The following statement was submitted for the record in the U.S. House of Representatives on September 17, 2014.

There is no doubt that the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) is a growing regional threat that presents greater instability and turmoil across the Middle East.  Today ISIL does not pose a credible strategic threat outside of the Middle East. So the U.S. response must reflect that reality. We cannot allow the Dick Cheneys of the world to use the horrific beheadings by ISIL as a call to war, just like the Gulf of Tonkin incident or the alleged weapons of mass destruction capabilities of Saddam Hussein.  I am voting against this authorization to equip and train as yet unknown, perhaps non-existent “moderate” Syrian opposition forces to combat ISIL.  

The three most successful ground forces fighting in Syria are ISIL who has ties with Saudi Arabia, the Syrian army backed by Iran, and Al Nusra which has ties to Hezbollah.  The alliances between these forces are constantly shifting. One day ISIL and Nusra make common cause against the Syrian army and the other day they are all fighting each other.  These sectarian wars are based on thousands of years of history and the U.S. has no role in sorting them out.

Congress is being asked to vote today on arming Syrian rebels that are yet to be vetted by the U.S. In fact, the text of this authorization requires the administration to report to Congress within 15 days on the plan for providing this assistance. Congress should know what the plan is before we vote on it. We should come back in 15 days or however long it takes for the administration to determine the scope and plan of this operation and who it is that the U.S. is going to arm in Syria. It is an abdication of our constitutional duties to vote on a vague authorization today instead of waiting and passing judgment on a more detailed assessment on this operation and an updated authorization for use of military force (AUMF).

If you turned to any of my colleagues today and asked the basic question who are the 5,000 fighters that the U.S. will train and equip in Syria, they could not give you an answer. Not even our intelligence agencies know who we can trust. Before granting authorization, Congress should at least know who it is we are giving U.S. weapons to and what their ideology and political goals are. This is a complex mess of various actors, many of whom cannot be considered trustworthy allies. The Syrian opposition is made up of hundreds of thousands of fighters from various factions that are also fighting amongst each other.

In Iraq, the U.S. is looking to form an alliance with a new government whose current Prime Minster has yet to prove he will bring Sunnis back to their proper place in an inclusive society. At the moment the Iraqi army barely exists on paper.  It is extremely disturbing that the main Iraqi force currently fighting ISIL, Asaib Ahl al-haq, is incredibly hostile to the U.S. and was attacking our troops up to the last day of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

That is why it is so critical that Congress be presented with a detailed plan of this “train and equip” operation including who it is that we are arming before we vote and this amendment fails to do that.

Most importantly what we are voting on today is a small part of President Obama’s larger strategy to go to war with ISIL. No President can declare war without Congressional authorization.  If the U.S. is going to war with ISIL as it appears that we are, then my colleagues need to stay here and debate and vote on an AUMF. It is our constitutional duty and to leave town without a vote on the overall military strategy is disgraceful.  The American people did not elect us to punt the responsibility for matters of war and peace to the President.  The purpose of an AUMF is to lay out in detail the scope, plan, purpose, and duration of a military operation and to provide both classified and non-classified briefings to Congress and allow them to debate and express their opinions on the merits of this. Absent an AUMF from Congress, we are committing ourselves to an open ended war, declared by the President about which we have little to no details.

Lastly, history has shown that U.S. involvement in sectarian as well as civil wars raging in the Middle East does not benefit our interests.  ISIL would not exist today if it were not for the unnecessary U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which I voted against. ISIL is a regional threat and it is time for Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and other so-called “partners” to step up and fight this war themselves. They have no incentive to do it if we keep fighting it for them.  Additionally, arming Syrian rebels could drag the U.S. into the Syrian civil war. General Martin Dempsey said yesterday in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he would put U.S. troops on the ground if he felt it was necessary despite the President’s numerous statements that he would not put boots on the ground. Already you can hear the march to war. In fact, it is easy to argue that continued U.S. military actions in the Middle East only create more hatred directed at our nation and increase the risk of terrorism both here and abroad.