Click here to view video of Murphy’s remarks.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate outlining his opposition to an amendment offered by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opposing President Trump’s decision to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops in Syria and Afghanistan. Although Murphy has been a vocal critic of this administration’s foreign policy and America’s involvement in Syria, he cautioned members from supporting the amendment, which he believes is the wrong way to correct what is already an illegal war in Syria. Murphy called on Congress to reclaim its war-making authority and debate a new Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) and America’s involvement in the Middle East.
“I want to talk about why this amendment is not the right way for us to proceed as a means of correcting Trump's backwards policies and how it could, frankly, get us even more deeply mired into a series of conflicts in the Middle East … We should be debating an Authorization of Military Force for American forces in Syria, not an amendment that restricts an illegal use of military force. The president does not have congressional authorization to use United States troops to fight ISIS in Syria or anywhere else,” Murphy said.
“Again, I wish we were having a debate on an AUMF. I wish this wasn't the way in which we were exercising our constitutional prerogative on foreign policy. I am deeply worried, deeply worried about the language in this amendment that empowers those in the administration who are jonesing for a fight with Iran. I do not believe that however capable and brave our troops are in Syria that they are ultimately are the answer. And if we want to have a debate on Syria policy, let's talk about all the other ways that we need to engage in Syria in order to bring stability to that place,” Murphy added.
The full text of Murphy’s remarks is below:
Mr. President, I come to the floor today to express my opposition to the amendment before the Senate right now with respect to the disposition of American forces in Syria. Let me stipulate first for my colleagues that President Trump's Syria policy has been an absolute mess. It has been a train wreck. It's been a dumpster fire on a daily basis. That is something that Republicans and Democrats can agree on, and I assume that is the reason why we are having this debate right now. There is bipartisan consternation over a policy in Syria that seems to change by the day. Often changes based upon who the last person was that walked into the Oval Office or caught the president's ear. The current policy seems to be that the president is intent on pulling out the 2,000 or so troops that are there at the request of the leader of Turkey, who would love to see the United States pull out so that he could move his troops in and overrun the Kurdish forces, which have been our partners for several years in trying to root out ISIS and extremist groups from Syria.
Now, let me also stipulate that I was one who did not support sending American troops into Syria in the first place. I have never believed that there is a military solution led by the United States to the host of problems that ravage that country, but once you've made that commitment, if you are going to undo it, you have to do it in some orderly fashion and to simply decide on a moment's notice, without any discussion with our allies or partners, that we're moving troops out is the wrong way to undo a commitment that I would argue was wrong-headed in the first place. You have to have a plan in place for the security of those that you are leaving behind, both the Kurdish forces that you have pushed to bring the fight to ISIS as well as all of the civilians who could be caught in the cross fire between an advancing Turkish force and a defensively-oriented Kurdish force.
This is not why I’m on the floor today to try to once again rehash all of the ways that Trump's policy in Syria has gone wrong. I want to talk about why this amendment is not the right way for us to proceed as a means of correcting Trump's backwards policies and how it could, frankly, get us even more deeply mired into a series of conflicts in the Middle East which are not supported, nor will they be supported, by the American people. First, we should be debating an Authorization of Military Force for American forces in Syria, not an amendment that restricts an illegal use of military force. The president does not have congressional authorization to use United States troops to fight ISIS in Syria or anywhere else. He claims he does because he has taken the 2001 AUMF and suggested that because some elements of al Qaeda eventually became elements of ISIS, that authorization continues, but there is no one who voted for that authorization some 17 years ago that thought it would now be used as a means to fight a very different terrorist organization. And so we should be having that debate about renewing America’s Authorization of Military Force so that it is updated for the enemies that we are actually fighting, instead of conceding that the president has what is now potentially unlimited ability to fight anyone, anywhere around the world who had has any kind of affiliation to a terrorist group named 17 years ago. But we're not doing that. Instead, through this amendment, we are in some way, shape, or form ratifying the president's extra-constitutional use of military force overseas, green-lighting the continued end-around on congressional authorization that this president, and many other presidents, would like to continue. And let me also concede that this perversion of the 2001 AUMF was not invented by President Trump, it was invented by President Obama. I opposed it then as I oppose it now.
Second, the language of this bill suggests that our mission inside Syria is not just to fight ISIS. The language of this bill suggests that our troops are in Syria to fight Iran as well. Over and over again this amendment is peppered with references to the rationale for our existence in Syria being not just to fight ISIS, but also to counter Iranian influence. And in fact, the amendment lists a series of conditions that we believe need to be filled before troops are to be withdrawn. Amongst those conditions is a strategy to, quote, stop Iran from dominating the region. That's an interesting debate for us to have, what should be the role of the United States to stop Iran from dominating the region? I would agree with my Republican colleagues that it is not in the security interest of the United States, nor our allies, for Iran to continue to gain a bigger foothold in the region. But there is absolutely no congressional authorization for U.S forces to be in Syria to counter Iran or to fight Iran or to try to be a bulwark against Iranian aggression. No matter what kind of hoops you jump through to try to contort the 2001 AUMF to cover ISIS, you cannot get it to cover Iran. And this resolution – I don't know that it suggests it, it essentially admits, it asserts that our troops are inside Syria today not just to fight ISIS but to stop Iran from gaining a bigger foothold there, and, in fact, makes a condition of our troops’ withdrawal be a strategy continue to press back against the Iranians. There is no AUMF for that. And let me tell you my real worry that by putting a bipartisan stamp of approval today on an amendment that suggests our troops are inside Syria in part to counter Iran, it ultimately empowers those in the administration who are rooting for actual war with Iran. If Democrats and Republicans say here today that our mission inside Syrians ultimately to fight Iran, then doesn't that potentially put some imprimatur of congressional support for a bigger conflagration with Iran that some in the administration may be trying to achieve.
Third, this amendment leaves the impression that there is an American-led military solution to all of the vexing problems inside Syria. There is not. There is not. And if we really want to have a debate about the future of American policy in Syria, then we need to come to the conclusion that ultimately if we want to be a real player in the long-term disposition of Syria for the betterment of the Syrian people, then it is American diplomats and it is American refugee
s programs and American economic development aid that are going to be much more dispositive than 2,000 American troops.
And let me give you an example. In northern Syria where the Kurds exist where American troops are for the time being, we have a problem. The problem, as I outlined before is a relatively simple one, we have pushed the Kurds to become more and more influential in the military and governance matters of that region. That was important for us because the Kurds were the most likely fighting force to be able to oust ISIS, but we knew ahead of time that was going to create a problem with the Turks who see the YPG, the Kurdish military as a terrorist group. We don't agree with them, but we knew ahead of time that the Turks would not stand for the long-term empowerment of the YPG and those portions of Syria. And we have now reached the point where the rubber hits the road in which Erdogan said we are not going to stand for that, we are going to bring our troops in creating a potential flash point there. Now there is a potential solution
that and Erdogan outlined it in an op-ed in a major American newspaper. He said, well listen understand the Kurds have to be influential, but it’s got to be Kurds we support, not Kurds we believe to be affiliated with terrorist groups. Now that’s a really tricky needle to thread and I’m not sure that it ever can be thread, but the way to do that is frankly not with tanks, not with American marines, but with diplomats, with experienced foreign policy hands, people that know how to work out a complicated political arrangement in which the Kurds continue to be able to run that region, but the Turks decide to hold back and not press forward militarily. That is a diplomatic and political quandary that cannot be solved by the American military. This amendment seems to suggest that we can solve all of our problems or many of our problems, if we just keep 2,000 troops there.
Fourth, the back end of this amendment lays out a series of criteria that have to be fulfilled before the troops can be removed. I mention
the one of them, that there has to be a strategy to combat Iranian influence. The final of these criteria is that ISIS has to be substantially defeated and a certification has to be made to that effect. Let me ask my colleagues this, and it is a legitimate question, it's not a rhetorical one. I don't know the answer and maybe someone can provide it for me. When was the last time that this Congress tied the executive hands in that way?
When was the last time this Congress actually laid out the conditions by which the executive cannot withdraw troops from a region? That seems to be a very curious exercise of our foreign policy oversight responsibility. I'm someone who has suggested for a long time that we have largely abdicated that responsibility. I'd love for us to be debating foreign policy, be exercising our oversight more often, but the idea that we would, as a legislative body, tell the president that he cannot withdraw troops from a place unless x, y, and z criteria are met seems to be dangerous and restrictive because there are all sorts of conditions that you can imagine that aren't listed in this amendment by which a president may feel that it is in our best interest to bring troops home.
The Constitution doesn't vest in this Congress the power to un-declare war. It vests in us the power to declare war. And to me, I worry that by restricting the aperture by which the president can make an argument to bring troops home, we ultimately will end up having them be in harm's way for longer than is necessary. So I think, maybe this isn't unprecedented. Maybe there are other times where we've done this. But it does seem to be fairly unprecedented for the legislature to tie the executive hands and tell him or her that he has to keep troops in a place for a certain period of time.
So I wanted to come down to the floor and express my reservations with this amendment. Again, I wish we were having a debate on an AUMF. I wish this wasn't the way in which we were exercising our constitutional prerogative on foreign policy. I am deeply worried, deeply worried about the language in this amendment that empowers those in the administration who are jonesing for a fight with Iran. I do not believe that however capable and brave our troops are in Syria that they
are ultimately are the answer. And if we want to have a debate on Syria policy, let's talk about all the other ways that we need to engage in Syria in order to bring stability to that place. And I do worry about how we tie this president's hands or any president's hands when they want to bring our troops home and get them out of harm's way. Trump has completely botched policy in Syria. But that shouldn't goad even Trump's most ferocious opponents from endorsing endless wars. That shouldn't require Democrats to be against everything that he is for. He's pulling our troops out in a way that I oppose, but I worry about the long-term implications of this Congress asking for a fight in Syria that is unauthorized, and then tying the president's hands when it comes to getting troops out of harm's way in places in far off lands. I'd oppose the amendment. I’d encourage my colleagues to do the same. And I yield the floor.