Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) issued the following statement following the Senate passage of a bipartisan continuing resolution that funds the government through December 11, 2014 and grants the President authority to take action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria:
“I strongly oppose putting U.S. combat troops on the ground to destroy ISIL. The United States must cooperate with local partners to accomplish this objective.
“In Iraq, there is a possibility of defeating ISIL by strengthening the Iraqi army and promoting political reconciliation between the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish populations that will help mend the deep-seated sectarian divisions that have emboldened ISIL. The Iraqis have made progress in recent weeks by appointing a new, more inclusive prime minister— Haider al-Abadi—and by approving a unity government.
“In contrast, the Syria strategy has not been well-articulated. It is not clear what options there are to partner with local forces, and I have serious reservations about arming the Syrian opposition to defeat ISIL in the areas it controls. While more is known about the opposition than two years ago, there are no assurances that they’ll fight ISIL instead of just turning their sights on Assad. For most of these fighters their primary goal is the overthrow of the regime. I worry that training and equipping moderate rebels will only stoke Syria’s civil war and do little to destroy ISIL.
“However, because this limited authorization will expire on December 11, it will allow the Administration to begin making preparations to strengthen Syrian opposition against ISIL while giving Congress more time to debate whether this is the right course of action. According to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, it will take several months to set up the program before the United States begins training opposition fighters. As this is being done, I expect Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry to explain exactly how the Administration will vet rebel forces and what, if anything, it can do to ensure they will be trusted partners in the fight against ISIL. When Congress returns this fall it will vote on a longer-term authority to train and equip Syrian opposition that extends beyond December. At that juncture, if the Administration cannot make the case that it has developed a workable strategy, I will not support it.
“In addition to the foreign policy implications, there are constitutional reasons why Congress needs to exercise its role in authorizing force and to debate the strategy. That debate will help sharpen our policy, align appropriations for the mission, and reassure the American people that the United States will not become entangled in another costly war in the Middle East. Congress ought to revoke the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations of Use of Military Force and debate a new, more tailored authorization for the use of force. We have a responsibility to narrow the Executive’s powers with respect to its role in defending the American people from terrorist organizations like ISIL. Those powers need to be checked. If they are not, Congress risks sending a message to future Presidents thatan endless war against an ever growing list of organizations in an ever growing list of countries is permissible. It is not.”