WASHINGTON – Earlier today, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on his view of the United States’ strategy to confront ISIS. The full text of Murphy’s speech is below:
Madame president, I haven’t watched the gruesome videos of the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and I have no plans to do so. I don’t think I need to in order to understand the brutality of ISIS, and the threat that this radical movement poses to our partners in the Middle East and Europe, and ultimately, to United States national security interests. As we stand here in the Capitol today with the flags at half-mast in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks, I think we all understand that we can’t just ignore this crisis and hope that it passes.
The risks are too high. ISIS presents a new, unique threat to global stability, and it must be met with a robust global response. And whether we like it or not, in today’s world of decentralized power, it is still up to the United States to lead this effort.
Last night, the President of the United States laid out a strong, compelling case for taking the fight to ISIS. I wholeheartedly agree with the imperative for action that he outlined. ISIS represents a serious threat, and we would betray our bond of trust with the world if we ignored it, simply because of a weariness here at home with protracted military engagements abroad.
And so for me, the question is not if, or whether, we should confront ISIS. Rather, it’s just about the most effective way to go about this important task. And, it’s about making sure this debate happens in the proper context. Americans today, more than ever, feel like they have lost control of their lives, of their ability to feel financially, economically, and even physically secure. These videos, and reports of ISIS’s unconscionable brutality, add to this feeling of insecurity. And they invoke rage –justifiable, appropriate rage – about those who would carry out such acts.
In this case, the fear and the anger that we feel about ISIS’s actions is complemented by a legitimate threat that this group poses. So we shouldn’t hesitate to act, simply because our desire to do so is fueled by the intense emotion that this enemy engenders in us. But our response – the details of our strategy – cannot be dictated by these impulses. Our plan of attack against ISIS needs to be well thought-out, nuanced, not rushed into because we feel an emotional compulsion to do something – anything – right now.
We’ve made that mistake in the past as a nation, and we shouldn’t misstep again. And we certainly shouldn’t allow election year politics to play into our calculations. This is a debate about ISIS, but it’s also a debate about how we’re going to meet a potential plethora of anti-Western extremist groups that are, and will, organize against us throughout the world. We’re creating a precedent for action, and we shouldn’t rush into action simply because we feel pressure to get something done before an election. As the President noted last night, and it’s important to repeat, ISIS today does not have imminent plans to attack the United States. That doesn’t diminish the necessity of taking them on, it simply means that we don’t need to engage in a panicked response.
And so today, Madame president, I want to lay out four principles that I believe should serve as the foundation of action against ISIS.
First, our strategy needs to be guided by the recognition that ISIS’s power comes in the first instance from a political vacuum in Iraq and Syria, and second, from a military vacuum. Any strategy must lead with economic and political tactics to undermine ISIS’s legitimacy, using military power as a tool to create the space for these efforts.
We can’t defeat an ideology of extremism with an air campaign. Bombs and drone strikes will not help win the hearts and minds of Sunnis who currently feel disenfranchised or ostracized by the Iraqi government. As with any conflict, the real solution has got to be political, and it must come from the people of the region. Elements of Iraq’s Sunni population will continue to support radical Islamic insurgents, or at best just passively allow them to operate, as long they don’t see any future for them in their country.
And so I applaud President Obama for making the centerpiece of his speech last night a call for continued efforts to create a truly inclusive political process in Iraq. The new Prime Minister has a difficult road ahead, and both Congress and our regional partners should do our part to support this tough political work. For instance, as a complement to the new military funding for operations in the Middle East, we should be debating funding for a surge in political and economic work in the region. If we are going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars dropping bombs inside Iraq, we and our allies should commit to double that amount to support the political efforts to empower moderates in the region.
Second, we will fail if we do not unite Shiite and Sunni nations in the region behind a military plan to confront ISIS. I agree with the president that in the short term the United States is going to need to step up its military operations in Iraq. And I cannot disagree that there may be limited imperatives to use air force inside Syria should we have intelligence that ISIS there poses a threat to the United States. But any military campaign has to be fully cloaked in the legitimacy of a true regional coalition, with Sunni partners front and center.
Further, it’s clear that ISIS is getting funding and a flow of equipment and recruits from countries in the region. We need to turn off this spigot immediately. We need to hear from our partners in the region that ISIS does not truly represent Islam. That they do not condone the slaughter and rape of other innocent Muslims, or Christians or Yazidis for that matter.
The United States needs to lead the efforts to combat ISIS, but we must do so as part of a broad international coalition.
Third, a strategy to confront ISIS does not require America to become fully and overtly enmeshed in the increasingly complicated civil war in Syria. Over the last two years, I have consistently opposed arming and training Syrian rebels, and since the last time Congress debated this subject, the prospect that this intervention could be counterproductive to our national security interests has only increased. To begin with, it will be very difficult to thread the needle of supporting a Shiite regime against a Sunni insurgency in Iraq while, at the same time, supporting a Sunni insurgency against a Shiite regime in Syria. That inconsistency is going to make it difficult to put together lasting regional coalitions.
But more importantly, it is increasingly impossible to sort out the so-called vetted moderate rebels from the truly bad rebels. All of our focus on ISIS over the past months has diverted our attention from the fact that increasingly, some moderate Syrian rebels are openly collaborating with Jabat Al Nusra, a wing of Al Qaeda, inside Syria, and there are even reports of ISIS itself working with elements of the moderate rebels. Our goal would be to support the rebels and simultaneously defeat ISIS and Assad. But the very real possibility exists that the rebels could align with ISIS to defeat Assad, or that our military campaign against ISIS allows Assad to prevail. Both are plausible, and unacceptable, options.
I want ISIS defeated in Syria. I want Bashar al-Assad to pay for his crimes against humanity. But too much can go wrong, for not enough possible gain, for the U.S. to increase our involvement in the Syrian civil war. If necessary, use limited counterterrorism measures to attack ISIS in Syria. But leave the civil war inside Syria to parties that, whether we like it or not, have much more at stake in the fight than us.
And this brings me to my fourth point. All of this should be done with congressional authorization. There is no viable excuse for Congress to abdicate its constitutional responsibility to authorize war. President Obama finished his speech last night with a spectacular charge to the American people, and few could disagree with it. America is exceptional – we continue to stand as a symbol and a beacon of freedom and democracy to the world. And because of that standard that we bear, we should respect the version of democracy that our founding fathers granted to us by having a debate in Congress about the policy that the president has proposed.
Now respectfully, I disagree that the Authorization for Military Force passed in the days following September 11th grants the President the power to conduct an open ended, long term war against ISIS. If that were to be the case, there is absolutely no congressional check upon the executive’s power to open up military fronts against extremists groups anywhere in the world at any time. The 9/11 AUMF was not intended to be perpetual, but it would transform into a permanent, easily manipulated authorization if we interpret it to cover ISIS, a group that specifically disavows an association with the only named group in the 9/11 AUMF.
Frankly, Madame president, I believe that a well-crafted, limited Authorization of Military Force against ISIS could pass the United States Congress. I also believe that the Constitution requires us to find out if it can.
Madame president, I commend the president for having the courage to refuse to rush to rash judgment.
We need to build a strategy that uses military action as a complement to political reform, not the other way around. We need to build a real, sustainable regional coalition to support any military action, with Sunni nations as the lead. We need to recognize the limits of American power, and stay out of the Syrian civil war. And we need to unite the nation, by a congressional authorization of a sound plan to take on ISIS.
I’m glad my Commander in Chief made his case last night, understanding the foreign policy mistakes of the past decade, and a willingness to learn from them. And I am confident that if we get the strategy right, the American people will stand squarely with him as we fight back against an enemy like few we have ever faced before.