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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 - Resumed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COONS. Madam President, I rise today to speak in favor of amendment No. 3262, which I am honored to cosponsor with Senators McCain and Levin. I thank the Senators for their disciplined, diligent, and very strong leadership of this year's NDAA process. This is an authorization bill that has been taken up and considered by the Senate for 52 years, and despite a lot of challenges and a lot of difficulties we had getting to bills, getting past objections, getting to reasonable processes and amendments, these two fine Senators 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 and 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, and 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 important, 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 repeated concerns that we are rushing headlong into an overengagement in a civil war that is best left to the people of Syria is reflected clearly and in plain language in that provision within this amendment.

Earlier today we took up and voted on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I spoke to this issue as well. Despite the plain language of that convention that would prevent it from having any of the noxious impacts it would have 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 and no impact on reproductive rights in the United States. It would have 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. It will only look at a means that might be used by the United States or our allies to stop Assad's reckless, relentless criminal use of airpower to murder his own civilians and his own citizens.

I have been heartbroken as I have read account after account of jets and helicopters being used to stray from red lines, being used to bomb hospitals and schools, and of the thousands of innocents who have died.

The Syrian civil war is a very complex conflict. Senator Paul asked what I really think is the central question. He said: How can we be confident that the opposition will be tolerant, inclusive, peaceful, and that it will not prosecute or persecute Christians; that they will be an ally to Israel and not impose the sorts of threats and difficulties he cited from Libya, 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 providing humanitarian assistance?

Should we support our regional allies, Turkey and Jordan, through multilateral engagement, supporting Turkey's request to NATO for defensive material? Should we better learn and understand what the opposition on the ground is inclined to do and set clear standards for how, if they demonstrate they are reliable partners in pursuing peace and if they commit themselves to the elements of the national coalition and the Free Syrian Army and to being exactly what 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 reasons I am grateful for the opportunity to join with Senators McCain and Levin in cosponsoring this amendment.


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