WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening statement Tuesday at a Committee hearing entitled, “Reviewing Congressional Authorizations for the Use of Military Force”:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I totally concur in your comments about the actions last week. I think it was the United States Senate, guided by this committee that did exactly what we needed to do in regards to the appropriate role of Congress, so I thank you very much and I also thank you for holding this hearing.
“Much of what you said in your opening statement, I fully support and agree with. There are some differences that I will point out in my opening statement but I do agree that this is one of the most important responsibilities that we have and one in which hearings are very important for us to get this right. We can’t run away from this responsibility and I thank you for holding this hearing. I also join you in thanking Senator Kaine and Senator Flake for their leadership for many years of pointing out that Congress has a responsibility to express itself on the use of military force and that the interpretations of both Democratic and Republican administrations on our 2001 authorizations certainly go well beyond what Congress intended. I thank them both for their leadership. Senator Young, thank you for your leadership, and this committee took up this issue under Senator Menendez’s leadership and we did not come to an agreement – certainly the administration was not supportive of what we were trying to do – but we attempted to come together on that issue.
“In the wake of the horrific attacks against our country on September 11th, 2001, Congress passed an AUMF targeting the perpetrators of those attacks and the Taliban who harbored them in Afghanistan. In 2002, Congress passed a second AUMF for the war in Iraq.
“When written, these AUMFs provided the President with sufficient latitude to target terrorist affiliates in order to better combat the threat of terrorism.
“Unfortunately, this latitude has been stretched far beyond what Congress intended. We are now 16 years beyond the 2001 AUMF and yet it continues to be used as justification for a wide range of military operations. This includes military operations against terrorists in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere whose connections to al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks are tenuous at best.
“Mr. Chairman, let me just read what the 2001 authorization said: ‘That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons who he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001 or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.’
“It was clear to me when I voted for it that I was giving the President the necessary authority to take action against those who attacked our country on September 11th. It’s now being used well, well beyond what Congress intended. There’s no question to me. We saw in the most recent use of this in regards to activities in Syria that certainly had nothing to do with the attack on our country on September 11th. And that’s true as I said initially about the interpretations under both the Obama administration and now under the Trump administration.
“The Iraq AUMF is still used, in part, as justification for U.S. military operations in Iraq, 14 years past the U.S. invasion and long after the end of the Saddam Hussein regime.
“These AUMFs are now becoming mere authorities of convenience for Presidents to conduct military activities anywhere in the world.
“This is no longer acceptable. To permit this situation to continue is a dereliction of Congress’s duty under the Constitution to direct and regulate the President’s use of his Commander in Chief authority in activities of war. It is an evasion of our responsibility to the American people to ensure that the United States does not stumble into war, or involve itself in ill-conceived wars that are not ours to fight or do not comport with interests, needs, values, and principles of our great nation.
“It is a failure of our commitment to our brave servicemen and women when we do not clearly define the battle and the objectives for which they must fight and risk their lives.
“This is especially the case now, as the President has yet to tell us or the American people what his strategy is for defeating ISIL—in Iraq and Syria, but also in other relevant theaters like Afghanistan, where violent extremist groups threaten U.S. interests. What we see instead is the President delegating his most vital responsibilities to others to decide what military operations are conducted, and how many U.S. troops are to be committed to combat in foreign countries.
“It is critical to the future security of the United States and our friends and allies that Congress provide the President with proper authorities to target and combat ISIL and its affiliates.
“The 2002 Iraq AUMF should be repealed and the 2001 9/11 AUMF must be repealed and replaced with one that specifically targets ISIL and other terrorist groups.
“The authorities provided in a new AUMF must be tailored to allow the President to effectively go after direct threats to the United States, but also to avoid granting the President unilateral authority to engage in operations practically anywhere in the world.
“Mr. Chairman, let me just point out, you and I both asked the administration to present us with their strategy. They have yet to do that. There are numerous examples of where we’ve asked them to present to us what they need. It’s difficult for us to carry out our responsibility unless we know what the Commander in Chief needs as far as the use of military force in combatting the ISIL forces, so it’s going to be a challenge for us. As I’ve said I think we need to repeal the 2001 [authorization] and replace it, but we need to know what the administration’s strategy is and they haven’t done that, but we do know they’re using the 2001 and 2002 authorizations well beyond what we ever intended.
“Of particular concern to me is the need for meaningful restrictions on deploying significant numbers of U.S. ground forces to combat ISIL. I do not believe significantly escalating our direct involvement in current combat operations is beneficial to actually solving the crisis instigated by ISIL. There is no easier or more assured way for the U.S. to unintentionally commit itself to a long-term military quagmire than this.
“As we know too well, once committed and then under attack, it becomes politically nearly impossible to withdraw those troops.
“Moreover, I am not at all convinced that the evolving threat from ISIL to us — and to our friends and partners — necessitates committing more of our brave men and women to ground combat operations.
“The need for significant combat military operation should diminish as ISIL’s control over territory is diminished, and the organization shifts its focus to terrorist attacks around the globe. It is at this point that the battle becomes one of assisting and building local partner militaries, and improving counter-terrorism civilian security forces, law enforcement units, and intelligence, investigative and judicial agencies, as well as combating ISIL’s cyber activities.
“As we’ve heard in recent hearings on ISIL’s global reach, the organization is moving from a “physical caliphate” to a “virtual caliphate,” and that is not something one fights with combat troops.
“For all of these reasons, I believe this hearing is critically important, but it’s equally important that we hear from the administration.”