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Engel Remarks on Authorization for the Use of Military Force

Jul 25, 2017
Press Release

- As Delivered – 

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) and current terrorist threats at the full Committee hearing:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this hearing.

“To our witnesses: welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee. We're grateful for your time and expertise.

“The role of Congress in authorizing and overseeing the use of American military force around the world is really such an important issue.  Some of us have been trying to advance this debate for the last several years, but for the most part, the topic has remained on the back burner in the halls of Congress.  I'm glad we're focusing on it today, because I think the need for congressional leadership is more important now than ever.

“The Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress in 2001, and I was here then, authorized the President to take military action against, ‘those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.’ In the intervening years, it has been used as a legal justification for military force in a host of countries around the world.  Today, it is the legal basis for the fight against ISIS.

“That gives you a sense of just how broadly this authorization has been interpreted by successive administrations. I was here when we passed this measure nearly sixteen years ago, and I have to say that none of us envisioned we would still be relying on it nearly two decades later to fight an enemy that didn't even exist when the Twin Towers came down.  It's essentially become a blank check.

“Now, whatever you think of President Obama’s foreign policy, his Administration did come to Congress and ask for an updated authorization. The current Administration has not.  And what concerns me now is that we've seen escalating military activity on a number of fronts: ratcheting up the use of force in Afghanistan; a pledge by the Administration to ramp up the fight against ISIS; reckless talk about expanding the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, which even President Bush wanted to close; declaring parts of Somalia so-called ‘area of active hostilities,’ which decreases oversight of airstrikes and increases the risk that American forces could be drawn into clan conflict; and strikes against the Assad regime and associated forces.

“Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t do some of this and I’m not saying that we should withdraw from these challenges. The fight against ISIS is critical to protect the national security of the United States and our allies. We have seen too many murdered children and families, and must continue to ensure that Assad does not use chemical weapons. And we’ve invested too much blood and treasure in Afghanistan to stand by and watch it fall back into the hands of extremists.

“But we have to ask ourselves: are we comfortable sending American servicemembers into harm's way based on a virtually limitless 2001 authorization? If so, what will be the next skirmish supposedly covered by this 16-year-old measure? Extended hostilities towards Assad's forces? Shooting down a Russian MiG? This to me feels like a slippery slope.

“So Congress needs to do its job. We need to do what we should have done years ago and pass a new authorization governing the conflicts we're engaged in today. And frankly, even though we call it an authorization, what we need is a limitation. The 2001 authorization is too broad. It needs to be put out to pasture and scaled back. We need an authorization tailored to the challenges we face today, one that gives the Administration the tools it needs to ensure our security without dragging us into another war—turning the slippery slope into dangerous cliff.

“Congress has the power to do this and we need to act. But for us to craft a measure with the right boundaries, we need to know what strategies the United States is pursuing in these global hotspots.  We have U.S. troops on the ground in Syria, but we still don’t have a clear sense of the endgame there or when the troops will come home.  With the conflict in Afghanistan once again heating up—and a disturbing spike in civilian casualties—we’ve yet to learn the Trump Administration’s approach to America’s longest war. And now that we’ve received the Administration’s plan to deal with ISIS, I’m not clear how it differs at all from the approach of the last Administration.

“We haven’t heard anything from the Administration about how it intends to win the peace in all these places once the fighting is over. I can tell you one thing: slashing funding for diplomacy and development is the wrong approach.  That’s what the Administration is doing.  Planning a war without planning to secure the peace is a sure path toward future conflict and instability. And if we don’t have a strong State Department and USAID, we’re taking away the tools to build that long-term solution.

“You cannot make foreign policy flying by the seat of your pants, especially when it comes to our men and women in uniform. The Administration should be up here explaining how they plan to deal with these conflicts, not careening from crisis to crisis.  But one way or another, we—Congress—need to act.  It’s time to retire the 2001 AUMF and stop shirking our responsibility.

“I have an approach that I’ve been working on. Other members have offered their views as well.  If these approaches aren’t perfect at first, it doesn’t mean we can throw up our hands and walk away. It means we need to work across the aisle to find the right answer and the right approach.

“So I look forward to hearing from our witnesses, I thank you again Mr. Chairman, I want to hear from our witnesses about the right way to grapple with this problem.”

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