Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey urge Congress to grant President Obama the authority to send more ground troops to fight ISIS
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. The issue before them is whether to give President Obama authorization to use military force, also known as the AUMF, against ISIS. It’s been a bit controversial, since the Obama administration claims that the president already has the authority to fight ISIS, given the approved 2001 AUMF. JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The President already has statutory authority to act against ISIL. But a clear and formal expression of this Congress’s backing at this moment in time would dispel doubt that might exist anywhere that Americans are united. DESVARIEUX: This assertion did not sit well with Republican senator Rand Paul. RAND PAUL, U.S. SENATOR (R-KY): Well, you know, we want you all to pass something, but it doesn’t really matter, ’cause we’ll just use 2001, which is just absurd. And it just means that Congress is inconsequential, and so are the people in the country, that basically we’ll do what we want if Boko Haram can be included under 2001. If Boko Haram’s a threat to the country, bring it to me and we’ll vote, and I’ll listen honestly on whether we need to attack Boko Haram in Nigeria. But the thing is is that I understand how things change over time and how people transmute words to mean things that they really weren’t intended to mean. If 2001 can be applied to Boko Haram, I’m very concerned about voting for this, as it is worded, because if we’re going to go to war in Libya, I want to vote for war in Libya. If we’re going to go to war in Nigeria, I want to vote for war in Nigeria. Now, I’m not talking about an isolated small episode where we have to go knock out a cell of people that are organizing to attack us. You may be able to interpret that under the imminent attack sort of clause of the Constitution. But I am concerned–that’s why we get to numbers–under this resolution, I believe you could have unlimited numbers of troops in Iraq. I understand you say it’s not contemplated. I also believe you could have unlimited numbers of troops in Libya and in Nigeria. And now there are 30 nations that have pledged allegiance to ISIS. Senator Carter, do you understand that if it were to pass as-is now, there are those of us who would worry that this would be authorizing unlimited troops in 30 different nations if the administration saw fit to send them? ASHTON CARTER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We’re not going to do by ourselves. We’re going to enable others to do it. And that’s the principal insurance against it turning into an Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s not what’s needed here. That’s not what will succeed here. So, I mean, just speaking as the secretary of defense and, again, not a lawyer, it seems to me that’s the logic that brought us here, and I understand it. DESVARIEUX: The AUMF calls for military intervention for three years, but Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter stressed that it would most likely be for longer. CARTER: We don’t know how long it will take to defeat ISIL, and I explained earlier that I wouldn’t tell you that it was three years, which is the only duration included in this authorization of the use of military force. And it doesn’t derive from any expectation how long the campaign would last; it derives from the political calendar of our country. DESVARIEUX: Protestors spoke out against this idea of endless war. ~~~ PROTESTER: The American people are speaking out, Secretary Kerry. We’re tired of an endless war [incompr.] a war with no future. BOB CORKER, CHAIR, U.S. SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Committee will be in order. Look, we appreciate–. PROTESTER: [incompr.] endless wars, the killing of innocent people. [crosstalk] CORKER: Okay. If this happens again, I would ask the police to escort immediately people out of the room. PROTESTER: –dollars on the war, creating more terrorism, killing more innocent people. KERRY: Killing more innocent people? I wonder how our journalists who were beheaded and a pilot who was fighting for freedom, who was burned alive, what they would have to say to their efforts to protect innocent people. ~~~ DESVARIEUX: But the loss of innocent life or endless war was not a main topic of discussion. Rather, Iran came to the forefront, especially in light of ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West. Iran has played a paramount role in fighting ISIS with both air and ground operations in Iraq. Earlier this week, more than 40 Republican senators sent an open letter to the leaders of Iran, stating, quote, we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen, and future Congresses can modify the terms of the agreement at any time. ~~~ KERRY: Aside from the legalities, this letter also raises questions of judgment and policy. We know that there are people in Iran who are opposed to any negotiated arrangement with the P5+1, and we know that a comprehensive solution is not going to happen if Iran’s leaders are not willing to make hard choices about the size and scope and transparency of their nuclear program. And we know that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. CORKER: Mr. Secretary, I know this is a well-written speech, but you’ve been at this for five minutes. KERRY: Not a speech, my friend. This is not a speech. CORKER: Yeah. I’m going to–. KERRY: This is a statement about the impact of this irresponsible letter. CORKER: And you have a lot of forums to [crosstalk] KERRY: And the letter does not have legal authority. And I think you have to ask what people are trying to accomplish. The author of the letter says he doesn’t want these agreements to be made and he thinks before the judgment is even made that it’s a mistake. So we’ll see where we wind up. CORKER: Okay. Thank you. KERRY: But I’m asked by one senator the impact, and I’m laying out to the committee what the impact is. CORKER: Five minutes and twenty-six seconds later, you finished. I will say that I didn’t sign the letter. I’m very disappointed, though, that you’ve gone back on your statement that any agreement must pass muster with the Congress. The way we pass muster here is we vote. And I think all of us are very disappointed with the veto threat and the stiff-arming that has taken place. But with that,–. KERRY: But, Senator, let me just–Mr. Chairman, let me just–. CORKER: Senator Gardner. CORY GARDNER, U.S. SENATOR (R-CO): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. KERRY: You have a right to vote any day you want. ~~~ DESVARIEUX: But despite this friction, the Senate seems lock-and-step about sending in troops to support the so-called moderate Syrian rebels who are against the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Last year, Congress voted to fund and train these rebels in Saudi Arabia, and now the question remains what will be the role of the U.S. once these troops are fielded. GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: From the very beginning, though, we knew that we would come to the point where we had to make a decision about whether or not to protect him. And it was always my advice that we had to come to some conclusion to assure them that they would be protected. Now, the scope and scale of that protection is the part of this that’s being actively debated. But the program won’t succeed unless they believe themselves to have a reasonable chance of survival. DESVARIEUX: That survival could mean putting American troops on the front line in Syria. For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.
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