Protecting our nation from those who would do us harm is the first and most important responsibility of Congress.
In the midst of turbulent times abroad, we must remain vigilant in deterring hostile nations and pursuing terrorist networks intent on bringing death and destruction to our country. We must also identify and eliminate vulnerabilities within our borders, ports, and critical infrastructure. As an ever-shrinking global community draws both our friends and our enemies closer, we must maintain our focus and commitment to protecting our national security.
Over the past decade, the men and women of our Armed Forces have been asked to fight two separate, difficult conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Faced with tremendous challenges, our troops have responded with great skill, courage, and honor. Since these wars began, more than two million U.S. troops have been deployed. Minnesota's active duty servicemen and women, National Guard members and Reservists, have continued our state's proud tradition of military service to the nation. Thousands of Minnesotans in uniform have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and many are still there. My thoughts and prayers are with them and their families.
I have long believed that our military policy in Iraq must focus on a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops and the transfer of authority to the Iraqi government. In order to further push our policy in this direction, I have consistently voted for legislation that would require a change of the U.S. mission in Iraq to focus on the reduction and redeployment of U.S. troops, while ensuring our soldiers in the field continue to have the resources they need during this transition. As we withdraw from Iraq, we must continue to support the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people as they take responsibility for the future of their nation.
I believe that the U.S. and NATO missions in Afghanistan have reached a critical juncture. We have a vital interest in ensuring that Afghanistan is not used as a base for terrorism. Yet at the same time we must implement a responsible and realistic strategy that emphasizes increased security and economic development for the Afghan people, with the Afghan government and security forces taking the lead. I continue to have concerns about whether the Afghan government can gain the confidence of the Afghan people and serve as a credible partner in the fight against the Taliban. We must make clear to Afghan leaders that America's commitment will not be open-ended and that significant progress in governance and the economy must be made. One of the lessons we learned from the Iraq war is that our policy cannot be allowed to run on auto-pilot. I will continue to push for strong and necessary oversight of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. In the meantime, our troops fighting in Afghanistan deserve our full support, the full resources they need to carry out their mission, and a clear strategy that allows them to begin returning home under a responsible timeframe. With the death of Osama bin Laden, I believe we have an opportunity for a new momentum that will empower the Afghan people to stand on their own and allow our troops to come home.
Protecting our nation means strengthening alliances with friendly nations and presenting a united front against belligerent states, particularly those that sponsor or condone terrorist activities.
National security also means increasing our capacity to respond to domestic emergencies and disasters and reducing our vulnerabilities abroad and at home. It means limiting our dependence on foreign oil and the unfriendly or unstable regimes that dominate the world's oil supplies.
As Minnesota's U.S. Senator, I will continue to focus on these priorities:
Rebuilding our Armed Forces, National Guard, and Reserves. Our men and women in uniform have consistently performed above and beyond the call of duty, but they are overstretched. We need to focus our defense budget on retooling and reinforcing our military capabilities and rewarding those who have sacrificed for this nation, regardless of their service branch. We also need to identify and eliminate wasteful spending and unnecessary programs to ensure fiscal responsibility and accountability in our defense budget, while fully providing our servicemembers the tools they need to carry out their duties.
Increasing security at our borders, ports, and critical infrastructure sites. This includes the screening of cargo entering U.S. ports, enacting effective security regulations for nuclear and chemical plants, and guarding our food supply. As the tragic collapse of the I-35W bridge demonstrated, disaster can strike when and where we least expect. We must provide our first responders and emergency personnel with the full resources they need to react to disasters, natural or intended.
Reaffirming our commitment to NATO and other international institutions that promote freedom and democracy. The United States must continue to lead the global community toward the common goals of peaceful exchange and interaction. International organizations and institutions can be vehicles for achieving our objectives and serving our national interests, and we must make the most of them.
Reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Our national security is held hostage by oil-producing nations whose policies and objectives often diverge from our own. Fostering stable and sustainable homegrown energy sources has great potential to increase our national security. Our energy agenda should include expanded incentives for biofuels, wind power, solar, and other sources of renewable energy, as well as domestic drilling, hydropower, nuclear, geothermal, and waste-to-energy technology. From the wind farms of southwestern Minnesota to the biofuels plants across our farming communities, Minnesotans know that these industries can create good jobs and strengthen our economy, in addition to reducing our dependence on foreign oil. We should be investing in the farmers and workers of the Midwest, not the oil cartels of the Middle East.
Responding to global food and water shortages, environmental challenges, and national disasters. As the global population continues to grow, so too will the demand for essential resources, including food and water supplies. The unpredictable effects of climate change could lead to more global instability due to rising poverty, mass migrations, increased border tensions, and greater demands for rescue and recovery efforts. It is our obligation to help those who lack access to stable food and water supplies. We must take steps to combat global climate change and also be prepared to respond to natural disasters, both at home and around the world.
Combating global poverty and disease. We must continue to lead the global fight against AIDS, malaria, and other diseases that are devastating entire regions. We must develop and distribute stockpiles of medicine and vaccinations to prevent future global epidemics.
Implementing comprehensive immigration reform. The current system is broken. We must continue to work to find a bipartisan solution that is tough, fair, and practical. Comprehensive immigration reform needs to include order at the border (including fencing and increased patrols), better enforcement of our immigration laws, and earned citizenship for those who obey our laws and who are willing to learn English, pay their taxes, and pay a substantial fine.
Fostering a civil national debate that makes America proud. As we in Congress, as well as citizens across the country, continue to debate the best strategies to protect our national security, we must remember that open discussion of diverse and divergent viewpoints is the foundation of our democratic system. Although we may disagree on tactics and strategies, in the end we all want what is best for our troops and best for our nation.
Since coming to the Senate, I have fought to make America more secure:
Enacting into law the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission These recommendations provide our government with a blueprint to prevent future catastrophes and strengthen the resources available to our first responders. I am also an original cosponsor of the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act that would implement one of the final 9/11 Commission recommendations to provide emergency responders with lifesaving communications tools.
Ensuring that our troops have the resources and support they need to do their jobs and remain safe. I traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan to see firsthand the actions of our brave Minnesotans in the field, and to meet with U.S. military commanders and diplomatic leaders. I was impressed by our military leadership, encouraged by the spirit of our soldiers, and honored to meet with Minnesota troops in the field to thank them for their service and sacrifices on behalf of our nation. I came home with a commitment to give our troops stationed in combat zones the equipment and resources they need to successfully carry out their missions and to ensure they are treated with the respect they deserve when they return home. In the Senate, I have supported funding increases for better and safer equipment, including to provide our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with mine-resistant combat vehicles and individual troop body armor, and to address shortfalls in critical National Guard equipment. I also fought to create and secure funding for a national Yellow Ribbon program, based on the Minnesota National Guard's ground-breaking model, to ensure that Guard members and their families have the support they need before, during, and after deployments. [See Veterans section for additional legislation and actions.]
Increasing the security of our nation's transportation networks. The 9/11 Commission Act included measures to improve rail and aviation security across the nation. I also worked with the Transportation Security Administration to implement the Secure Flight program to improve the security screening of air travelers in the United States. This program strengthens our ability to identify and prevent potential threats, while reducing delays and inconveniences to American travelers caused by terrorist watch list misidentifications.
Promoting domestic energy production. I successfully included legislation in the 2008 Farm Bill to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by providing incentives for U.S. farmers to grow the next generation of biofuel crops. I have also introduced the Securing America's Future with Energy and Sustainable Technologies (SAFEST) Act to establish strong renewable energy and energy-efficiency standards, incentives for developing biofuels and biofuel infrastructure, and targets for the availability of advanced vehicle technologies.
Advocating for Minnesota interests in meetings with customs officials and residents of Minnesota's border cities about how to secure our borders. I have worked to cut through the red tape that has been created by some new border crossing laws to help business travelers, tourists, hunters, anglers, and families. As part of this effort, I pushed for the creation of a U.S. passport card as an alternative document for U.S. citizens crossing our northern border to maintain the flow of commerce and tourism while ensuring security.
Demanding accountability for American taxpayer funds. Since the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan began, there have been disturbing revelations that billions of dollars in American taxpayer money have been lost to corruption, fraud, and waste. There must be accountability for reconstruction funds that are intended to provide the Iraqi and Afghan people with the meaningful economic assistance they need to rebuild their respective countries. These illegal and unethical practices not only undermine reconstruction efforts - they hurt our troops in the field and impair their ability to carry out critical missions. In 2007, I co-sponsored a bipartisan provision in the Defense Authorization bill that established an independent commission to increase transparency and accountability in wartime contracting. The commission, modeled after the famous Truman Commission during World War II, has begun carrying out its assigned responsibilities to ensure accountability for U.S. tax dollars spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have also repeatedly voted to cut spending on programs the Defense Department has found to be unnecessary - including the F-35 alternate engine, the C-17 aircraft, and the F-22 Raptor fighter program - to ensure our defense budget is focused on the programs and technologies we need to strengthen our Armed Forces.