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Floor Speech: Senator Coons Urges Colleagues to Stand with Syrian People

Location: Washington, DC

Madam President, I rise today to speak in favor of the amendment number 3262, which I am honored to cosponsor with Senator McCain and Senator Levin. I want to first start by thanking them for their disciplined, diligent and very strong leadership of this year's NDAA process. This is an authorization bill taken up and considered by this Senate for 52 years, and despite a lot of challenges here, a lot of difficulties we have getting to bills, getting past objections, getting to reasonable processes and amendments, these two fine gentlemen have led admirably in a very difficult environment.

This amendment does what I think we need to do next, to put before the Senate in an appropriate classified setting, useful information about the possibilities before us and before our allies in a very difficult, very complex region that is, as Senator Paul has noted, currently undergoing dramatic conflict.

Let me speak to a few points that persuaded me to join Senator McCain and Senator Levin in cosponsoring this amendment. First, despite the comments from my colleague from Kentucky, these plans will be delivered to the Senate in classified form. They will not be accessible to the general public. They will not be broadcast to our opponents or those who might seek to learn about America's plans. They will only be delivered in classified form. Second and I think most importantly, it is explicit in this amendment that nothing in this section shall be construed as a declaration of war or an authorization for the use of force.

Senator Paul's oft-repeated concerns that we are rushing headlong into over-engagement in a civil war best left to the people of Syria is reflected clearly and in plain language in that provision within this amendment.

Earlier today, Madam President, we took up and voted on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and I spoke to this issue there as well. Despite the plain language of that Convention that would prevent it from having any of the noxious impacts on families in the United States, despite the plain language of that Convention and the various restrictions and reservations that were added to it, it would have no impact on homeschooling, no impact on reproductive rights in the United States, no impact on any of the variety of things that were cast about on the floor of the Senate today.

So, too, here we should not allow, despite this plain language, senators to mislead our colleagues into thinking that somehow secretly embedded within this is an authorization for the use of force.

So what is this?

This is asking that the United States, in consultation between the Department of Defense and this Senate, make reasonable assessments of what our path forward in dealing with the tragic situation in Syria might be. This amendment is clear that it will not consider ground troops being deployed onto Syrian territory, that it will only look at means that might be used by the United States or allies to stop Assad's reckless, relentless, criminal use of air power to murder his own civilians, his own citizens.

I have been heartbroken, Madam President, as I have read account after account of jets and helicopters being used to strafe bread lines, being used to bomb hospitals, being used to bomb schools and of the thousands of innocents who have died. The Syrian civil war is a very complex conflict. And Senator Paul asked what I think really is the central question. He said how can we be confident that the opposition will be tolerant, inclusive, peaceful? That it won't prosecute or persecute Christians? That it will be an ally to Israel and not impose the sorts of threats and difficulties that he cited from Libya, from Egypt and other countries.

That is exactly the core question at issue for us going forward. Should the United States stand on the sidelines as Bashar al-Assad massacres tens of thousands more of his civilians? Or should we consider what ways we can be involved? Through ways of providing humanitarian assistance, through supporting our regional allies of Turkey and Jordan, through multilateral engagement, through supporting Turkey's request to NATO for defensive material or through proactively engaging to better learn and better understand what the opposition on the ground is inclined to do. And to set clear standards for how if they demonstrate they are reliable partners in pursuing peace, if they commit themselves, the elements of the national coalition and the Free Syrian Army. If they clearly commit themselves to being of exactly the sort Senator Paul would hope: tolerant, inclusive, pro-democracy, why would we stand on the sidelines of history and allow Islamic extremists to instead write the future of the Syrian people?

For these and many other reasons, Madam President, I am grateful for the opportunity to join with Senator McCain and Senator Levin in cosponsoring this amendment.

I yield the floor.

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